The pandemic has given people a lot more time with their dogs and cats, but returning to the office has disrupted that connection. Pet cameras can help, but they’re needed in every room and don’t really tell owners what their furry friend has been up to without reviewing all the footage. Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created a new device that can put pet owners at ease.
PetTrack uses a combination of sensors to give an animal’s accurate, real-time indoor location. Ultra-Wideband (UWB) wireless radio sensors locate the pet and accelerometers determine whether it is sitting or moving, regardless of objects or walls, giving owners more detail about what their pet is doing a camera or a GPS. This is all located on a small sensor that can be put on a collar for minimal invasiveness and can be viewed via a compatible smartphone app.
“PetTrack consists of two things: the first is to know the interior location of the animal and the second is to try to understand its activity,” said Ashutosh Dhekne, assistant professor at the School of Computer Science (SCS).
Dhekne and his students presented the research in the article “PetTrack: Tracking Pet Location and Activity Indoors” at BodySys 2022 in July, a body-centric computing systems workshop that was part of MobiSys 2022 in Portland, Oregon.
How PetTrack Works
PetTrack’s innovative combination of sensors makes it unique from other pet tracking devices. The UWB wireless radio signal locates the pet’s location in the home up to 100 feet away, while the accelerometer acts as an inertial sensor that can track the pet’s pose. This means owners can tell if their pet is standing, sitting or even lying down.
Unlike cameras, owners can always know where their pet is because the UWB network is accessible through walls, furniture, doors or anything else a cat or dog can hide behind. The UWB network is plug-and-play and does not interfere with existing Wi-Fi, but must be connected to a home Wi-Fi network to give the owner smartphone updates. Location data takes up much less bandwidth than images and does not overload the homeowner’s Wi-Fi. Multiple UWB sensors and a central anchor data collection module help determine location via multilateration or individual distance measurements from different anchors, keeping it accurate.
“Together, by combining where the animal is and what its orientation is, we can create a summary map of where the animal has been during the day and what activity it was doing,” Dhekne said. .
This could reassure owners who are concerned about pets entering prohibited areas or comfort owners worried about their sick or elderly pets.
Privacy is another major benefit of PetTrack. Much like a router, PetTrack has at least one central anchor in the home or garden, making it less invasive than a camera in every room. It also doesn’t take up the whole room as the device is small enough to hide behind a lampshade. A set of anchor devices can track up to four pets with updates every second. PetTrack works even when only a few anchor devices are accessible, but with less location accuracy.
PetTrack’s local focus also makes it safer. While hackers can take control of cameras and compromise owners’ privacy, PetTrack’s network only works in the area it is in. This means it doesn’t have the same vulnerabilities that cameras have, such as allowing a hacker to monitor homeowners or locate expensive items or valuables in the lodge.
The Future Possibilities of PetTrack
Currently, PetTrack is designed only to monitor an animal’s location and position, but it has a lot of potential. Pet daycares could use the technology, so owners have an idea of how their dog is doing away from home. It could also become a training tool where a beep could sound if a pet was in an area they weren’t supposed to be.
PetTrack could not only be the future of pet monitoring technology, but could provide a whole new way for owners to connect with their dogs or cats.
“Overall, the idea is to better connect with your pet, using PetTrack,” Dhekne said. “You can detect changes in pet behavior and interact with the animal using location-aware robotic toys.”
Other researchers believe that PetTrack could improve the training process of pets. Neeraj Alavala, the lead SCS master student on the project, shared feedback from other research provided to BodySys.
“One good feedback we received was that we could use our existing setup to also track pet accidents around the house during potty training,” Alavala said. “We already have the technology to track when and where these accidents are happening and we can make sure these areas are cleaned up. As an extension, we can also give feedback to the pet like a buzzer to train the pet not to enter the house.
Whatever its applications, PetTrack could further strengthen the bond people have with their pets.