UCSD Alumni Design First Gaming Console for Dogs

UCSD alumni Leo Trottier and Dan Knudsen won first place in a startup competition at the Consumer Electronics Show for their invention The CleverPet Hub, the first game console designed for dogs.

The Consumer Electronics Show is an annual technology tradeshow that takes place in early January at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It provides both large and small companies with the opportunity to preview and announce new products.

Trottier and Knudsen founded their startup company, CleverPet, in 2013 and based it in San Diego. The company originally raised over $180,000 as part of a Kickstarter campaign to develop The CleverPet Hub, the device that earned the startup a top prize at the 2016 CES.

Combining their backgrounds in cognitive science and animal behavior, Trottier and Knudsen created a game console that simultaneously entertains and teaches dogs. However, even though CleverPet initially created the device with dogs in mind, Trottier clarified that cats can enjoy the benefits of the device as well.

The CleverPet co-founder, who received a master’s degree in cognitive science at UCSD, and is now a Ph.D. candidate, explained to the UCSD Guardian that with the addition of a simple electronic device, families could provide all-day interaction for their pets.

“I noticed that most homes were one hardware product away from being able to provide rich, all-day interaction to the furry friends that lived with them,” Trottier said. “[With The CleverPet Hub], people can feel better about their dogs needing to be alone during the day, knowing that their dogs have something to do.”

Trottier added that the idea for the game console quickly developed once the technological components of it could be synched.

“It began with radios and sound systems, then televisions, then computers, then internet connections and lastly, systems that connected all these pieces together,” Trottier said. “All that’s needed is the ability to provide a food reward at precisely the right time in order to transform homes into interactive and educational pet playgrounds.”

The CleverPet Hub is not designed solely for pets’ amusement, it also offers conditioning that trains them how to interact with the device.

“The Hub teaches dogs first to eat from it, then to touch it, then to pay attention to the lights and sounds it produces,” Trottier said. “Teaching your dog to eat from it is easy: it just uses the tray to present food. Teaching your dog to touch it takes more time: we wait for the dog to connect with the touch pad, and then respond when he does. Teaching your dog to pay attention to the lights takes even more time: we provide rewards when your dog touches the touch pads that are lit up.”

Monitoring your dog’s progress on the CleverPet Hub, Trottier adds, can be achieved anywhere and only requires a Wi-Fi connection.

“It has a connection to the Internet, so we keep track of how well each dog is doing over time,” Trottier said. “When a dog is doing really well, the difficulty level gets higher. When a dog is doing poorly, it gets easier.”

Trottier credited his experiences at UCSD in the field of cognitive science for the success of The CleverPet Hub.

“UCSD’s collaborative and irreverent spirit is at CleverPet’s core,” Trottier said. “The cognitive science program there enables students to have deep insight into the nature of minds, computation and behavior. These insights have been instrumental in the fairly involved process of designing a connected food-handling hardware product for dogs and humans.”