Installing a pet door can make owning pets less of a chore by eliminating the need to constantly let them out for a bathroom break and then back in again, and the Petvation want to make sure it’s alone your dog or cat (or naked mole rat, we don’t judge) comes back in through using the same facial recognition technology that’s in your phone.
As far as we know (assuming movies haven’t lied to us) velociraptors are the only non-human creatures that can learn how to open and close doors secured with knobs or handles. As a result, pet doors usually rely on just a swinging flap to give pets unobstructed access outside and back in. The only real safeguard against burglary is that the doors are too small for a human to get through, but other bandits, including raccoons, can easily sneak in and cause more trouble than just a missing VCR.
Smart pet doors are far from a new idea and usually rely on reading an RFID microchip embedded in a pet (it’s already there to make them easier to identify and find when lost) or a special electronic collar that animal a unique form of digital identification. Given the number of smart pet doors available now, it appears that both approaches work well enough, but the makers of the Petvation think they can be made even smarter.
Instead of a wireless chip reader, the Petvation uses a series of infrared cameras on either side of the door with a 120-degree field of view and IR-enhancing lighting to read and identify your pet based on its appearance, the same way your smartphone reads and identifies your face to provide direct access to your device. Machine learning processing that runs locally allows the Petvation to learn to recognize when your dog or cat is at the door and wants to go outside, while the creators work to improve the system to differentiate between multiple dogs and cats in the same house.
The AI powering the system is pre-trained to recognize other types of animals — including raccoons, squirrels and skunks — and to send alerts to a wirelessly connected mobile app that other intruders are lurking.
Petvation promises that, unlike Apple’s Face ID, your pet doesn’t need to be trained to look directly into the camera located on either side of the door in order to be recognized and gain entry — possibly an opportunity for the doppelganger or the evil of your cat twin to bypass the built-in security.
Another concern is that the door may close on your pet as it passes through, but the makers of the smart pet door have apparently eliminated the risk of an animal’s paw or tail being pinched in the door by means of motion sensors and a downward-facing camera that causes the door access panel to slide down into the closed position only when the animal is completely free.
The Petvation smart pet door sounds like it could be a potentially more convenient alternative to a dedicated battery-operated collar, but given that anyone who’s had Face ID occasionally fails for some unknown reason, it remains to be seen how more useful face scanning will be as a way to identify a pet by simply detecting a unique wireless microchip. The other issue facing the Petvation is that it is technically not yet available to consumers, but will be launched via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that has already exceeded its funding target.
The cheapest way to pre-order the Petvation spruce when it may ship to donors in October is with a $US129 ($179) “early bird” contribution to the campaign. You just have to be aware of the very real risks of supporting a product that isn’t actually in production yet, and especially one that relies on electronics that is subject to the ongoing supply chain issues around the world. A delay in delivery is a very real possibility, just as the Petvation never really materializes and donors don’t get a cent back. Back beware!
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