Former Northborough resident develops innovative pet product
By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Northborough – A former Northborough resident is part of a team that has developed an interactive game system to keep pets entertained while their owners are away. Dan Knudsen, a 2002 graduate of Algonquin Regional High School, is a co-founder of CleverPet, a smart WiFi-connected game console for dogs.
After high school, Knudsen attended Northeastern University majoring in behavioral neuroscience, and worked in a number of research laboratories and a small pharmaceutical company while there.
“I learned a great deal about animal behavior and neuroscience, and began performing and publishing original research on these topics,” Knudsen said.
His love of neuroscience fueled his move to California, where he enrolled in the neurosciences Ph.D. program at University of California, San Diego.
“My research focused on understanding the neural basis of auditory perception: how do our brains accomplish the incredible feat of making sense of the auditory world around us?” Knudsen said. “To study these things, we use systems to automatically train many animals at the same time using computers and smart interaction hardware and software.”
In June 2013, he received his doctorate degree and “around the same time began working on the idea for CleverPet in earnest with my cofounders,” he recalled. “Since then, we’ve worked hard to bring CleverPet to life, including a whole ton of engineering, development, testing, and business building that will allow us to bring CleverPet to the world's idle pets.”
One of his co-founders is inventor and CEO of CleverPet Leo Trottier, who came up with the original concept.
“He had a couple of curious cats that needed stimulation,” Knudsen said. “He created a cat feeder in which the cats would have to flick a chopstick to earn food.”
Knudsen, the automated animal interaction specialist and chief science officer of CleverPet, met Trottier at graduate school, where Trottier is pursuing a doctorate in cognitive science. The two teamed up in the spring of 2013.
The philosophy behind CleverPet is simple.
According to the CleverPet website, “many dogs left alone at home are bored and unengaged, which can lead to separation anxiety and costly destructive behavior. CleverPet uses scientifically proven techniques to offer interactions that adapt to the needs of individual dogs automatically, even when their humans can's be home.”
Owners put their dog's food in the CleverPet and over the course of the day, the dog receives food in return for solving simple puzzles designed especially for pets. Owners can keep track of their dog's progress through the CleverPet app.
“The CleverPet uses cutting-edge algorithms based on behavioral science to reward your dog when she learns something new,” the website explained. “The console has three sensitive touch pads, which light up interactively and are designed for your dog's nose or paw.”
The team funded the project on Kickstarter, a worldwide fundraising site – attracting 1,142 backers and raising $80,000 more than its $100,000 goal.
Now, Knudsen said, they are working on delivering the goods. The first CleverPet consoles are expected to be shipped in the spring. For a limited time, they can be preordered online for $249, a $30 discount off the retail price, and shipped for free.
Knudsen and the rest of the team is hoping CleverPet will catch on and be the next big thing for pet owners.
“We believe it's a reflection of changing attitudes toward pets and pet care,” the team wrote on its Kickstarter page. “Many of us have a sense that we could do more for the animals we love and will try new technologies to see what works best.”
For more information or to order, visit getcleverpet.com.
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