The Internet of Things has expanded during the past few years to encompass all sorts of devices from smart thermostats and remote-controlled LED bulbs to Wi-Fi connected coffeemakers and sprinkler controllers. One of the more intriguing connected devices that recently emerged from a Kickstarter campaign was Petcube (US$199), a device designed to keep your pets entertained and monitored while you’re at work or otherwise away from home.
As a human who has been owned by cats for many years, I’ve had traditional webcams set up for keeping an eye on my feline friends for many years. Petcube is more than just a webcam, featuring an app-controlled laser toy and a two-way speaker system as well. Pets respond to their owners’ voices and are attracted to Petcube, and the owners can then use the laser toy to give their animal companions a workout from anywhere.
The Petcube device is a sleek aluminum cube about four inches on a side, with the front being made of a dark material with windows for the webcam and the laser. There’s an LED bar at the bottom for status, and a button on the back for powering and pairing the Petcube. A single USB to micro-USB cable and small “wall wart” is used to power Petcube.
Once the free Petcube iOS app is installed on an iPhone, pairing is done by plugging in the Petcube, waiting for a light to turn green, and then following some simple steps. As soon as pairing is complete, the app can be used to watch and listen to your pets. By tapping a sound button, the microphone is turned on or off; the laser button gives humans the opportunity to control the laser’s red dot for play. Wherever you tap on the camera’s field of view is where the laser dot will appear. To take a picture of your companions at play, just double tapping the display will capture the moment.
The camera has a 138° wide-angle lens, meaning that you can see quite a bit of a room if the camera is oriented correctly. The video is 720p high-definition, meaning that the image is 1280 x 720 pixels in size. I found that the video quality didn’t seem to be truly high definition, possibly an artifact of the signal going through Petcube’s systems for sharing. It just seemed rather blurry and low-resolution, more like what I would expect from a VGA (640 x 480) webcam. Likewise, don’t expect excellent hi-fidelity sound in both directions. Your voice will be recognizable by your pets and the speaker in the Petcube is quite loud, but the sound returned to your iPhone is rather mediocre.
Sharing of control and/or pet photos can be set up at various levels. If your animals are usually in a place that you don’t mind complete strangers looking at, you can actually give the world control of the camera and laser. For most of us, though, privacy is an issue and you’ll want only friends and family to be able to entertain your companions.
My one big gripe is the LED on the device. It glows white when the camera is off, blue when the camera is being used. Well, that white LED is bright, and if you have the Petcube in the same room that you sleep in, you’re going to hate how it glows. I wish there was a way to use the app to turn the LED off…
I found the quality of construction for Petcube to be excellent. It’s really a nice-looking product and appears that it will be durable. The weight is sufficient enough to keep the device from possibly being knocked over by small animals; just don’t let your big hound take a whack at it…
The app is easy to use, stable, and has all the features you’ll want for engaging your animal companions and sharing photos of them with friends. A free account with Petcube is required for anyone who wishes to view or control your Petcube device. I was amazed at how accurate the pointing of the laser was, and it’s possible to use the app to calibrate and fine-tune pointing even more.
If there was any aspect of the Petcube that I wasn’t absolutely enthralled with, it was the sound and video. I use a Dropcam as my primary “pet cam” in our house, and the video and audio (one way) quality is astoundingly good. Petcube’s video just has a somewhat blurry look, and the sound received from the device is like listening to someone speaking over an old analog walkie-talkie.
My two cats, Merry and Pippin, are both about a year old and full of energy. Both of them took to the Petcube like it was a long-lost friend, and they love playing with the laser dot. What’s fascinating is that when I use another laser pointer to play with them, they’re not that excited because they can see that I’m controlling it. In this case, the red dot appears and moves around without me being there — big excitement!
If this device becomes popular enough and the manufacturers can get the price down to sub-$100, I think it will be worthwhile for most pet owners. At $200, it’s somewhat of a luxury item although a heck of a lot of fun for animals and humans.