Growing market for smart pet toys and gadgets

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Miss Maye Pang used to worry about her five-year-old Japanese Spitz whenever she left for work, as there was no one in the house to look after her pet dog.

So when she was looking for an automatic pet feeder, she decided to get one with a video camera that allowed her to check in on her furry companion using her smartphone.

“It lets me check on him, and gives me peace of mind,” said Miss Pang, 26, who runs her own events company. “Of course, it doesn’t compare to physical touch but it helps a lot to see him and know he is healthy and happy and eating well.”

Like Miss Pang, pet owners here are increasingly looking towards smart connected devices to feed, play with and keep an eye on their furry friends when they cannot be physically around them.

Retailers are bringing in such devices to meet the demand, including products such as automated pet feeders, toys and monitors. Two local start-ups have also gone into designing and producing their own products, two of which are hitting the market later this year.

While sales data for smart pet devices in Singapore is unavailable, the global market for such products was estimated to be worth US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) at the end of last year, according to US-based market intelligence firm Transparency Market Research.

This includes products such as smart collars, leashes and feeders, and is projected to grow at least US$2.5 billion (S$3.5 billion) by 2024.

One company, SmartPaw, brings in smart pet devices like monitors and feeders from China and Taiwan.

Mr Dean Tan, SmartPaw’s marketing head, said he started this part-time venture a year ago when he saw the growing popularity of such devices in the United States.

“Our sales have been above our objectives so far, even though we started out lean,” said Mr Tan.

Pet tech is a natural extension of the growing Internet of Things ecosystem, where all sorts of physical devices are now Internet-enabled so that users can access and control them remotely on their smartphones.

Start-ups here have been eyeing this space and have designed, developed and manufactured their own smart pet toys.

Among the lot is three-year-old Sybo Tech, which will be sending its Pebby smart pet toy to those who pre-ordered it and backed its crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Pebby is a small ball with a camera inside that can roll and follow a pet while sending a video stream to a user’s smartphone.

Sybo Tech co-founder Hansen Goh said local demand for Pebby has been “extremely favourable”, chalking it to Singaporeans’ tech-savviness. “Pebby’s functions not only meet the needs of pet owners, but the novelty of having a high-tech robotic toy to entertain pets also appeals to pet owners, he said.

Such smart pet devices tap the close relationship owners have with their animal companion, letting them interact even as owners are away at work or travelling, said Mr Johnson Goh, chief executive of consumer gadget firm gosh! Singapore.

“We saw a lot of owners wanting to enhance their pets’ well-being, like knowing how much nutrition they are getting or interacting remotely through the Internet when they are away, and even getting the pets to keep fit as most pets laze around when bored at home,” said Mr Goh.

The firm manufactured its own smart pet feeders and delivered its first batch to early backers on Kickstarter last year. Mr Goh estimates that there are a thousand users of the company’s pet feeder, adding that the figure is growing daily.

It is also developing a robot pet ball called the easyPlay, which is due to be released in two months’ time. The small robotic ball, which is controllable via a smartphone, is able to roll after pets and dispense treats.