Review: A Few Days with a SNIF Tag

snif tag_EDIT.jpg
My pug Gus is a lazy sack. No disrespect, but it's true. Which is why I'm not at all opposed to putting him to work and/or keeping more rigorous tabs on his extreme indolence so that I can hold it over his head. Enter the SNIF system, an accelerometer built into an RFID tag that logs and transmits motion data to an Ethernet base station that plugs into your router. In addition to streaming real-time, online status updates (sleeping, sitting, walking, etc.), the SNIF web site creates a browse-able history of your pets activity or, in Gus' case, inactivity. Check out my pug's data, and observations after the jump...Quantifying your life, a variety of health data points, experiences, food consumed, etc. makes sense. But doing it on behalf of your dog? Well, I just don't know. The SNIF Tag system is simple to set up, easy to use, and $150, which is about as expensive as a no-frills, wristwatch heart rate monitor you could use to track your own activity level. However, what's important to realize, is the SNIF doesn't actually provide any hard and fast health data. It doesn't measure calories burned or heart rate or even GSR. So what does it track? "Average Power Correlate" (APC), which the company claims is a "correlation based on empirical measurement." In other words, a relative measure of the amount of energy that accumulates in the tag's accelerometer. Thus, the charted numbers themselves are rather meaningless, which was a bummer in that I was unable to make any comparison(s) to my own level of fitness, distance traveled, etc. Still, the visual cues are interesting and do provide a clear picture. Days can be broken down by the hour:
Then into 5-minute chunks:
Potentially helpful if you have a sick animal (sad!) and want to determine whether he/she consistently loses energy after meals &mdash or anytime you're not home. You can also call up historical data and "Compare" your dog to other animals registered for SNIF, including by breed, zip code, and general classification (Gus is a "Toy"):
Of course, this data is potentially meaningless for a variety of reasons, least of which is the fact the data are only as good as the people submitting it. If I forget to put the tag on until after Gus' morning walk, or neglect to charge the battery every night, then I'm submitting only a portion of his actual activity, which skews the results others might be comparing their animals to. It's also worth considering the Hawthorne Effect, which suggests people don't behave naturally in situations where they know they're being monitored. Hence, some SNIF users might be taking their dogs on longer or more frequent walks than normal. And that, right there, seems to be about the only real reason I could see someone buying this device. It's a reminder to take care of your dog, to dedicate extra time and energy towards his/her health. The real-time monitoring &mdash perhaps by virtue of the fact Gus isn't a sporty little pugger &mdash was fun at first, but got old real quick:
gus running.jpg
From a technical perspective, too, the system could be improved. I really wish the base station was wireless. Having to plug directly into my router was a pain in the ass &mdash and if I wanted to upload data via USB (instead of wirelessly via the tag, which only works up to 50 ft.*), I would've had to lug my laptop across the room to the router. It's worth noting this was a non-issue for me, because the SNIF USB software isn't yet Mac-compatible (another complaint). Lastly, SNIF offers all the familiar social networking tools and features: friend invites/accepts, messaging, wall posts, etc. To be honest, I found these all useless. There simply isn't a critical mass of users:
  • Total number of dogs in SNIF network: 212
  • Registered pugs: 7 (including Gus)
  • Dogs in my zip code: a 9-year-old female Coton De Tulear (huh-wha?)
One suggestion that could be kinda fun for some dog owners: Add in a customizable status update a la Critter. SNIF could let you program in a range of phrases for specific APCs, and then broadcast those 140-character messages to your mobile: "Dad, I'm totally bored right now," "Your socks are delicious!", "Am I kidding about the socks? Guess you'll have to come home to find out, dude!" Then again, do I need or want to receive regular, sarcastic Tweets from my dog? ...probably not. *you can purchase extra base stations for $75
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3 Responses to Review: A Few Days with a SNIF Tag

  1. God of DIrt says:

    What is it about dog owners being willing to spend far too much money on accessories.

  2. MartianTrailer says:

    Love it! We have 3 pugs, and they are a crazy mix of wild energy and total couch pugtato behavior.

  3. RedShirt77 says:

    Maybe you should take him for a walk.

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