There are already several ways of identifying your pets. But tags, tattoos, and microchips all have their drawbacks, according to Philip Rooyakkers, an entrepreneur from Vancouver. Tags fall off. Tattoos get rubbed off. Microchips move around an animal's body, making detection difficult.
Rooyakkers's alternative is like something out of the movie Minority Report: a facial recognition system, called PiP, that minutely records, classifies, and categorizes every feature of a dog's or cat's appearance.
To use PiP on your unsuspecting pet, you download the app, take a picture, and enter some basic details. If Fido ever goes missing, you can send out an alert to vet clinics, animal shelters, municipal control agents, and fellow PiP subscribers within a 15-mile radius. If someone finds an animal, they can upload the picture, initiating a matching process.
If you think missing pets a trifling matter, consider this: Up to 4 million domestic animals go missing every year, according to the American Humane Society. And only a very small proportion—2% in the case of cats—ever make it home again. That means the animals are either ending up in rescue centers, or, more likely, kill shelters. Rooyakkers, who owns a big animal care facility in Vancouver, reckons about half of all animals are euthanized every year.
PiP was developed from scratch by 15-year facial recognition technology veteran Daesik Jang, and Rooyakkers claims it's actually more sophisticated than systems used for humans. "Humans have very standard faces," he says. "For the most part, we know where the eyes, nose, and mouth should be. With pets, you have a huge variation—anything from the shape of nose to the overall shape of the skull."
That makes the basic task more difficult, but PiP makes an effort. Using algorithms to classify characteristics and look for patterns, it weights each animal on a scale, and keeps learning as new pets are added by users. Rooyakkers claims a 98% identification accuracy rate during trials.
The iOS app goes on sale in the Apple store at the beginning of November and is free to download. But to register a pet, owners need to pay $1.59 a month, or 18.99 for a year.
That may sound like a lot, compared to, say, the price of a Petsmart tag or a simple chip. But Rooyakkers argues that, as a smartphone-based service, PiP is more universal and open-access than other methods—at least potentially.
"There are different standards for chips and no centralized database. We're putting the technology back into people's hands, so it eases everything and lessens the number of the pets that are out there," he says.