I first came up with the idea of a fresh pet food maker several years ago, but it wasn't until early 2020 that it moved out of my mind and into my workshop. By this point I was convinced that home-cooking was the future of pet food, and that a smart kitchen appliance designed to make the process as easy as possible would be a massively useful.
So, back in the first months of lockdown, I retreated to my basement workshop and started putting my ideas into practice.
It wasn't plain sailing by any means - particularly as I had set myself some pretty tough goals for what the machine would be able to do. My aim was to create a device that could take whole ingredients and turn them into meals fit for any dog to enjoy, and this meant finding a way to chop up every kind of food from meat right through to the toughest vegetables such as potatoes and parsnips. And as well as chopping up the raw ingredients, it would also need to weigh them, mix them and cook them.
My earliest prototypes, built by cobbling together parts from other kitchen appliances such as blenders and soup makers, taught me several lessons - firstly, that high speed blender blades are no use when it comes to creating chunky stews, as all they do is reduce everything to a mush, and secondly, that chopping up a kilo of sweet potatoes in a machine is actually really hard to do.
However, after coming up with a way in which a particular combination of blades and paddles could work, and attaching the biggest juicer motor I could find, I finally had my first working prototype.
Buddy mk1 as this machine became known was a bit of a beast, with exposed electronics and a total lack of any safety features - but it worked, and was able to deal with even the most demanding of recipes. It didn't look great, and posed several major health and safety risks, but it proved that my dream of a pet food maker was feasible.
Designer dog food maker
From this point, I thought things would get easier - after all, I'd cracked the major technical challenges, so what hurdles could there possibly be now? Well, quite a few as it turned out. The first was finding a designer to turn my ugly duckling of a machine into something that would sit proudly on a kitchen worktop, and here I was in luck as a friend recommended someone he'd worked with previously, and he turned out to be just the right person for the job. A few weeks later and the first computer models of Buddy arrived and I was thrilled with how good it looked.
Prototype to production
With the look designed, next up was finding a manufacturer to take my prototype and turn it into a production-ready machine. This process took far longer, and had many more twists, turns and frustrations than I could ever have imagined - and the Covid pandemic didn't help, as it was impossible to sit down with the production team out in China and go through things in person. Trying to convey our detailed requirements half way across the globe to a team with limited English and no real understanding of why we would want to chop up a bowl full of potatoes and chicken for the dog was not easy to say the least, and led to several blind allies and wasted months.
But finally, one wet afternoon last week, a wooden crate arrived from China, and inside was the very first proper prototype of Buddy. It was an amazing moment, opening the crate and seeing my dream machine emerge from the bubble wrap - and it certainly didn't disappoint, at least visually, looking every bit as special as I'd hoped. Under the smart plastic bodywork however, work remains to be done, particularly on the motor and transmission which aren't yet quite right. So, this long and arduous process is not yet at an end - but we've definitely come a long, long way since Buddy mk 1 chomped through its first carrots last year.
Looking forward, we hope to have resolved the final mechanical issues in the next couple of months, and then move into the final testing phase where we'll be recruiting volunteers to test out the machines at home and give us feedback ahead of the first full production run. If you'd like to be involved, please do let us know (email firstname.lastname@example.org). And if you haven't already signed up, head over to https://www.vetchef.com/meet-buddy and fill in the form to make sure you're one of the first in the queue to welcome Buddy into your kitchen.
We hope to have the first Buddy machines ready for sale by the end of this year, so not too long to wait now!