The furry tail of Musk

While I loved dogs, my busy schedule and the fear of being unable to devote enough time kept me away from becoming a pet parent.

I utilized every opportunity to engage with furry creatures during walks around the apartment but never dared to take up the responsibility full-time.

A year ago when my friend ventured abroad for a few months, I agreed to foster his 3-year-old Golden Retriever "Musk". Given the short-term commitment, this seemed to be a shot worth taking for me.

When Musk moved in, the jitters and euphoria around the house reminded me about the birth of my daughter. Like every other super confident parent, I thought I knew exactly what Musk needed. Little did I know, life was about to shatter my misconceptions one by one.

On day one, I found little musk panting heavily at night. While many frantic web searches attributed it to anxiety, I struggled to find a credible solution. From belly-rubs to treats, nothing could calm him down. Finally, we both were only able to sleep in the morning.

Over the next few weeks, Musk and I seemed to have agreed on a routine. Our day started with 30-minute walks, with Musk pulling me along when my phone threatened to slow us down. This was followed by a hearty lunch, which he gulped in flat 30 seconds. Of course, our routine also entailed enough petting and cuddling before hitting the bed at night. With that, I believed I was doing my best to keep my furry friend the healthy and happy pup he seemed to be. Who knew it was just calm before the storm?

Over a few weeks, I could see that Musk was becoming lazy, not actively responding to instructions, and eventually, even to the petting and cuddling, he was so fond of. This made us dash to the vet with all family members in tow.

Discussing with the vet made me realize every breed has its own specific needs depending on its genetics. Popular breeds like Goldies, Labs, and Shepherds were originally working dogs, and despite their snug and urban lives in cities and apartments today, still need as much exercise. Similarly, they need to be fed according to their specific calorie burn. Their needs are not just according to their breed but also, their lifestyle.

The vet told us that Musk was showing early signs of obesity. He needed precise measures of food and an immediate change in lifestyle. My earlier nightmares of owning a pet were coming true. Now I was spending more time on Musk than I ever thought I would.

Here, I was juggling with time between my work, family, Musk and tons of youtube videos and credible blogs. Unfortunately, most suggestions were generic and the content I was browsing looked more for SEO than actually helping dogs.

The need for measurement and an urge to best utilize my time with Musk brought the techie back in me. Wouldn't it be magical if I could know if Musk is doing all well? Or if there was a that a device could alert me if Musk needs a vet visit? Would it also be possible to know Musk's biomarkers like his activity time, calories burnt, sleep, etc so that I could know exactly what to focus on.

Hunt for the Holy Grail:
Being an Apple watch user, my initial instinct was to search for a good fitness band for dogs. While Whistle and FitBark were the choices, their main focus remained on GPS-based tracking and a few specific alerts. I was looking at a holistic approach, constant health monitoring, and suggestions based on these measurements.

My search in India linked me with Wagr and links to an earlier attempt made by Chinmay. Wagr's founders were kind enough to share their learnings and provide their suggestions. Eventually, when I found no complete solution for my problem, I started to build something of my own.

Forming the pack:
Post the initial hypothesis, I shared the idea with Saurabh and Ashwani. Both of them had had a pet at their home before they migrated to apartments in Bangalore. They had also shared a similar fear of pets taking over more time than the Bangalore traffic congestion.

Saurabh and I have been a part of building Fusion music player which has grossed more than 8 million downloads and HIVE (India's first Android-based custom ROM). Ashwani had run his own smart homes hardware venture for some time, which may have been a little earlier than the market demanded one, and then, we had worked as a team when we built smart devices at Ottomate.

We brainstormed for a few months, where Musk was thrilled to be our scapegoat for all our experiments.

The birth of
For 3 months we experimented with various exercise routines and health tips to get Musk back to the peak of his health. This included measuring his BCS (Body condition score), weight, manually noting down activities, and measuring food portions.

We could see dramatic results in the first 15 days followed by a gradual improvement over the next few weeks. This gave us confidence that the holy grail was at sight.

With our initial manual interventions working, we set out to build a prototype.

Equipped with an ARM microcontroller running a deep learning ML model, an M2M Quectel module for sending data, a 3 axis accelerometer and a gyroscope, we were ready to convert our understanding to a measuring machine.

This setup allowed us to measure Musk's kinematics with 96% accuracy and bucket them into rest, normal, and high-intensity activities. Accurate measurements helped us to keep tuning his diet and exercise routines. In a matter of a few days, we were able to get Musk to a stable weight and a regular, healthy routine.

Now here we are with Fydl, bringing accurate measurements to ensure that every Musk around us remains fit. While my friend’s supposedly short stint got turned into a long-term project, my short fostering assignment slowly turned into full-time parenthood.

What Next @ Fydl
We are now looking to engage with more pet parents who can try Fydl and share their learning, so that every pet out there can be healthy and every pet parent, happy.