For many of us, our pets aren’t simply companions, they’re full-fledged members of the family. Now, a Boulder-based startup with a keen appreciation for that fact is poised to bring dog care and safety into the digital age.
WÜF is developing wearable technology for your pooch or what could possibly be described as a “smart collar.” With features like built-in GPS, two-way communication capabilities, and activity monitoring, the device will help owners keep a closer eye on their best friends.
WÜF CEO Sean Kelly said the idea came to him following a family tragedy. Several years ago while out on a walk his dog was lost when she chased after a squirrel. There followed hours of fruitless searching only to discover that she’d been killed by a car.
“Not only was it tough to lose a family member like that, but it was all the harder knowing the technology was available that could have prevented this, but no one was really utilizing it in that way.”
And once he started looking into it, Kelly realized he was far from alone. He says 10 million dogs run away every year in the U.S. and 4 million never come home.
At the time, Kelly had just finished his MBA and was running a small consulting firm. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur with a passion for hi-tech, and I felt like I had been waiting for that flash of inspiration to go after something. This provided a clear reason to finally take that risk.”
As a self-professed “idea guy,” Kelly turned to the Internet for people with the technical expertise needed to bring his dream to reality. Before long, he had an engineer and product developer on board.
“We started working together, using Skype and Google hangouts and email and all these different communication tools, and even though we were 12 hours apart time-zone-wise, we were still able to approve a hardware and software concept without ever having a face-to-face meeting.”
While he was in the process of building his team, Kelly was approached by members of the Boomtown Accelerator, a Boulder-based group dedicated to seeding startup companies. He says it was a perfect match.
“They have a strong interest in hardware and physical tech and they want to make Boulder an epicenter for that — which was very appealing to us, along with the city of Boulder itself, which is like a wonderland.”
What WÜF has come up with is a device that keeps dog owners apprised of their pet’s status around the clock. First and foremost is GPS tracking, so you always know your dog’s location and can be alerted immediately if he or she runs off. The collar can also monitor your dog’s activity with an eye toward keeping it healthy.
“When you input your dog’s breed, age, weight and type of food you feed it, what we do is crunch all that data and give you one simple metric – how much to feed your dog today based on his or her activity.” Kelly hopes this will help reverse a trend that is seeing more and more overweight pets.
Then there’s the two-way audio, something Kelly says the developers at WÜF are most excited about. “We have a smart microphone built into the collar allowing us to passively listen to what your dog is up to,” he said.
“For example, if your dog is barking a lot or crying or growling unexpectedly, we can send you an alert to the app — wherever you are — and let you know that something is going on.”
And if you can’t check on your pet immediately, you can use the speaker feature to try and calm it by letting it hear your voice.
There’s also an app that assists an owner with training efforts, providing various exercises and programs meant not only to teach basic commands, but also give feedback as to what techniques might give better results.
Now, with a team in place and a promising product coming through development, WÜF is preparing to take the next step and just launched a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. Chief Marketing Officer Lizelle van Vuuren says the launch date of November 28 marked the beginning of a busy 12-month period.
“We’re taking orders now and expect a three-to-six-month pre-production phase starting with the new year, and then an initial manufacturing run targeted for July,” she said. Kickstarter backers should see delivery by October or November of next year, with a full-market rollout planned just in time for the 2015 holiday season.
According to Kelly, croudsourcing gives the firm an opportunity that private funding doesn’t necessarily provide. “We get people involved in the conversation earlier, we build a community, we keep that dialogue going, and we really give ourselves a better chance to build our business alongside building our product.”
And when it comes to expectations, they’re setting the bar pretty high. As Kelly puts it: “We want to be the most successfully funded Kickstarter campaign in the history of Colorado and also in the history of the pet-tech sphere.”