A Little Crowdfunding Goes a Long Way

Two scientists raise money to develop CleverPet, a game console for pets

30 May 2014

Photo: CleverPet

Leo Trottier and Dan Knudsen used Kickstarter to get CleverPet, their game console for dogs, off the ground.

When you have a great idea for an invention, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all that comes with designing and launching a product, let alone finding ways to get funding and promotion. However, the growing success of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and RocketHub are helping budding entrepreneurs meet these challenges head on.

Inventors use these sites to promote new projects or ideas and ask people to “back” them by pledging money to help with the costs. Backers are often the first to receive the product if it launches. They might also receive other perks based on how much money they give.

One success story comes from a pair of cognitive and neuroscience researchers, Leo Trottier and Dan Knudsen, who created CleverPet—a console designed to help train, entertain, and ease separation anxiety in dogs and cats that are left alone at home. They designed a prototype of the console that automatically dispenses food when pets complete a simple task, such as pressing a touchpad when it lights up. The two worked together at the University of California, San Diego, where they were both working toward doctoral degrees. They are nearing the end of a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than US $159,000 in less than 30 days, surpassing their initial goal of $100,000. More than 1,000 people helped fund the campaign. The last day to donate is 1 June.

“The response we've received is tremendous. After only three days, we were more than a quarter of the way to our goal,” Trottier says.

DIGITAL DOGGIE DAYCARE

Knudsen’s dog, Artie, was one inspiration for the project. When Knudsen began spending more time in the lab, Artie started to show signs of loneliness and depression, which can cause dogs to destroy furniture and wreak other havoc around the house. Separation anxiety can be avoided, however, if dogs are kept busy and active.

In graduate school, Knudsen spent a lot of time training animals to do complex tasks. Trottier approached him and his Knudsen and his lab partner Emily Bluvas to tap into their knowledge and develop something that could keep an animal’s attention and challenge it to learn new patterns each day. They came up with a prototype that requires a dog to do certain tasks, like push a button, or—when it is ready to move up a level—pushing a button only when it is lit. The team is still working out the kinks, with Artie as an enthusiastic test subject.

They’ve made advancements to the system with an app that lets owners stay connected to their pet while away from home. By connecting CleverPet to a wireless network, owners can use the app to check in on whether their dogs or cats are interacting with the console and track their progress. Tech-savvy owners can even write custom code and program CleverPet with their own games.  

INSTANT KARMA

Knudsen and Trottier say they looked to Kickstarter because they wanted to test the market and get instant feedback from potential customers. It also allowed them to raise money faster than they could have done on their own, which is important if you are trying to get a leg up on the competition. “If you have a good idea, you have to move as quickly as possible,” Knudsen says.

People who pledged at least $199 will be the first to receive CleverPet when it launches early next year. In September, people who gave $500 or more will receive a “field evaluation unit”—a prototype that they and their pets can test. And since the team has already raised $100,000, it has established a few other goals based on how much money is raised by the end of the campaign. For example, if the team raises $400,000, it will roll out TopDog, an online multiplayer game for pets. In TopDog, each dog is matched with another one of comparable ability level. They each play the same game, and afterward the one that has improved the most advances in the online TopDog leaderboard.

Have you come up with your own invention? Have you used crowdfunding to fund an idea or project? Share your story in the comments section.

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