U of T ECE student launches Kickstarter for smart pet feeder

Device allows users to feed pets using mobile phone
Photo courtesy of Nibbles Inc.
Photo courtesy of Nibbles Inc.

Earlier in May, Justin Kim, a U of T electrical and computer engineering student, and Jonathan Ku, a current Western University student and former U of T Scarborough student, launched a crowdfunding campaign for Nibbles, a smart pet feeder. Nibbles allows users to feed their pets using their mobile phones.

Kim, who built the prototype, and Ku, who handled business development, developed the idea for Nibbles last fall after Kim got a new kitten. Kim became frustrated when the kitten, named Nibbles, would repeatedly wake him for food in the early hours of the morning. Kim’s solution was to build a remote-controlled automatic pet feeder.

Within a month of developing the idea, the duo created a working prototype, which was initially made out of cardboard. After deciding to launch a crowdfunding campaign, Kim built a second, improved prototype.

“Our working process was basically following the lean start-up methodology and basic business fundamentals, continuing to work with our idea only after we were able to exchange funds with a customer,” Kim said. The methodology favours experimentation over excessive planning and customer feedback over founder intuition.

While Kim and Ku admitted that working on a start-up presents challenges, they have enjoyed the experience. Despite the fact that the duo live in different cities, they have made the project work by staying connected over social media and holding weekly in-person meetings.

According to Ku, the device is geared towards pet owners with busy lifestyles because it allows them to feed their pets when on-the-go. The camera also allows pet owners to check in on pets at any time.

So far, the duo has relied on Kickstarter to fund the first production run of the item and validate market demand. “It’s one of the more popular crowdfunding sites but it also has a strict project submission, meaning we needed a working prototype to be accepted on Kickstarter,” Ku said.

While the duo did not look for financial aid from their respective universities, Kim credited faculty members at the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, including Matthew Mackay and Bruno Korst, for their guidance in his search for technical solutions. Kim was introduced to microcontrollers by Korst, which lead him to build Nibbles.

As of press time, Nibbles has raised $6,731. The project will receive funding if at least $50,000 is pledged by Thursday, June 12.

If the Kickstarter reaches its funding goal, the duo hopes to have Nibbles on the market by the end of February 2015. Nibbles is expected to retail at $279 USD, with a possible cost reduction in the future.

In 2012, Canadian pet owners spent over $6.5 billion on their pets.

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