Researchers use Whistle’s dog activity tracker to quantify canine health

Canine activity tracker Whistle may not have launched its first commercial device yet, but its product is already being put to use by veterinary research and pharmaceutical companies to help understand dog illness and behavior.

The San Francisco startup has designed what could only be described as a Fitbit (see disclosure) or Fuelband for dogs. The small puck worn on the dog’s collar contains a three-axis accelerometer as well as Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi radios, which can track when and with whom a pooch is walking, playing or resting. That data is the parsed in the cloud and used to paint on overall picture of the dog’s activity via a smartphone app.

But Whistle believes it can do more with that data than tell you whether you’re playing enough fetch with Fido. Whistle’s accelerometer data could be used to detect whether a dog is behaving abnormally or has fallen ill, CEO and co-founder Ben Jacobs said. The company is working with two veterinary schools and a drug company to test whether Whistle can glean patterns from its data that would show whether an animal is having a seizure or experiencing pain.

Whistle quantified dog activity tracker

One of those institutions is North Carolina State University’s veterinary school, which is researching epilepsy in animals. It’s comparing the accelerometer data from Whistle-connected dogs against observed behavior in dogs diagnosed with epilepsy.

“They’re logging if the dog is having a seizure in a clinical environment and then using machine learning to see if they can detect a pattern in the Whistle accelerometer data,” Jacobs said. If NC State can make a correlation between the two, Whistle may be able to build diagnostic tools for veterinarians to treat canine epilepsy as well as create an alert application that could warn owners the moment their dog is having a seizure.

Penn Vet, the Unviersity of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school, is using Whistle trackers in more general research clinical studies, gathering data on how dogs react to specific treatments. Since dogs can’t easily communicate pain or reactions to different drugs, Penn Vet is testing whether Whistle can give “a voice” to dogs undergoing therapy or drug treatment, Jacobs said. Finally Whistle is working with a pharmaceutical company he couldn’t name on a canine pain medication trail.

While the results of these trials won’t be immediately apparent to Whistle’s regular dog-owning customers, they could help the company refine its machine learning algorithms, allowing it to more accurately parse the different meanings of different kinds of activity data, Jacobs said. For more details on how Whistle is being used to improve veterinary science check out Stacey Higginbotham’s podcast interview with Jacobs. How sensors connected to the internet of things are being used to quantify our world will also be a key topic of GigaOM’s Mobilize conference this week in San Francisco.

So far Whistle isn’t available to public yet, though it has started taking pre-orders for the $100-device on its website. Jacobs said it’s in its final rounds of beta testing and will start shipping Whistle to consumers within a month.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.