A U of T student invents a machine that might become a new best friend for man's best friend.
Misko Dzamba and his furry friend are onto something. Since last March, Dzamba, a masters student at the University of Toronto, and his dog, Atos, have been perfecting the PetBot. Concerned that his furry friend would be at loose ends and unsupervised during the hours he wasn’t home, Dzamba built him a robot companion—one that allows the inventor to monitor his pet and reward him with biscuits.
The machine has several features: a moveable webcam, a treat dispenser, two-way audio—all of which are accessible through a Wi-Fi connection and controlled by a Smartphone. “You stream live video from it,” says Dzamba. “You can play sounds. And then you can press the button, and it dispenses a treat to your pet. You can also move the camera up and down from your phone.”
The PetBot—which has been tested on birds, rabbits, cats, and dogs—is the only machine on the market to stress the importance of treats. (Without them, why else would a dog run to a robot?) There are other products that dispense them, but, says Dzamba, “You can’t put your own treats, and there’s only room for a small handful.”
But Dzamba’s not done perfecting his creation: over the holidays, he’ll be testing a newer version of the PetBot that will be smaller, cheaper (around $100), and made of sleek steel.
“We’re on track to launch this January,” he says, and he hopes to start delivering the PetBots by February.
Dzamba also gives the public a unique opportunity to build the machine themselves. He’s willing to share information about his software and his design—and he’ll even provide instructions about how to put the PetBot together. “One of my goals is to keep this whole operation honest, transparent,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why everything we’re doing is open sourced.”
This month, Dzamba’s Kickstarter failed to reach its intended goal of $20,000 to help pay for materials and fund an improved redesign, although slightly over half that amount was raised. Dzamba says the money pledged will still go toward the PetBot, and that people continue to show interest. The project was featured, for example, by Spotlight on Startups series at U of T, which profiles companies that have been started at the university.
The primary purpose of the project for Dzamba and his crew, though, is still to understand and meet the needs of animals. And Dzamba is quick to credit the contributions made by his very own animal assistant.
“Atos has helped me find out what dogs might like and what they do not,” Dzamba says. “Most importantly he keeps me company during the long nights while I slowly feed him treats from prototypes and work on the design and testing.”