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A Smarter Pet Food Bowl By A Mind Behind Disney Magicbands

Look inside your dog’s food bowl, and you may see the future of human dieting.

As many as 54% of U.S. dogs are overweight, and that blame is on all of us. Dogs don’t go shopping. They don’t portion their own meals. It’s the human element that overfeeds a loyal pet and needs retraining.

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ProBowl, on Indiegogo now, is a smart food bowl that can help you help your dog lose weight. Designed by Matter–which was founded by Max Burton, who worked on early iterations of the Nike+ Fuelband and was responsible for the industrial design of the Disney Magicband–the ProBowl is essentially a scale that weighs the food or water you pour in. It connects via Wi-Fi to a smartphone app that allows you to monitor, or wean your dog’s eating over time. And if at any time you over pour a serving, or if another family member accidentally feeds the dog again, the bowl will turn red–the visual equivalent of yelling, “Bad owner! Bad!”

“You don’t need to know it’s ¾ of a cup that you’re pouring in, you’ll just know it’s full,” Burton says.

The app brings all sorts of additional brains to the operation as well. By knowing the dog’s breed and barcode-scanning the label of food, it can calculate how much you should be feeding your pet for them to maintain or lose weight. However, it’s very subtle in this endeavor. For the first week or so, it observes your habits, learning the two times a day you feed your pet (and then turning that information into a push notification for you into the future) and how much you tend to feed. The judgement isn’t instantaneous. Rather, it can reconfigure portion sizes gradually, easing you both into a diet that just seems to magically work.

To put a human on this sort of automatic diet would be beyond difficult. We eat off of different plates, and we eat all sorts of different things. Measuring all of this data automatically is impossible. It’s why Jawbone’s deep diet tracking app, as nicely designed as it was, was so much more of a pain to use than its simple Up wristband that measures and identifies activity without you ever specifying or clarifying a thing. But because dog diets are so simple, and they tend to eat out of a single container, ProBowl sidesteps these logistical hurdles to offer a peek into our quietly quantified times to come.

“All of these other holistic fitness solutions require so much effort and time in terms of input. Pet products simplify things a lot. In a way, it is a glimpse into the future,” Burton says. “If we do our job well, technology shouldn’t be something you think about or is taxing on the brain. It should just help you.”

Even still, a skeptic might look at a Wi-Fi connected dog food bowl and wonder, isn’t it overkill? Can’t we be smart enough to portion kibble ourselves? Does everything in our lives need to be “smart”?

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”I think there is a line to be drawn somewhere. As an innovator, or designer, I often ask that question myself,” Burton says. “I was at Nike working on the Fuelband idea, and I remember thinking, ‘this seems like a bit of a silly idea.’ At the time, Nike was very focused on athletes, not everyday fitness solutions. I didn’t think it felt very genuine…but here we are a few years later, it’s all the range, and everyone cares about that.”

The ProBowl is available for pre-order now for $70, estimated to ship in April 2016.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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