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PetPace prepares to launch a $150 collar that continuously monitors your pet's health

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 28, 2013 07:45 AM

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Anyone who has ever owned a pet has had one of those visits to the vet where you wish you'd gone in earlier. Something easily treatable may have gotten more complicated, or perhaps Sparky has just stoically suffered through more pain than he should've had to.

A startup called PetPace is developing a product that could supply a solution: a collar that can continuously monitor your pet's health, and send an early warning to you and your vet when something seems amiss, via phone, text message, or e-mail. The company, based in Burlington, Mass. and Tel Aviv, is planning to launch the product later this year, according to chairman Avner Schneur. The expected price: $150 for the collar and a base station that collects data from it, and a $15-to-$20 per month subscription fee for the on-going monitoring service.

"There really is a gap in our ability to monitor pets," says Schneur, who is also PetPace's biggest investor. "They don't complain. There's no preventive maintenance. When there's a problem, you tend to discover it too late."

A matchbox-sized device affixed to the collar holds a collection of sensors, and also a radio that can transmit the data they gather to a base station any time the animal comes within 1000 yards of it, Schneur says. The sensors track the animal's movement, temperature, respiration, and pulse — no mean feat, says, Schneur, when you're trying to do it through fur. There's also a microphone that listens for sounds like drinking, barking, or stomach gurgling. Positioning and movement sensors like those in a smartphone can even tell when the animal is running, laying down, or, um, answering nature's call. The battery in the collar will run for several months in between charges.

Once the data is sent to PetPaces's servers, it's compared to what's normal for your particular animal, based on its past behavior, and also what's normal for the breed. "If there's any deviation, we can create an alert," Schneur says. "One of the things we can see is behavior that can indicate an animal is in pain, which is ordinarily hard to see." Schneur says that PetPace has been assembling data about 250 different dog breeds. The collar will also work for cats — as long as they weigh at least 10 pounds.

Schneur says the company has already been testing its technology at several pet hospitals. "Hospitals may take vital signs once or twice a day, but now they can get data every 30 seconds," he says, which can be helpful for monitoring recovery after an operation, for example. Owners who want to be sure their animal is continuing to recuperate might take the collar and base station home for several months. Schneur says hospitals will be the company's initial focus, but that PetPace will eventually sell the collar to consumers who simply want to monitor their pet's well-being. They plan to rely on veterinary practices as a primary sales channel.

Schneur says that PetPace has been developing the idea for about two years. "I thought the idea sounded too futuristic when [CEO] Avi Menkes brought it to me," he says. "But then I was really impressed by the prototype." Menkes is based in Israel, along with a half-dozen employees working on PetPace's hardware and the embedded software that controls the sensors and radio. Another three people in Burlington work on the analytics software and user interface.

The PetPace collar seems a bit more sophisticated than a similar product that Fujitsu began selling in Japan late last year, the Wandant, which simply gauges movement. An example of PetPace's web-based "dashboard" for animal health is below.

What do you think: assuming PetPace works as advertised, would you pay $150 (plus about $200 a year in monitoring fees) for the product?

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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