kittyoIf there’s one thing we geeks are serious about (besides our geeky endeavors), it’s our pets. We pamper them and have conversations with them, cuddle and play with them, and wait on them paw and tail. Despite all the jokes we make about cats being imperious and aloof, though, it’s not an entirely one-sided equation: they purr us to sleep when we’re stressed and sleep on our heads to keep us warm through the night. They are endless sources of entertainment; they seem to know just when we most need them, and let’s face it, we miss them terribly when they’re not around.

Kittyo inventor, Lee Miller, explains how a tiny white kitten inspired his invention. “I was cat-sitting my friend’s cat, Pasha, when he was just a kitten. We were having a blast playing with the laser pointer. At the same time, his mom was texting me constantly, asking for pictures and videos and updates. That’s when it occurred to me: there had to be a way for pet parents to play with their cats when they weren’t at home. Everybody I told about the idea loved it and I knew I was on to something.”

What’s a Kittyo, you ask? It’s a small robotic device that works with a smart phone app (Android or iOS) to allow you to play laser pointer with your cat remotely, speak to your cat, record video during your play sessions, and dispense treats. And before anyone decides to nerd-correct me on the use of the term “robotic,” I’d like to remind that not all robots are Asimo. “Robot, noun, a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, esp. one programmable by a computer.”

So, with the idea of Kittyo in mind, Miller started looking for the right design firm to bring his idea into the world. “I didn’t have relationships with any designers at that time. I ended up meeting with over a dozen firms around New York, visiting their offices and getting a feel for how it all works.”

In the end, Miller chose ION Design for the project. You probably don’t know their name, but you likely have some products they designed in your home. They’ve done everything from the flip-top can that French’s Fried Onions come in, to several Altec Lansing speaker models. They also designed the Zero Water pitcher and a bunch of those really cool OXO kitchen tools, along with a host of medical and commercial devices. Some of those devices used a smartphone interface similar to what Miller wanted for Kittyo.

Steven Bellofatto, co-founder of ION Design, and product development lead said, “When I first heard about Kittyo, I was really excited about it and I knew it would be a product that pet owners would love.”

Anyone who’s ever owned a cat knows how quickly and easily they become conditioned to react to certain sounds. “The laser pointer I was using to play with Pasha was on a keychain, and pretty soon, he’d hear the sound of that keychain and come running from two rooms away.” Miller explains. “We wanted to bring out their little lion or tiger.” Activate the Kittyo sound cue to let your cat know it’s time to come and play, and let the fun begin!

Kittyo’s overall design is sleek and modern, and its smartphone app is clean and simple. All of the primary controls are on a single screen with no annoying menus to fumble through. The initial set-up is also designed to be quick and painless. You use your finger on your smartphone screen to move the laser pointer around, and you can speak to your cat, record video, or dispense a treat with a tap of the finger. The treat dispenser has seven compartments, each of which will hold a few kitty treats, so you can give treats more than once a day, or daily for up to a week.

Bellofatto adds, “We even came up with a shelf mount, so if you’re a curious cat, you wouldn’t knock it over inadvertently.”

Picture it: little Tribble has been getting into trouble while you’re away at work. Now, you can check in with her during the day, lets her hear your voice and helps keep her entertained, so she’ll stop shredding your magazines out of boredom. Or maybe the vet says Chewbacca’s getting a little too chubby? Kittyo lets you give him little exercise sessions throughout the day, no matter where you are. You’re off to KickAssCon for the weekend. Sure, you’ve got someone stopping in to feed Schrodinger and hang with him for a little while each day, but you miss him. Kittyo not only allows you to peek inside the box any time you want, but you can also give him a treat and grab a new video to share with friends. We’re not sure who’s going to have more fun with this thing: the cats, or their humans!

On April 21, 2014, Kittyo will launch its Kickstarter campaign, offering discounted pricing for customers who pre-order through Kickstarter. The units will ship in the Fall, so you’ll have Pixel’s holiday gift covered … if you can wait that long to open it!

The fine folks behind Kittyo have given us the ability to share this awesomeness with our readers and listeners! One of you will win your very own Kittyo! Our giveaway runs from April 7, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. PDT through 9:00 p.m. PDT on April 13, 2014. Pounce on the entry widget below for your chance to win!

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