Walker is the name of a product and app that will potentially define the future of pet connectivity. Starting spring 2017, Aidan Draper of Elon University and Marcus Zimmermann of Marist College with the help of Elon professor and mentor, Joel Hollingsworth, have dedicated their time and effort to building this project. The goal is to design a device using a microcontroller, sensors and a 3D-printed shell that can clip onto any dog's collar. This device will connect to an iPhone application using bluetooth and 3G data when necessary. The product will relay information like body temperature, current location, and dog commands over a microphone so that any pet owner can feel as engaged as possible with their animal. Aidan has just been awarded a Elon Maker Hub Kickbox grant to pursue this project.
Aidan has continued working on Walker since the last post. By using a Cocoa Pod, he was able to import the Particle SDK into the app. Now, he can access the devices on his Particle account using his login credentials! This is a big step in the project because we now can make the app and hardware interact together.
I spent about 3 hours today in the Maker Hub working in Autodesk 123D. I was able to finish a concept design for the Walker shell. This of course will only be the prototype shell because the finished product would ideally be much smaller. The dimensions are roughly 120mm by 56mm by 42mm. More updates are coming later this week. A big test will be whether the loops fit the collar and if the plastic is durable enough. T-minus 8 hours until the collar attachment is done printing!
I finally got to meet with Professor Hollingsworth. He gave me insight on what the best microcontrollers to use for this project were. In the end, we decided to go with the Particle Electron, one of the new microcontrollers that Particle has released that can connect to 3G data as opposed to relying on WiFi and Bluetooth. This was decided because we won't always be able to rely on WiFi. For example, if your dog runs away into the woods, the microcontroller would disconnect from WiFi. The Electron was the perfect fit though because it still has complete Bluetooth functionality, is a very compact size, will connect to all the extra sensors that we want, and will not lose signal when you are a long hike with your dog.
The Electron connects to T-Mobile and AT&T data and, as a result, requires a data package at $3 a month for 1 megabyte of data. Luckily, the first 3 months are free so that is plenty of time to get this project up and running.
One bummer about the Electron was that, with the Asset Tracker kit - a GPS locator kit - the price came out to around $150 with shipping, which is half of our whole budget. After much talk though, it was decided that this would be the biggest piece of the project so not cutting corners on this device is important. We want full functionality when we present it.
We also ordered a temperature sensor and a speaker for the microcontroller and hope to receive everything in the next couple of days. Then, we can start building. I mentioned these extra sensors to Professor Hollingsworth and he mentioned that a better way than relaying a dog's exact temperature is to give an range like "Your dog is cold!", "Your dog is comfortable", and "Your dog is hot!", which allows room for error in readings. We liked this idea and will definitely be implementing it this way rather than a number now.
More updates will be coming very soon! Thanks for reading.
Besides some minor work, the project has started fairly slow. A major reason for this has been because there was a lack of available time to meet with our Maker mentor, Professor Hollingsworth. We've waited to order parts because we want Hollingsworth's opinion on components, sensors, and microcontrollers. One of the minors things that has been completed this month was the "temporary" logo of a doberman. We are considering buying the rights to the font for that logo as well. Until then, it cannot be published anywhere officially. Another minor update was touching up some of the previous Xcode files. Right now, most of the work has been done on the UI in the storyboard but, starting next month, we will be giving the buttons functions and working a lot on the backend.
A meeting has been scheduled with Professor Hollingsworth for next week. Post meeting, the parts should be ordered and then we can begin constructing the first prototype.
To talk a bit about Level 1 of the Kickbox, it was really interesting to think about why this project is important, both to the public and to ourselves. For us, its an awesome learning experience that will hopefully prepare us for graduate school or add an interesting touch to our resumes. For the public, its a device that could ease tensions about pet safety. Needless to say, we are super excited to get this kickstarted!
One frustrating thing we learned after research was that there is actually a similar device that has already been produced called "Whistle". Its a similar idea where you can clip on a GPS tracker to a dog's collar, but differs from our product because there is little functionality besides GPS. Interestingly enough, this product also retails for $80 so it would be fascinating to see how much "Walker" could be sold for per device. We hope for something around $50 but that would probably mean buying a bulk order of bluetooth sensors, which seem to be the most expensive piece so far.
Anyway, thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates!