It seems to be one of those "well-known facts" that petting an animal can lower a person's blood pressure – and yes, we're assuming that the animal isn't a piranha. Unfortunately, many people are unable to own a pet, or they at least have to spend their stressful workday away from their cuddly critter. A new system called iPet Companion, however, lets users play with real, live cats – in real time – via the internet.
The business end of iPet Companion is a robotic device containing three user-movable cat toys, which is set up in the "cat room" of an animal shelter. A high-resolution web camera is pointed at the device, and feeds a live signal to the internet. Users go to the shelter's website and access the iPet interface, then wait in a queue for a free two-minute session at the device's onscreen controls, watching and responding to the live reactions of the kitties.
The system is currently being tested at the Oregon and Idaho Humane Societies, and was supplied by iPet's parent company, AprioriControl. According the Oregon Humane Society, kitten adoptions have increased by 16 percent since the system was installed ("I want that one I was playing with on my computer!"), while donations and sponsorships have increased by 295 percent, and web traffic by 52 percent.
If nothing else, of course, it also provides the cats with much-needed exercise and mental stimulation. AprioriControl is now looking at bringing the system to other shelters, which would pay an installation fee and a monthly service charge.
It seems that the fun, however, needn't be limited to playing with pets.
"With this technology, we can move anything that has a motor, or requires a button to be pushed, from any location in the world instantly," AprioriControl founder Scott Harris told us. "Some of the opportunities (markets) include television shows where dedicated fans can start the blender for their favorite chef, or viewers can shoot a paintball gun at the intern on the Jimmy Kimmel show, etc. The possibilities are truly limited only to the imagination."