As the acceptance of artificial intelligence for smart devices grows, AI is permeating an ever- increasing number of industries. The animal and pet-related industries are no exception. Products for animal identification, monitoring and biometric data-gathering include Iams’ NOSEiD for identification via dog noseprint, Zoetis’ Vetscan Imagyst for diagnostic fecal testing and Stable Guard for monitoring horses in the barn. Even more interesting developments and potential new products are on the horizon. Commentary on some of the latest AI powered animal-related inventions worth watching and the intellectual property that protects them follow.
Neural Networks are Trainable but can we say the same for Cats?
If your household has multiple cats, one of them may be on a special diet. The ability to have access to special food only for that specific cat would ensure proper feeding. Artificial intelligence has been applied to solve this problem by safeguarding the food in a closed container and only allowing the container to open upon visual recognition of the specific cat. The smart pet bowl Mookie promises to do just that. An International PCT Application has been filed (WO2020/058908) that takes priority from the original Italian patent application, and a European National Stage Application (EP3852517) has been filed and is currently undergoing examination. It is likely a patent will issue based on the results of the International Search Report. The patent application includes dogs, livestock and fish among animals which might use the invention, though the Mookkie website features a cat.
The application is replete with information about training the computer systems, describing the process for preparing the appropriate convolutional neural networks. Yet it doesn’t tell us how the cat user will be trained to use the smart food bowl. Cats can be finicky and suspicious, so perhaps a wafted odor of catnip emanating from the smart bowl once the authorized cat approaches would be helpful. Those of us who own multiple cats know that one cat may push another out of the way to get at what it wants to eat, but there isn’t a description of how the smart bowl would handle the situation. The authorized cat’s appearance in front of the bowl can cause the feeding compartment to open, but if an unauthorized cat pushes the authorized cat out of the way, is the bowl programmed to snap shut? Mookkie is not yet available for purchase, so perhaps the aspect of operability of the smart device by an animal and the interface with the animal is still being perfected.
Combining the Power of AI with the Empathy of a Service Dog
Another interesting invention is a smart AI powered body harness for support animals (particularly dogs) with integrated biometric sensors and video monitoring devices as part of a real time wireless cloud network for monitoring and reporting on the health, wellbeing, and status of the human owner, handler or any person of interest within the proximity of the support animal. The harness protected by U.S. Patent No. 10,993,416 monitors the biometrics of the animal and uses a learning algorithm to associate the sympathetic biological responses in the animal’s level of stress to those of the handler. When stress is detected in the support animal by the smart harness, the monitoring system can alert health care providers that the handler may be in distress or having a medical issue. The technology doesn’t appear to be on the market yet, but it could be expected to find a market if it does go on sale. Kudos to the inventor, who served as his own patent attorney (pro se) and convinced an Examiner of the patentability of his invention.
Of course, remote patient monitoring using smart sensors on the patients themselves is available. So why the need to equip the support animal with smart sensors? The ability of dogs to sense certain conditions such as cancer well ahead of their owners capacity to detect them are known. The ‘416 patent makes the point that the support animal can sense a condition, but cannot communicate this information to medical professionals, so the biometric detector on the animal linked through the cloud to a doctor can supplement available diagnostics. It could be imagined that in the future biosensors on horses could provide similar useful medical feedback and information about patients during hippotherapy, given a horse’s sensitivity to the motion, emotion and sentiments of its rider.
The future is bright for AI powered innovation in the pet care industry. All a pet owner could want in terms of information and biometrics about their animals could soon be within reach. For example, imagine a biosensor that provides early detection and warning of colic or lameness in horses. This device and many others can be expected as inventors continue to harness the power of AI for animal-related industries.