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Former Microsoft engineer invents video games for dogs

Igloo the border collie, one of 100 dogs beta-testing the software, is ready to play with the Pup Pod at the KIRO Radio studios. (Mynorthwest/Jillian Raftery)

It’s obvious people in the Pacific Northwest will go to extreme measures to keep their canines happy while they’re at work.

Now a former Microsoft engineer and dog lover turned entrepreneur has a new idea: video games for dogs. He says the idea was born when he adopted a rescue dog that loved to watch TV with him. It took off from there.

“When the Xbox Kinect came out, I looked at that product and thought, ‘Well, why can’t a dog play a video game?’ Because you don’t need a controller anymore,” said Erick Eidus, inventor of the Pup Pod.

That’s how Eidus came up with the Pup Pod. It’s an interactive, multi-level game that looks a like a red little snowman and detects when a dog is around.

“Inside it, we’ve added a bunch of wireless technology and sensors,” Eidus said. “So, we have a motion-detection sensor up here at the top. There’s a speaker, accelerometer inside here, and obviously, like processors and batteries.”

The Pup Pod consists of “levels” the dog has to accomplish. It runs through a series of challenges with the Pup Pod, which connects to another device that dispenses treats when the dog completes a “level.” For example, level one simply consists of the dog approaching the Pup Pod when it makes a sound similar to a bag of treats being opened. When the dog is close enough, the level is complete and the dog gets a treat.

And the whole thing connects to Wi-Fi so you can check in with your dog’s progress. The data even uploads to a server to see how pets stack up against each other.

More than 100 dogs have tested the program, with additional games in the works to cater to different breeds, attitudes, and ages. For example, one option could be replacing a treat dispenser with a ball thrower for active puppies.

Throughout the process, the biggest challenge is using human engineering to get into a dog’s head and develop software tailored to dogs.

“So we try to learn about what would a computer look like if a dog invented it? And really try to answer that question from a dog’s perspective,” Eidus said. “It’s another level of mental gymnastics when, you know, the dog’s sense of smell is just off the scale compared to a human’s, and the dog’s sense of hearing is off the scale compared to humans, and the way they process information is just really different.”

Eidus hopes the data they collect and the software they develop can do some good, like help move animal research forward. He also wants to develop a game that can help animals that were abused, like his dog – who is a little too skittish to try the Pup Pod – come out of their shells.

“My dog is a rescue and has some big issues around food and my dog would kind of be in the category of a fearful dog,” Eidus said. “So the way I look at it is we just haven’t invented the right game for him yet.”

Next month, Eidus is taking Pup Pod directly to the people and the dogs, with a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 for the first release of game systems.

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