How I Launched an Internet-of-Things Pet Product

This tag can help lost dogs contact their owners

8 January 2015

Photo: Tom Kowalick

Last September, I read about the IEEE Internet of Things Initiative while my four dogs were lounging around my desk. They were watching me read up on a technology that will surely change the world and shape the future of the Internet. 

The IoT promise is that, in addition to connecting people to one another any time and almost anywhere, it will also connect humans to objects and even put these objects at the service of humanity. When I read the words “service to humanity,” I looked down at my dogs and got an idea. Let’s use this IoT technology to do something for them.    

I started thinking about what was missing in this Internet Age that can help them and began to research online for IoT products and services that can benefit dogs. One possible application might be related to a pet relocation service following a hurricane or other natural disaster. After much research, I decided the best product I could develop for dogs is something that will help them find their way home again if they are lost or relocated. While there are products already available on the market that can help with this, they are not simple to use and can be costly. One such product is a microchip that is embedded in the dog by a veterinarian, which could cost several hundred dollars.

After a few hours of futile researching, I took a break and looked at my dogs patiently watching me. I began thinking you “Lucky Dogs!” I got hung up on the name—and so I came up with Luck-E-Dog name. (The “E” standing for Electronics.) I filed a trademark for the name, but still had no product.

The first thing that came to mind was that the product had to somehow be connected to a cellphone since just about everyone has one these days—even kids. I thought to myself: What if the dog could call home? That’s when I started losing sleep over how to make this possible.

Most cellphones use near field communication (NFC) technologies, which can read codes and pick up information from them. Similar to a barcode scanner you’d see at a grocery store, NFC makes it possible for a mobile device to scan and interpret meaning from a code—such as Quick Response codes, a standard industry bar code readable by a smart device that holds identifying information about the item to which it’s attached. These can be found in retail stores for customers to quickly scan with their phones to learn more about a product or to access the company’s website. The same technology can also be used to dial a phone number.

I decided to make a dog tag embedded with an NFC chip, which can be scanned using a mobile device that is NFC compatible. This would make it easy for a passerby who finds the dog to scan its tag with a cellphone and automatically dial the owner (without having a phone number listed right on the tag).

I immediately filed a patent for the idea. Now that I had the product name, a domain, trademark pending, and another NFC patent pending (I have another patent on NFC), I next had to make sure it worked.

Simple design is always a good goal to strive for, but it can also be hard to achieve. After three weeks of failures, I figured it out.

I coded my daughter’s phone number (she’s my biggest critic for all my crazy ideas)

in my Luck-E-Dog tag. I told her I’d meet her at the nearby Best Buy electronics store to scan the tag with one of the store’s cellphones to try it from a “stranger’s” phone that has NFC technology. It was a priceless moment when my daughter’s phone rang.

Now that the tag was working, I had to consider how much to sell it for. I wanted to keep it low compared to what was already available. I set the price at US $19.99 with free shipping, posted it on Luck-E-Dog website  and it started to sell immediately. To my surprise, people were buying the product not just for their pets, but also their children. I’m now working on a new look for a children’s product so that kids don’t have to wear a dog tag.

After I got some success on the site, I promoted the  on social media and the buzz started to spread. (It helped that I posted dog pictures and funny videos too.)

To learn more about the product, visit the Luck-E-Dog website. You can also catch me at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 6 to 9 January.

Thomas M. Kowalick is an expert on event data recording technology. He is the chair of the IEEE 1616 standard working group committee and president of AIRMIKA, Inc., in Southern Pines, N.C. Airmika is a member of the Consumer Electronics Association. He is the inventor of Luck-E-Dog, a tag that makes it possible for pets to call home.

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