REPORT

Now you can play with cats over the Internet

By Rob Price

The “Internet of Things” is coming, and if iPet Companion is anything to go by, it’s going to be incredible. And also full of cats.

Using a system of remotely controllable toys and webcams, iPet Companion is a website that lets you play with cats and kittens in shelters, all from the comfort of your home or office.

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The technology is currently implemented in nine animal shelters across the United States, including the Idaho Humane Society, Pawmetto Lifeline South Carolina, and the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. There are plans to introduce it in a further five. After selecting your shelter, you wait in the queue until your turn comes up, at which point you are granted access to a controllable webcam and multiple toys.

The site also functions as an alternative social network for animal lovers, allowing its 11,000 members to share photos of their beloved pets, send messages to one another, and exchange gifts.

Cats playing with iPet Companion toys at the Oregon Humane Society

Cats playing with iPet Companion toys at the Oregon Humane Society

This is, of course, all for a good cause. Created by Reach-In (formerly AprioriControl), iPet Companion’s mission is “to end homelessness of animals nationwide.” The site proudly boasts that participating shelters see up to a 295 percent increase in sponsorships, 67 percent increase in kitten adoptions, and a 52 percent increase in web traffic.

Which begs the question: Why is nobody using it? While its social network is small but thriving, when testing the system, I didn’t have to wait in a queue to use it once. That the project is still ongoing, three years from its launch, is testament to its success—but given the Internet’s well-documented obsession with cats, iPet Companion is surprisingly underused.

The iPet Companion controllable camera and hardware.

The iPet Companion controllable camera and hardware.

Of course, iPet Companion is not the only project that Reach-In has released to the Web. Marketing themselves as a “builder of online applications that allow users to visually and robotically interact over the Internet,” another demonstration of their technology can be found at Boise State University, allowing anyone to participate in a “Thermal Mannequin Laboratory” experiment using only their browser.

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They’re also behind Dive Commander, a remote-controlled miniature submarine that users can steer around a specially designed aquatic environment. It’s currently undergoing maintenance, but the submersible was recently deployed in Roise Aquarium, allowing would-be submariners to swim with stingrays—an adventure they are hoping to replicate in the current weeks.

In another charitable implantation of their technology, In-Reach brought a special version of iPet Companion to a Seattle hospital so that children with cancer could play with kittens, dogs, rabbits, and goats at the Idaho Humane Society, several hundred miles away.

So go on, spend the next three hours playing with kittens online and remember—it’s all for a good cause.