For Mohit Arora, Global Digital Marketing Lead at Pet Nutrition, what’s worse than losing a pet is the lack of an adequate infrastructure to find lost pets and get them back to their families. While dogs are synonymous with loyalty and being man’s best friend, the lack of speech is a shortcoming that leads to many pet dogs going missing each year.
While a collar with emergency details is a simple solution, customised collars aren’t very popular yet. A lot of dogs also reject anything more than a simple light-weight collar around their necks. And then again, there’s always the risk of your missing dog sabotaging his collar. However, with the advancement of technology, especially machine learning, losing your dog may soon be a problem we may never have to deal with.
That is precisely what the brilliant minds behind ForPAWS are working on. ForPAWS is a facial recognition tool by Mars Incorporated, that will help reconnect lost pets with their families. Ahead of a wider rollout of the app, Arora explains the fundamentals of how facial recognition will soon be a reality for the canine, as well as why the need for such tools exist today.
Forpaws, as defined by Arora, “is a free service mobile app developed by Mars Pet Nutrition that leverages facial recognition technology and a network of pet-lovers to solve a serious problem of tracking missing pets and helping them find their way home.”
“With ForPAWS we ensure that worried pet parents always have the most reliable help at hand, to locate and bring their pet back if they ever go missing. The initial offering is tailored to solve the problem for dogs only , we are working on a module for cats that will get rolled out in the future,” Arora explains.
“With ForPAWS all you require is one photo and a basic smartphone to create a unique ID for your dog,” Arora adds, mentioning how the increasing rate of smartphone penetration and decreasing data costs makes the tool’s working a reality amidst Indian masses.
ForPAWS uses machine learning (an artificial intelligence-based implementation that lets software tools accurately decipher circumstances and predict outcomes) to scan a pet’s facial details from a a large database. This database will be full of unique pet IDs created by registering their facial data, making the tool’s working similar to an equivalent of a school/college/office identity card.
However, this identity card will be one among many in a digital avatar, that the app’s servers can access on demand. So, should your dog go missing, anyone who finds him will be able to use ForPAWS to retrace your furry friend back to you, following which he/she can get in touch with you directly.
“Our data scientists trained Machine Learning (ML) modules for breed identification and facial recognition. In addition to making the prediction more accurate, they use indicative markers for a particular dog like colour, spots, etc. The ML is currently trained on over 130 breeds and 2,000 unique dogs,” Arora explains, adding that “as the number of pet images increase in our database the ML should become smarter.”
This eliminates the process of going through tonnes of listings to get an idea of whose missing pet you have come across.
“One challenge we do face and where we have made a recommendation to our community of pet owners is that of taking a fresh picture of your dog every 6 to 12 months and allowing the ML to use the most recent photo to make a match, as dogs grow faster than humans.
A third-party research conducted over 750 dogs including “a mix of breed dogs, strays and Indies” returned a 95% match, at a rate of over 90 per cent. “To further improve accuracy we will be looking at indicative markers for a particular dog including the colour, spots, and the location where the dog was lost,” Arora adds.
Coming to how the service’s privacy mechanics will work, Arora explains that the app will be clear about how it works and will implement and maintain an ‘opt in & opt out’ approach. “We feel the privacy of consumers and giving them a choice to “opt in and opt out” on sharing data is a mutual way of delivering a free digital service,” Arora adds.
“In case the consumer changes his/her mind after using the application , we have an opt out option in the application where the consumer can ask us to delete any particular, or all information basis his/her comfort level. This way we give the consumer the power to decide how much they wish to share with us.”
While the pet parents get a useful ‘lost & found’ platform, we want to be able to use the data that they are comfortable sharing with us, to improve pet and pet-parent experiences both on digital and the offline world in our attempt to make a better world for pets.
For services like ForPAWS to work, a large database and an optimised machine learning algorithm on its own may not be enough. The tool will also heavily rely on user adoption, and will work at its best when there is a large community and network of pet lovers registered on the platform.
To make sure ForPAWS gets there quickly, the company is also taking a number of extra steps, besides rolling out a free app. These include focusing on targeted geography at a city-level and ensuring that there is a large enough community that can “act as finders in case a pet gets lost.”
The tool is also getting Rescues, Shelters & Vets to register on the app, as these are usually the first places where finders will take the missing pet to, looking for help. “We already have the biggest coverage of NGOs and Rescues out of Bangalore- CUPA ,CARE, Cubbon Park Canines who have endorsed the effort and wish to distribute the app amongst their volunteers,” Arora explains.
“To support a pet parent who has lost a pet, ForPAWS provides a virtual poster that the parent can push over his/her social handles (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc). In addition, we are also helping them widen their reach to find a pet using the social handles of Mars PetCare and its partner communities on Facebook that help find lost dogs.”
ForPAWS is currently available on Android, and while the app’s working is still limited to the city of Bengaluru, it is expected to reach more cities in the near future and even countries other than India later on.