Health tracking collars for dogs claim to provide usable biometric data. Experts preach caution.
What do smart home devices, activity trackers and now biometric wearables have in common? These are gadgets for your dog.
Following the rise of human wearable devices that track cardiovascular and respiratory health, several companies are suddenly promising the same in canine form.
Three products slated for release this year all make similar claims, based on similar apparent breakthroughs. Using various forms of non-contact sensors, these devices monitor heart rate (two also monitor respiratory rate), which means they can theoretically infer a dog’s emotional state or help detect heart problems. Current smart pet devices already come with built-in GPS and activity tracking, but the aspect of health monitoring is new. Measuring a dog’s vital signs accurately and easily has been a tricky problem. This is why some experts are wary of new claims.
Adapting this technology to dogs comes with unique challenges. Sensors from devices like Fitbit or Apple Watch (ECG and PPG) require skin contact to get an accurate reading. Since most people probably aren’t about to shave their furry friends just to strap on a doggy Fitbit, these technologies have always been a non-starter.
That leaves non-contact sensors like radar and acoustic technology, but these present their own challenges. Translating radar signals into a consistent health metric is complicated. Acoustic signals require filtering out spurious sounds.
“We don’t have an electronics problem, we have a materials problem,” said Dr Firat Guder, principal investigator and chief engineer of his own research group in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London. . Simply put, it’s not the technology, it’s the app.
But several companies using contactless sensors say they have hacked it. French society Invoxia has developed a smart collar integrated with mini radar motion sensors that emit radio waves to detect subtle changes. An old technology that has just been miniaturized, it’s the same technology used for motion recognition in Google’s Pixel 4. But instead of recognizing hand gestures, they are tiny movements under the fur.
The Invoxia uses miniaturized radar sensors to measure heart rate and respiratory rate.
“No matter the type of fur, we will always be able to detect the movement of the skin and the speed of the movement,” said Amélie Caudron, CEO of Invoxia. “And from there, with a bit of post-processing, we’re able to extract heart rate and respiratory rate.” Caudron says they filter out superfluous movements using their patented AI technology. Currently, Invoxia is conducting a clinical validation study with a third party which Caudron declined to disclose.
In Taiwan, at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), Dr. Hong-Dun Lin uses doppler radar technology for his iPetWear necklace. In a product test involving a small sample of 17 dogs and cats at the Hsinchu City Animal Welfare and Health Bureau, heart rate was measured by iPetWeaR and compared to ECG measurements. With an accuracy of 98%, the little informal experiment showed promise. Lin, who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering, said he was also testing iPetWeaR in collaboration with veterinarians from Taiwan University and Chen Animal Hospital.
Instead of radar technology, Japanese company Langless uses acoustic sensors for a harness that also claims to detect your dog’s mood. The harness, called inupacity, has a small microphone that records your dog’s heart rate and uses HRV analysis to supposedly measure your dog’s emotional state. HRV, which is also used in smartwatches like the Apple Watch, is an indicator of how well your body is adapting to various environments.
Like iPetWeaR, Joji Yamaguchi, Founder and CTO of Inupathy, said he compared his microphone system with an ECG monitor and achieved 90% accuracy. Yamaguchi, who has a background in systems engineering, said he developed Inupathy with veterinarians and dog trainers, and tested it on hundreds of dogs. Yamaguchi also said their data is used for research at universities and laboratories in Japan.
But until Guder sees the data, he says he’s still not convinced because he hasn’t seen any breakthroughs in the past two years that would indicate existing challenges have been resolved. “The question is, what critical problems did these companies solve that couldn’t be solved for a very long time?” He wrote in an email. “In other words, why now and not two or five years ago? Did what led to their invention come to light recently?
iPetWeaR measures heart rate and respiratory rate using Doppler radar.
Guder, who is also an associate professor of bioengineering at Imperial College London, has been researching and developing sensor technology for humans and dogs for six years. It’s a niche field of study and he knows the landscape well. “As far as we know, these are really difficult problems. And if someone solves it, it will be difficult to convince people without showing the data.”
In response to skepticism, Caudron rings confident in the Invoxia product and its evidence of effectiveness. “That’s quite interesting,” she said. “Because we have results, and we have this data on multiple fur types and multiple dog types, etc. But let’s wait for clinical validation, and then we can talk to them.”
Contactless motion detection is new, but Caudron says it’s already being used in devices like the Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen) to measure breathing. Along the same lines, Lin’s original idea was to use this technology for humans (fall detection, sleep assessment, etc.) but pivoted when he realized its potential application for pets. company.
Like Guder, veterinarian Dr Ernie Ward is eagerly awaiting validation studies, but remains “scientifically skeptical” until then. “I’m always very skeptical until you actually see it, because it’s one thing to say ‘I can fly’ and another thing to see me fly.”
Ward, who includes the evolution of pet technology as one of his areas of interest, wants to see strong validation of these claims; that the product is “repeatable, precise and demonstrable”. In a follow-up email, he wrote, “The technology is solid, but it’s the application and the results that count.”
The Inupathy harness has LED lights that display different colors depending on your dog’s mood.
The stakes are high for any technology that promises health monitoring. What happens if a wearable accessory incorrectly detects a cardiac arrhythmia? What if it fails to detect one? Either scenario has ominous consequences. Additionally, FDA approval for animal devices is not required and regulations for animals are generally lower. “If you’re going to make these types of claims, we need verification because consumers deserve it,” Ward said.
Caudron says health metrics collected over time provide an objective baseline. So when shared with your vet, they can make a more accurate diagnosis. So it’s not like pet parents get a panicky alert that their dog is about to have a heart attack. Caudron says Invoxia isn’t meant to replace your dog’s vet, but it’s still meant to be important. “The goal is to become like a cornerstone of a dog’s healthcare journey, and to really help the pet’s parents be better informed and get to the right service at the right time.”
Other pet tech companies are taking a cautious approach to new advances in this area. “We expect technologies measuring these and other vital elements to emerge over the next few years,” Fi founder and CEO Jonathan Bensamoun wrote in an email. “And we will incorporate them into the Fi Collar as soon as we deem them reliable,” he continued.
In an emailed statement, Wagz founder and CEO Terry Anderton noted the hurdles in getting an accurate measurement through the fur. Although he declined to comment on future plans, he wrote that Wagz was “working on other types of sensors that can reliably penetrate fur for accurate measurements, including the use of low-frequency LiDAR ( Light Detection and Ranging) and infrared sensor technology.
Reliability aside, the question of why remains. How much of this data is actually useful to the average pet owner? “We tend to track heart rate, which is very valuable, but I would much rather know about weight changes because we can really do something about that,” Ward said.
If we are not trained veterinary professionals, what are we supposed to do with this information? The answer seems to be to pass the information on to those who are trained veterinary professionals. They can decide if it’s worth taking action, or if it’s worth anything.