Kittyo Puts Lasers and Smartphones to Work for Playtime With Pets

4/25/14Follow @jpruth

Cats, lasers, and smartphones.

As the adoration of cats continues to dominate the Interwebs (though squeaky baby sloths are catching up), it was only a matter of time before other technologies got thrown into the mix.

Kittyo is a forthcoming device that will be used in homes to shoot a laser dot that people can control through a smartphone app. A video camera built into the Wi-Fi connected Kittyo lets them see and record what is happening. There is also a treat dispenser and an audio speaker that humans can communicate through—plus a clamp to prevent cats from knocking the whole thing over.

Lee Miller is the New York-based inventor behind this little tower of distraction. He was cat-sitting when he came up with this way for pet parents to remotely keep their fuzzballs entertained. “Cats can’t help themselves,” Miller says. “They love playing with lasers.”

Apparently so do humans. From their smartphones, users of Kittyo can trigger a sound to get their cats’ attention, then swipe the view screen with their fingers to direct where the laser points. Video of cats futilely trying to catch the dot can be captured by Kittyo and—to the cats’ embarrassment—shared with the digital world.

Kittyo sounds like fun and games, but Miller says part of the inspiration came from the Internet of Things and the connected devices scene. “I was going to maker faires and thinking about this world that’s been developing where people create things themselves,” Miller says. Wanting to make his idea real, he eventually teamed up with design firm ION Design in Edgewater, NJ. Kittyo will be manufactured through an arrangement with Eastbridge Engineering in Boston.

Pet owners can load Kittyo with treats they control.

Pet owners can load Kittyo with treats they control.

Though cats are the initial target market for Kittyo, Miller says the device can be used to entertain other pets as well. “Anyone whose dog likes chasing lasers, this is perfect for,” he says.

Miller launched a Kickstarter campaign recently seeking just $30,000 to help get Kittyo into production. It is little surprise, given the cat worship on the Web, that the campaign as of Friday morning is already nearing $170,000 in crowdfunding with some 28 days left to go. Miller says he has been approached by retailers curious about Kittyo, but no commitments or third-party deals have been made regarding bringing it to market. “We’ll definitely be selling them directly,” he says.

Kittyo does face some real competition in this sector. Radio Systems in Knoxville, TN, makes automated laser FroliCat toys. However, those devices do not feature smartphone controls, video interaction, or a treat dispenser. PetCube, born in Ukraine and already funded through Kickstarter, is bringing its own device to market that lets pet owners communicate with their pets as well as direct a laser dot via smartphone.

This is Miller’s first foray into creating a product through his own startup. He has a background in graphic design and animation video production, and has been a creative director for media clients that include Showtime Networks and Nickelodeon.

It remains to be seen how Kittyo will do when it hits the street, which is expected in six months. For now, Miller sees an opportunity to tie playtime with pets to the emerging Internet of Things. “There are a lot of possibilities with connected devices,” he says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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