Tel Aviv startup ‘breeds’ puppies for a 3D world of virtual reality
Itay Hasid has raised his dog since she was born. He plays with her and teaches her to perform tricks and respond to basic commands. But she never leaves his living room – much less his computer screen – because she is virtual.
He calls her Laika, after the first dog in space, sent into orbit by the Soviets in 1957. His Laika is, he says, the first dog in the metaverse – an integrated network of 3D virtual worlds accessed through virtual reality headsets and screens. Digital Dogs believes the metaverse is the canine way of the future.
Laika is the original product of the Digital Pets Company, a Tel Aviv-based artificial intelligence company pioneering the creation of the world’s first-ever digital pet companions in the metaverse. Digital Dogs believes the metaverse is the way of the future.
The dogs are powered by virtual touch capabilities and voice technology (similar to Siri) that allow users to communicate with them, teach commands, offer positive reinforcement through tokens, and create a one-on-one relationship in a virtual reality environment.
The pets will soon be available to purchase in vial tubes, before they are digitally ‘incubated’. Users will then monitor the dog’s progression from embryo to puppy to adult dog. At the adult stage, the dogs will be able to follow users across virtual reality worlds and adapt to different visual environments.
“This new internet – the metaverse – is going to be lonely if it is not filled with the right content connecting people and creating engagement between users,” Digital Pets Company co-founder and CEO Itay Hasid tells NoCamels.
“Dogs have many benefits across many situations in humans’ lives: when you want to get to know other people in working spaces, emotional support, etc. So we’re trying to mimic this as much as possible to bring these values to the virtual space.
“The idea mostly started from understanding that the internet as we experience it right now – through screens and phones – is going to change. We’re going to experience the internet by being inside it.”
As users in the metaverse, humans can select the dog breed and purchase their own digital companions using cryptocurrency (pricing has not yet been disclosed).
“If we believe in the future that the Internet will actually become immersive and we’re going to experience the digital world through 3D objects – not through a flat-screen – then we want to have a companion that can be with us in this digital realm, as well,” co-founder and CTO Maciej Miarecki tells NoCamels.
Itay Hasid, Maciej Miarecki, and Dan Stern, who jointly founded the company in 2021 are avid dog-lovers who also have experience in artificial intelligence and entrepreneurship. With the metaverse world on the horizon, they saw the need to bring dogs into this digital space. If humans were to create a community online, they saw it only fitting that dogs partake in this virtual world.
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They sought to create a multisensory digital dog experience powered by artificial intelligence. More than existing in a virtual space, the company created pets that – when secured online through non-fungible tokens in an online storage system – can engage in a two-way emotional relationship with virtual human avatars across virtual environments, applications, and games.
Digital Pets Company has created its own proprietary PetOS software, built on extended reality (XR) and blockchain technologies to foster each pet’s individual appearance and personality.
“Each [application] has a different visual style. Some of them are very realistic, others are very pixelated. We are trying to give the same companion across different apps, loading the same digital mind to every experience. [Your pet] will have the same traits, the same skills, and the same personality features. But for every app or world, we can load a different 3D avatar of the dog,” Hasid explains.
The idea of dogs as digital companions is not new. Hasid tells NoCamels that dogs were introduced to gaming environments as early as the 1990s. In 1994, Super Mario introduced in-game pet companions – a trend that inspired gaming engineers and entrepreneurs for years to come.
“We are taking it to the next level. We are giving users the ability to really communicate and interact with their dogs using voice commands, using this multisensory experience. It’s not passive, the dog will not just follow you. You can really interact with it using real-life ways of communication,” Miarecki says.
More than creating dogs to meet the future of the metaverse, the co-founders aim to create an online community perpetuated through dogs. In creating a new environment in which users can engage with one another, buy dogs from one another in a new marketplace, and bond over a mutual love of dogs.
“With digital dogs, you can be more social. The dogs can help you to break the ice and to talk with other people [online]. Just like if you’re walking in the street in Tel Aviv and you are walking with a dog and someone says ‘Oh, what a cute dog! Can I pet it?”. We have the opportunity to have a short conversation,” Hasid explains.
Looking to the future, the company’s goals are three-fold, Hasid and Miarecki tell NoCamels. First, they aim to continue to develop the dogs’ digital artificial intelligence brains as much as possible. Dogs serve a wide variety of functions in the real world – including emotional support – that the company hopes to emulate online. Second, the company plans to expand to other types of pets, including cats. Lastly, the company hopes to expand its brand beyond the metaverse and pursue collaboration with brands that support real-life animals. Digital Pets Company already works with animal non-profits (like Guide Dogs of America) to ensure that all animals receive the care they deserve.
Ultimately, the company hopes to further its love of dogs online as the world moves towards a more virtual reality. “It’s important for us to make this connection between the digital and the physical world,” Hasid says.