Play with your pets from anywhere with PlayDate's smart ball

This might finally be a useful smart pet toy.

We've seen connected food dispensers and health trackers for pets, but we're still waiting for the first truly great smart pet toy. That's what PlayDate is aiming for with its smart ball, which resembles Sphero's devices and LG's upcoming Rolling Bot. It can be controlled remotely and has an integrated webcam, so you can use it to keep an eye on your furry friends throughout the house, as well as give them something to chase. And of course, it also lets you snap photos and videos of their playtime. PlayDate is launching an Indiegogo campaign today to raise $60,000, and you can snag an early engraved model for $129. That price jumps to $149 for the "Indiegogo special," which is still less than the proposed $249 retail cost.

As PlayDate CEO Kevin Li tells it, he started experimenting with connected pet gadgets after adopting his dog Hulk several years ago. His first idea was to build a wearable to track Hulk's activity, but he quickly learned that pet owners faced a bigger issue: the guilt of leaving their beloved animals home alone all day. That set him down the path of building a mobile device that could be controlled from anywhere, and help owners stay in touch with their pets.

If you've seen Star Wars' BB-8 in action (which was built by Sphero), you already have a sense of how PlayDate works. You control it with an iOS or Android app, which also lets you see what's happening via its stabilized webcam. Even though the ball can move in any direction, patented technology keeps the video looking smooth. You can also speak to your pet through the app, as well as hear their response with the ball's microphone. And, in a wise move, the app features a "squeek" button, which spits out a high pitched noise to get your pet moving.

PlayDate's outer shell is made out of shatterproof plastic, so your pets can bash and bite it as much as they like, and it's removable. That could be a way the company lets you customize the robots down the line. It's also working on shells made specifically for cats, which feature ribbons.

Compared to LG's Rolling Bot, Li says the PlayDate is considerably smaller, which means there's less of a chance your pet will be afraid of it. He also emphasized that the PlayDate is engineered to be durable for pet play -- LG's device isn't protected from overzealous dog chewing.

While I've become increasingly wary of crowdfunding campaigns for gadgets (my wife is still waiting for her Bistro cat feeder), PlayDate also seems like it could be an ideal way for me to play with my cats at work. I've only seen a prototype in action at this point, but you can be sure I'll be checking in with the company over the next few months.