A team of young Canadians and Israelis hopes to ensure that during a long day at work, or even a vacation abroad, pet owners can stay virtually connected to their furry friends.
The developers of an electronic toy and mobile-application control system, called Pawly, won the grand prize on Thursday of the Global Startup Battle, an initiative sponsored by Google.
By scoring first place in the entrepreneurial challenge, the team members have won $20,000 in matching funds, assuming they can raise the same amount in an Indiegogo campaign, as well as an “inspirational visit” to the Google headquarters in Silicon Valley.
The goal of the system, according to its designer, is to take “the guilt away from leaving your pet at home.”
The Pawly system centers around a robot-like mechanism that takes videos in real time and allows owners to speak to and hear from their pets. Four wheels on the flatbed system always touch the floor, so owners can virtually move around and interact with the pet, and a treat dispenser enables further interaction, the team members said. A modular rubber case protects the rolling device from chewing, water and other shock and is both antibacterial and nontoxic, the team members said. For the human user, the mobile app provides remote control over the system.
Prior to winning the Global Startup Battle, the Pawly team came in second place at the Toronto Startup Weekend Maker Edition event, which allowed them to enter the larger contest, the team members said. After rigorously campaigning and attending tech events across Toronto, the team eventually made its way to the final top 15 in the battle – and then to first place on Thursday.
“We are in a very exciting time in which the overall landscape in tech has been changing, especially with design becoming an integral part of many startups,” said Shiera Aryev, CEO and cofounder of Pawly. “We think that with bringing together great design and the latest robotic technology, only incredible things are bound to happen. And in a $55 billion pet industry in North America alone, we’re so excited to be given an opportunity to make it a reality.”
In addition to Aryev, who was born in Haifa but grew up in Toronto, a second Israeli on the team of 10 cofounders is Mayer Elharar, the group’s business strategist. Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Elharar left Israel after completing his IDF service to attend university in Canada.
Other members of the team include mechanical engineer Alejandro Rovillard, civil engineer Gordon Dri, robotics engineer Robbie Edwards and industrial engineer Long Gao. Also on the team are full-stack developer Yunan Zhao, a computer engineer; software developer Josh Allen, designer Muriel Schvartzman and business development head Robin Kwan.
Aryev, Mayer and Rovillard will be taking the trip to Google in January and will network with other startup ventures while they are on the West Coast, Aryev told The Jerusalem Post. Meanwhile, the rest of the group will be flying to San Francisco for the Launch Festival in February to demonstrate their concept, at which time Aryev said she hopes they will have a full prototype.
Thus far, the team members only have tested their system on dogs. But they hope to see soon that cats can enjoy the virtual communication system as well.
“As soon as the dogs heard the owners’ voice and they saw treats coming out they were receptive,” Aryev said.
The Pawly entrepreneurs are testing different types of materials to line the robot’s exterior to make the system customizable for animals of different sizes and desires, she added.
Although they intend to launch the Indiegogo campaign sometime in the near future, Aryev and her colleagues emphasized that they are also researching additional opportunities.
“Our intentions are to do a crowd-funding campaign, and we’re taking all the steps necessary to make sure that we create a successful company,” Aryev said.