CIO50 2022 #26-50 Christian McGilloway, Ilume
We all love our four-legged friends, with these bonds becoming even stronger throughout the pandemic as we spend more time at home soaking up their unconditional support.
Which makes it all the more concerning that Australian dogs are in the grip of a major health crisis, with almost 60% registering as overweight and 20% are obese.
But managing canine health is challenging, especially given dogs are typically reluctant to discuss it.
“A healthy diet and exercise can help dogs live on average two years longer, however it is difficult to discern the right portions and right activity requirements for each breed and life stage,” says Christian McGilloway, CTO with dog nutrition and wellbeing specialists, Ilume.
“What’s right for an older Chihuahua is very different to the needs of a young Great Dane,” he says.
A collaboration with New Zealand’s Massey University on canine microbiome revealed that dogs not fed a balanced diet are vulnerable to myriad health problems. Yet feeding recommendations on packaging can be confusing.
“There’s no consideration for individual dogs' metabolic differences, yet every dog is uniquely different,” McGilloway notes. Yet studies have found that two pups from the same litter may differ by 50% for their their metabolic requirement.
“Serving sizes, coupled with imprecise cup or scoop measures on the back of packets promote a set and forget system that’s set up for overfeeding."
McGilloway and his team set out to develop an app and range of smart connected products that would form the basis of the Ilume complete dog health and wellbeing offering. The system needed to discern the differences between the needs of all breeds across all stages of life, whilst at the same time not add any complexity to providing care.
First cab off the rank was an ‘activity tracker’ comprised of a 3-axis accelerometer designed to accurately monitor movement, while integrating with the PNP (personal nutrition program).
Next the Ilume ‘Smart Bowl’ was created to interface with the activity tracker, monitoring dogs activity and updating the PNP.
“The bowl features a radial indicator to indicate the ideal portion without the need to show numerical weights,” McGilloway tells CIO Australia.
Dogs are assigned as belonging to 1 of 24 possible cohorts currently being validated with clinical trials at leading Australian University.
Throughout the initial weeks, data are collected to build the unique profile, calibrate activity and optimise the model to validate and adjust assumptions based on their initial cohort. Factors such as health conditions, body size, insulation characteristics of skin and coat, in addition to environmental factors such as housing conditions and ambient temperature, are all taken into consideration.
Together, the three core apps help owners track activities, sleep, and eating habits to reveal personalised plans to help their dogs enjoy longer and better quality lives.
“Using machine learning algorithms to provide accurate pattern recognition, we populate a data lake of movement signatures and eating habits allowing us to identify anomalies and precursors for early onsets illnesses,” McGilloway explains.
These insights are correlated with exercise data along with real time weights from the bowl to enable accurate validation of caloric requirements for each dog at an individual level.
Hello Fresh for dogs
It’s something of a natural progression for a company specialising in high quality dog food to explore options for tracking and improving results using digital tools.
What surprised Gilloway, his team and Ilume more broadly is how quickly the company identified a much larger addressable market for its solutions, effectively morphing it into a technology company.
“Due to the overwhelming interest in our suite we decoupled the technology from being solely dependent on Ilume food at launch in Dec 2022, allowing not just ilume food customers access to customised nutritional serving sizes and activity recommendations,” McGilloway notes.
Ilume is now viewing an addressable market almost 18,000% larger than when the project commenced.
“We have the potential of helping to improve the health and quality of 900 million dogs across the world (5 million in Australia), allowing everyone the opportunity to improve their dogs’ quality of life,” he says.
The extent to which McGilloway and his team have applied digital tools to expand Ilume’s mission beyond being merely a “hello fresh for dogs” is testament to their success in making the case for technology.
“When we discovered that nutritional content was not the only contributing factor to obesity in dogs, I discussed with [the CEO] about developing a collar and app to track metabolic changes”.
After prototyping and testing they realised they were solving a problem but then encountered another, in that it was very difficult to change user behaviours, for instance having them check their app daily and use weighing scales to measure appropriate amounts. Fitting into their busy schedules demanded a sophisticated digital solution.
“Fortunately the executive team sees the value in technology and have fostered an ethos of radical innovation through rapid prototyping and validation,” McGilloway enthuses.
Testament to this is Ilume’s Science Fund, created in mid-2022 with initial funding of $1 million to foster deeper digital research while inviting ‘dog-loving academics’, researchers and scientists to apply for grants and help the company build on its APIs and technology.