Qualcomm shows public face with pet-tracking service

Qualcomm's Tagg pet-tracking service brings GPS and wireless communication together to track lost cats or dogs

Qualcomm, which launches few consumer products, later this month will launch a pet-tracking service built using proprietary technology from its communications business.

Snaptracs, a subsidiary within Qualcomm, will launch Tagg, a pet-tracking system with GPS and wireless communication capabilities for owners to immediately track lost dogs or cats. The system includes a purpose-built tracking device that looks like a watch and clips on to existing pet collars.

There are many tracking services that involve inserting microchips in pets, but the recovery process can be complex, said David Vigil, president of Snaptracs. Through Tagg, Qualcomm wants to bring real-time pet tracking capabilities, and the ability to locate and save pets in a matter of minutes as opposed to days.

The service allows users to pinpoint the exact location of a pet on a smartphone or tablet via GPS and applications such as Google Maps. The service also sends SMS alerts or e-mails on the pet's location at given intervals through the built-in communication chip.

"That's what we're doing, completing the last mile for the pet where you as the owner of the pet ... can take control," Vigil said. The tracker and a full year of service is priced at US$199, and SMS notifications are sent through Verizon's wireless network. Then after the initial year of service, the service costs $5 per month.

A boundary, which Vigil called a "geo-fence," can be set up through the service within which a pet has to stay. If a pet breaches the boundary, an alert can be sent to the owner, family and friends as an e-mail or SMS. The "geo-fence" can also be shut down when taking a dog for a walk so false alarms are not sent. The service also provides assistive GPS services through which a pet's whereabouts can be retrieved by responding to SMSes.

The Tagg service would be a welcome change for Joanne Wright, a Brooklyn resident, who owns two cats. Wright has both cats micro-chipped, but the tracking service involves jumping over many hoops to get a lost pet back. Cats aren't as visible as dogs and can be notoriously difficult to catch, and one misstep could add a layer of difficulty to tracking a lost pet.

Wright has to hope someone snags the cat and takes it to a vet or shelter with a scanner, through which the microchip would hopefully be located. The vet or shelter needs to contact tracking service HomeAgain, which has to notify Wright that the cat has been located.

"I still have to look for it for hours, and I'm still going to make all those signs with his picture and put them up in the neighborhood," Wright said. "If I could just find the cat myself within minutes of noticing he's gone, it would be so much easier."

But Wright's cats either pull apart or wriggle out of collars all the time, which could render Tagg ineffective. That's where a micro-chip becomes advantageous.

"I'd be a thousand times more likely to use it if there isn't a collar," Wright said.

The Tagg tracker weighs about 1 ounce (28 grams) and is for dogs and cats weighing more than 10 pounds, Vigil said. That's not too heavy for a dog weighing around 100 ounces, Vigil said.

"We're talking about 1 or 2 percent extra weight to an animal," Vigil said.

Qualcomm mostly provides communications and media technology behind the scenes to smartphones and tablets, and has already enabled tracking devices like the Little Buddy child GPS tracker. But with spending on the rise in the pet industry, Qualcomm decided to establish Snaptracs and go direct to consumers with Tagg, said Vigil, who previously was senior vice president of business development at Qualcomm.

There are tens of millions of households with dogs and cats in the U.S., and their owners spend billions of dollars every year to provide for those pets, Vigil said.

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