PlayDate Blog
Little Things are Infinitely the Most Important

I was at the pet store yesterday buying a treat for Hulk to celebrate the end of our successful Indiegogo campaign and had a flashback to almost three years ago.

I had shown up at that very store, near the tail end of an adoption event to foster the dogs that hadn't been adopted. The coordinator opened the kennel and handed me a pup to take home. As soon as the door opened, one of the other more adventurous ones came up, sized me up with a quick sniff and then wandered off into the store. I chased after him, searching all the aisles, eventually finding him in the treats section with one in his mouth. As he desperately tried to scramble out of my arms, the person running the event said "that guy's available too if you want."

Fast forward to today and that little rambunctious guy is now double the size of what they said he'd be and really the inspiration for why we have been building a new way to interact with our pets remotely. Who knows what would've happened had I fostered the other pup. It's funny how the smallest things can have such a profound impact on your life.

So from all of us here at team PlayDate, thank you for your support and your help in making this the most successful pet tech campaign in crowdfunding history!

Fast forward to today and that little rambunctious guy is now double the size of what they said he'd be and really the inspiration for why we have been building a new way to interact with our pets remotely. Who knows what would've happened had I fostered the other pup. It's funny how the smallest things can have such a profound impact on your life.

Towards A More Perfect Pet Toy

I always tell people that I don't think of PlayDate as a toy company, but rather as a way of applying the latest and greatest technology to improve owner/pet interaction. I was playing with Hulk the other day via our prototype and got a glimpse of the future of pet play.

When the PlayDate ball rolls out of its cradle, Hulk jumps to life (usually he's sleeping on the couch) and lunges at it if it were a squirrel or a pigeon. For him, this isn't just a smart ball being controlled by his owner. It's unlike the ho-hum tennis balls that get tossed for him to dutifully retrieve. Instead, it's a new type of prey for him to chase down. It's the hunt. It's a new way to play.

As for me, it got me thinking of a day when every single one of his toys would provide a truly interactive experience for him, much more like what he would get in the wild.

The Beginning

Our story started years ago, when I was still working at AT&T Labs. I was talking to a buddy of mine about how I’d never had a dog but had always wanted one. He said “It’s a lot of work. You might try fostering one to see if you’re up for it.” Naïve to the pitfalls of fostering (most people end up adopting the dogs they foster), I ended up going to a local no-kill shelter, where I met Hulk for the first time.

As you may have guessed, I ended up keeping the little guy.

I wanted to make sure Hulk was getting plenty of exercise, smelling new and interesting things around the city, and getting socialized with a variety of other dogs. There weren’t any activity trackers on the market back then, so I built one using the latest activity recognition and localization techniques used in research and slapped it on Hulk to start tracking him as he walked around the city.

As more activity trackers for dogs came on the market, we noticed none of them did the kinds of activity recognition or localization that ours did. Sensing an opportunity, we started talking to dog owners about their trackers.

The more dog owners we talked to, the more we heard people saying, “I don’t really have any pain points. I just feel guilty leaving my dog home alone all day when I’m at work.” After hearing it for the 20th time, we realized that was the pain point. Dogs didn't need more tracking; they needed more fun time with their owners.

As we thought more about it, we realized there are no good ways for pet owners to interact with their pets remotely. Technological advances seem to have somehow skipped over our four-legged companions. We can get almost anything delivered to our door in less than an hour, FaceTime with relatives halfway across the world or book a driver in 2 minutes. But when it comes to interacting with man’s best friend, it’s through a nylon leash and a tennis ball.

That’s what’s missing in the pet world today. We set out to solve that problem. And that’s why today, PlayDate isn’t just another dog toy: It’s a great new way for pet owners to communicate with their furry friends.