At CES, we like to show you new things, and we confess that the Petcube monitor isn't quite new. After running a Kickstarter campaign in 2013, it started shipping late last year for the substantial price of $199. But where else, in the crowded halls and ballrooms of Las Vegas, were we going to have a chance to drive cats to madness with a remote-controlled laser pointer?
The Petcube is a black-and-silver wide-angle camera that will make your animals feel like they're under the watchful eye of some malign artificial intelligence. Using a mobile app, you can connect to the camera and watch them or capture pictures, but it's not just a one-way connection. You can also turn on a microphone to talk to them or — more importantly — touch the screen to flash a laser pointer around the room. And if you don't have pets of your own, you can tune into a shared Petcube channel, wait in a queue, and then control it for a short session.
At its best, the Petcube's image on an iPhone was clear and fast; I could get the real experience of a cat-human battle of wills, dancing the laser pointer just out of reach until it either bolted or decided to totally ignore me. On the terrible Wi-Fi connection of a CES showroom, though, it was sometimes hard to tell what was going on. I'd move my finger, and the blurry artifacts of a shelter cat would streak across the screen, heading vaguely in the direction of the laser pointer. It didn't matter. It's the closest to a cat I'm going to get all month, and I'll take what I can get.