Just as it is for humans, the right exercise is essential for an animal’s optimal health. For dog owners, being able to monitor physical activity can help keep pets of all ages fitter, healthier and happier for longer. For puppies with still-developing joints, avoiding over-exercising is critical. For older dogs, daily exertion limits and any special care requirements should be determined by certain movement-related indicators such as signs of arthritis, joint pain or generally slowing down with age. Even perfectly healthy adult dogs need regular, owner-initiated exercise. And it’s not only the amount of exercise a dog is getting that matters, but also the nature of the exercise. Managing these responsibilities can be extra challenging when a pet is owned or looked after by multiple people who can’t always communicate directly about the dog’s daily needs and recent routine.
But thanks to new wearable technology, pet owners of any experience level can effectively monitor the movement and better maintain the health of their dog in a fun and user-friendly way. Designed in collaboration with vets and brought to market by Cambridge, U.K.-based pet wearables developer Pitpatpet, the PitPat activity monitor records dog exercise data throughout each day. The product weighs only 15g, measures 34 by 32 by 15mm, and comfortably attaches to a dog’s collar or harness. PitPat is also an IP67-rated waterproof device, meaning it continues to function whenever the dog goes swimming.
The PitPat activity monitor
While the concept sounds simple enough, the technology making it possible has been cleverly implemented. An integrated 3-axis accelerometer continuously monitors the dog’s motion, and the proprietary algorithms interpret this data to identify five specific activity states—walking, running, playing, pottering and resting—and how long the dog spends in each state. Step and exertion data enables the device to estimate the distance covered by the dog when walking, as well as how many calories it has burned.
Using Bluetooth LE wireless connectivity provided by Nordic’s nRF52810 SoC, this data is synced to the owner’s Bluetooth 4.0 (and later) smartphone or tablet, where from the associated ‘PitPat’ app, the user can easily review the dog’s activity data compared to guidelines for over 200 different breeds, as well as set target goals and track progress towards those goals. A weight management function allows the user to keep a history of the dog’s weight, and work towards its ideal weight target.
Any number of dog profiles can be linked to the owner’s PitPat account, and individual dog profiles can be shared, allowing friends, family members and dog walkers alike to monitor the same dog. Users who sign-up for the ‘PitPat Life’ monthly subscription can also collect points for hitting goals related to walking and weighing their dog regularly, then exchange those points for a range of prizes and perks.
“PitPat is just like the activity monitors worn by millions of people on their wrists, but it’s been specifically designed and engineered to work exclusively for dogs, with a dog’s comfort and condition in mind,” says Jake Apsey, Embedded Software Engineer at PitPat. “Our app then provides all the information, advice and recommendations the owner needs to maintain a healthy dog.”
PitPat employs a CR2032 coin cell providing battery life of up to two years in standard operation between replacement. This key benefit can be attributed in part to the ultra-low power characteristics of the Nordic SoC, which features a 2.4GHz radio’s 5.5mA peak RX/TX currents and a fully-automatic power management system. The integration of the nRF52810 SoC’s 64MHz, 32-bit Arm Cortex M4 processor also helped enable significantly improved power consumption over PitPat’s previous design, according to the company.
“The lifetime of the battery is one of the most important aspects of producing wearables for animals, since it would be quite challenging to train dogs to recharge their own devices," jokes Apsey. "PitPat’s long battery life means charging will never get in the way of owner-and-dog adventures, and our data processing now executes much, much faster, which allows the device to revert to sleep mode quicker and therefore increasing battery life.”
The nRF52810 SoC is supplied with the latest version of Nordic’s S112 SoftDevice, Bluetooth 5-compliant RF protocol software. “Both the SoftDevice itself and also the comprehensive set of abstraction layers were extremely useful in ensuring hardware features of the SoC were being utilized correctly and efficiently, ensuring reliability and again maximizing battery life,” says Apsey.
“Right out of the box, the Nordic Power Profiler Kit [PPK] was able to show us fine details in power consumption during Bluetooth LE events and short wake-up periods. This allowed us to immediately make optimizations to, for example, our SPI transfer timings.”
Moreover, selecting a Nordic solution appeared the obvious choice once PitPat developers had done their due diligence. “We produced a range of prototype designs to evaluate the Bluetooth LE chipsets and development environments available, and found that Nordic was the most suitable manufacturer,” says Apsey. “In addition, the range of reference designs provided by Nordic were vital in allowing us to quickly produce some hardware to start testing with straight away.”
With the PitPat dog activity monitor physically attached and wirelessly connected, any canine owner can give their best friend the healthy life they deserve.