What if you never had to worry about stepping in another pile of dog poop on your property? What if a robot could pick up everything for you? That’s what Beetl is working to do with their lawn robot, and more.
AnimalBiome met Beetl through the venture firm SOSV’s startup network. We wanted to ask Beetl a few questions about the background of their company, which is based in Palo Alto, and find out their goals for making life with pets even better. Here’s a Q&A with Chris Wee, the company’s Director of Software Engineering.
What was the inspiration behind Beetl?
CW: The company was founded by Tim Sippel and Sandeep Mirchandani, and the inspiration came when they realized: Computers are getting really good now, and they are able to do tasks that humans can tackle—and yet, there don’t seem to be any consumer robots with that level of intelligence. About two years ago, the Roomba and various lawn mowers just bounced around in random patterns. Tim always wanted a robot that would pick up leaves, weed his lawn, clean his garden, do all the things he didn’t want to do. That was the inspiration behind the robot.
Are there dog lovers on your team?
CW: Yes! And our pets provide plenty of samples for our robots to pick up.
Does Beetl have any insights for maintaining a happy relationship with pets?
CW: Our value proposition to pet owners is: Spend your time with your pets and loved ones, let us do the pickup for you.
Something that we can relate to at AnimalBiome is marketing something that’s directly associated with animal poop. Are there any quirks you found from marketing that type of product?
CW: When we showed our robot, we were part of HAX Accelerator’s 9th cohort. In January 2017 we showed up at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and I would say that for the entire three days, our booth was mobbed. People would walk by, think we were a lawn mower, and then see the dog poop sample that we had—the fake poop on the green grass—and then they would bust out laughing. They would come over and say, “I cannot believe that you are actually doing this!”. A lot of people would thank us, or ask, “Can you make a version for public parks in Europe? Because our parks are terrible!”.
I have spoken to the AnimalBiome founders, and we thought it would be great if we could figure something out together. The founders are UC Davis alumni, and I’m an Aggie as well. I did my PhD there, studying network security back in the ‘90s. So, I’m really enthusiastic to have that connection. We suggested putting a camera on our robot, which AnimalBiome said would be perfect, because that’s exactly how microscopes detect parasites. You have to actually look for the egg. So that’s in our future, I think. In the future, our robot could pick up poo, smear it on a slide, and then observe it with a camera or microscope and look for eggs, worms, or other types of parasites before we discard it of course. And that way we would have a daily analysis, or multiple times per day, analysis of their pets. We could catch problems sooner, or maybe share the data with other owners of pets in the neighborhood to detect outbreaks of parasites.
Another point of collaboration in the future could be with the pet camera, Petcube. They’re focusing on behavioral analysis of pets, and we want to be a roving platform for that as well.
What are your most immediate plans for Beetl?
CW: I’m leaving for China, and will be in Shenzhen for the next six months. The rest of the team arrives in Shenzhen in January, and we are beginning the next phase, which is developing multiple prototypes for beta trials.
Are you going to reconnect with the HAX team in Shenzhen?
CW: Absolutely. I hope to be there for HAX Demo Day. We’re going to be working with a consumer electronics company in Shenzhen that has backed us, as well as continuing to work at HAX. Since we are HAX alumni, we want to maintain that connection.
Learn more about Beetl and sign up for their mailing list at beetl.co.