I-Corps: Cloud apps for animals: cutting costs and improving welfare
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Work with animals is very valuable for society. Animals as pets provide companionship and well documented health benefits. Zoos and aquariums are often public cultural institutions, and licensed animal exhibitors can be found in all the major cities in the United States. Research on drugs, behavior, and development require the use of live animals. For example, by law a drug cannot be brought to market without testing on live animals. For each of these valuable ways animals help us, there is a heavy workload of animal care and data collection. When the workload cannot be met, animals from home pets to zoo favorites suffer from a lower quality of life, and the value of what we get from animals is reduced. Heavy workloads lead to poor data, fewer pets, and sad looking zoo animals. The proposed project focuses on a system, similar to a video game system, that allows for automation of animal-related activities. This proposed system can give animals physical toys and puzzles to keep them busy, provide fun challenges for them to solve, and reward them for physical exercise all of which help keep the animals physically and mentally healthy. It will also provide new ways for people to bond with their pets, automatically conduct experiments, and record data.The goal of this I-Corps project is to identify the market need for devices which can improve animal welfare and automate data collection. This team will extensively interview in three potential market areas: pet owners, research laboratory decision makers, and zoo & aquarium staff. As the team members explore the market need, they will tailor their prototype system to meet market needs. The team will utilize the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center at Texas A&M University to field test and scientifically validate the prototypes, then revisit their market areas with a product demonstration. If successful, they will develop a low cost, simple to use system that will allow animal caretakers, exhibitors, and researchers to automate much of their animal research and husbandry tasks. In this way the team will allow 1) pet owners to keep their animals busy and happy when they are away and to derive more benefits from pet ownership, 2) researchers to more efficiently and economically provide enrichment and run experiments, and 3) zookeepers to develop new interactive displays and provide highly stimulating activities for their animals. The team envisions the new device will work in the following way: load a game file, fill the object dispenser, and walk away knowing the system will exercise, entertain, feed, teach, research, or medicate the animal.