Installing a pet door can make pet ownership less of a chore by eliminating the need to constantly have to let them outside for bathroom breaks and then back in again after, and the Petvation wants to make sure it’s only your dog or cat (or naked mole rat, we don’t judge) coming back in by leveraging the same facial recognition tech that’s in your phone.
To the best of our knowledge (assuming movies haven’t lied to us) velociraptors are the only non-human creatures capable of learning how to open and close doors secured with knobs or handles. As a result, pet doors usually rely on just a swinging flap to give pets unfettered access to the outside and back in again. The only real security against break-ins is that the doors are too small for a human to squeeze through, but other bandits, including racoons, can easily sneak inside and cause more problems than just a missing VCR.
Smart pet doors are far from a new idea, and typically rely on either reading a RFID microchip embedded in a pet (that’s already there to make them easier to identify and find when lost) or a special electronic collar that gives the animal a unique form of digital identification. Given just how many smart pet doors are now available proves that both approaches work well enough, but the creators of the Petvation think they can be made even smarter.
Instead of a wireless chip reader, the Petvation uses an array of infrared cameras on either side of the door with a 120-degree field-of-view and IR-boosting illumination to read and identify your pet based on its appearance, the same way your smartphone reads and identifies your face to provide instant access to your device. Machine learning processing running locally allows the Petvation to learn to recognize when your dog or cat is at the door wanting to go out, while it’s creators are working to improve the system to differentiate between multiple dogs and cats in the same home.
The AI powering the system does come pre-trained to recognize other types of animals—including racoons, squirrels, and skunks—and to send alerts to a wirelessly connected mobile app that other wannabe intruders are lurking around.
Petvation promises that, unlike Apple’s Face ID, your pet doesn’t need to be trained to look directly into the camera that’s on either side of the door for it to be recognized and granted access—potentially creating an opportunity for your cat’s doppelgänger or evil twin to circumvent its built-in security.
Another concern is that the door might close on your animal as its going through, but the smart pet door’s creators have apparently eliminated the risk of an animals’ paw or tail getting pinched in the door through motion sensors and a downward-facing camera that ensures the door’s access panel doesn’t slide down into the closed position until the animal is completely clear.
The Petvation smart pet door does sound like it could be a potentially more convenient alternative to a special battery-powered collar, but as anyone who’s occasionally had Face ID just not work for some unknown reason, it remains to be seen how more useful facial scanning will be as a way to identify a pet over simply detecting a unique wireless microchip. The other issue facing the Petvation is that it’s technically not available to consumers just yet, but is being launched through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that’s already surpassed its funding goal.
The cheapest way to pre-order the Petvation fir when it potentially starts shipping out to backers in October is with a $129 “early bird” contribution to the campaign. You’ll just want to be mindful of the very real risks of backing a product that’s not actually in production yet, and especially one reliant on electronics that are subject to the ongoing supply chain issues around the world. A delivery delay is a very real possibility, as is the Petvation never actually materializing and backers not seeing a dime refunded. Backer beware!