It's time for your closeup, Rover.
Discovery Bay residents John and Kristie Polimeno hope their new smartphone application and social platform will make finding a lost pet as easy as snapping a picture.
The free application became available at findingrover.com July 17 for iOS devices. An Android version is expected in four months. A year and a half ago the Polimenos funded research into dog facial recognition software by scientists at the University of Utah. The couple previously owned a construction company. John Polimeno says there are several digital pet finders, but Finding Rover is the first that uses facial recognition software.
Developers ran into an interesting glitch during testing: They had trouble getting dogs to face the camera. The problem was solved with a "bark button" that plays recorded whining and barking to capture a pooch's attention.
"That was one of our biggest problems -- getting the dog to say cheese," Polimeno said.
Adding a recording of a whine and a bark solved the issue. "It's like magic," he said.
The idea for Finding Rover occurred to the couple during a coffee break at the Discovery Bay Starbucks about three years ago. Looking at posters of lost pets reminded them of having lost their own dog, Harley, about 7 years ago. It was a wrenching experience as the couple and their two children searched for their pet.
Harley's story had a happy ending -- he was at a neighbor's house. Seeing the missing pet posters at Starbucks got John thinking of the mobile phone photos and tagging.
"If we can do it for people," he thought, "Why can't we do it for dogs."
It turned out to be harder to digitally identify animals, but after a year of research and development, the new Finding Rover can do it, Polimeno said. The application includes a photo process in which you line up a dog's eyes with two circles and its nose with a triangle. There is a patent pending on the technology.
Here's how the service works:
1. A dog owner registers his dog's photo on the Finding Rover website. There is a camera at the website, or you can download an existing photo. The recognition software OK's the photo or requests a reshoot.
2. The pet's name, veterinary contact information, and other optional information is added to the profile. Owners need not include their address or phone number.
3. If the dog is lost, Finding Rover members can create a "digital dog poster" with the photo and contact information. Owners may also be contacted via a message through the platform. There's even an interactive map.
4. Anyone finding a lost dog can likewise snap a photo and do a search. The digital dog poster comes up when there is a match so the dog finder and dog owner can get Rover home. Owners of lost pets are notified when the website gets a match, and then can contact the finder.
"With our technology, all you do is take a picture," Polimeno said.
The application expands the fun by allowing owners to create "dog packs," where they can chat online.
The success of the application depends on how many people sign up, but Polimeno is confident pet lovers will support the idea. Already several veterinarians and shelters have expressed interest. The application was launched at a San Francisco animal shelter.
With enough exposure, Finding Rover could become a go-to app, Polimeno said. Currently, the site has no advertisement. The Polimenos hit the road two weeks ago for an 11-city tour to promote Finding Rover. Making a profit is something that will come later, Polimeno said. Right now, he is concentrating on getting the word out about the service.
"It's all about the dog," he said.