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Ignite Portland 10: "A Homebrew Cat Feeding Robot" - Curtis C. Chen

Ignite Portland 10: "A Homebrew Cat Feeding Robot" - Curtis C. Chen

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If your household has two or more cats, you’ve probably had to deal with the problem of feeding. Maybe one cat needs to go on a diet. Maybe another cat hoovers up more than his fair share of kibble. Maybe both cats demand to get fed at oh-dark-thirty every morning, when humans would rather be sleeping. Why, cats, why?

Our multi-part solution: set up an automatic feeder to dispense dry cat food on a schedule; rig a webcam to monitor feline activity; create a simple web page to view captured images; download smartphone apps for remote access.

I'll describe our ongoing process of refining hardware and software, and do my best to convince you that we’re not crazy cat people. We’re just geeks who love our family.

MORE INFO: http://snout.org/foodrobot

If your household has two or more cats, you’ve probably had to deal with the problem of feeding. Maybe one cat needs to go on a diet. Maybe another cat hoovers up more than his fair share of kibble. Maybe both cats demand to get fed at oh-dark-thirty every morning, when humans would rather be sleeping. Why, cats, why?

Our multi-part solution: set up an automatic feeder to dispense dry cat food on a schedule; rig a webcam to monitor feline activity; create a simple web page to view captured images; download smartphone apps for remote access.

I'll describe our ongoing process of refining hardware and software, and do my best to convince you that we’re not crazy cat people. We’re just geeks who love our family.

MORE INFO: http://snout.org/foodrobot

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Ignite Portland 10: "A Homebrew Cat Feeding Robot" - Curtis C. Chen

  1. 1. “A Homebrew Cat Feeding Robot” Curtis C. Chen Ignite Portland 10
  2. 2. Problem: CATS.
  3. 3. Jasper likes to sleep. Tye likes to eat.
  4. 4. Solution: ROBOT!
  5. 5. @%$# ! http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/4833395890/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/donsolo/4729336091/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/wbeem/5428551033/
  6. 6. Aquarium feeder Analog timer Webcam, n etbook, lam p
  7. 7. web page FoodCam FoodCa m remote access to netbook text-only web page
  8. 8. FoodCam FoodCam FoodCam A successful auto-feeding event: FoodCam FoodCam FoodCam FoodCam FoodCam FoodCam FoodCam FoodCam
  9. 9. v1 v1.1 v1.2 wider ramp trough Forked ramp v2.1 v2.5 v2.6 2 bowls barricade bumpers
  10. 10. v2.6
  11. 11. JoCo Cruise Crazy: Purrsday Bowls moved out of place v2.6 v2.6 WTF Mouse toy
  12. 12. JoCo Cruise Crazy: Caturday Ramp completely detached v2.7 v2.7 OMG Food in moat
  13. 13. JoCo Cruise Crazy: Meownday Ramp out of alignment v2.7 v2.7 SRSLY Food in moat
  14. 14. 2011: Good News, Everyone! Reinforced ramp Loudspeaker v2.8 v3.3 Feeder taped down to island “Spikes”
  15. 15. v3.3 @%$# !
  16. 16. @sparCKL curtis.c.chen www.SNOUT.org/ip10

Editor's Notes

  • Hi! I’m Curtis, and tonight I’m going to talk about how my wife and I built “a homebrew cat feeding robot.”Now, we didn’t start out saying “let’s build a robot!”—though that is a perfectly reasonable thing to say and do.We wanted to solve a problem. And what was the problem?
  • In a word: CATS. If you live in a household with cats, you already know what I’m talking about. I’ll break it down for the rest of you.We have two cats. Tye, who joined our household as a kitten in early 2010, and Jasper, who’s been with us for almost nine years now.
  • This all started in 2010, when we got a new kitten, Tye. Here he is with our other cat, Jasper. Now, they’re different cats, so they have different habits, obviously, and accommodating them is something we struggled with for some time before setting up the auto-feeder.Here’s the problem: Tye will eat anything. And he eats fast. We often have to encourage Jasper to eat at all. So we can’t just leave a bunch of cat food out all the time.My wife and I also do a fair amount of traveling, and our boys don’t deal well with long periods of non-feeding, including early in the morning. (Cats are very OCD, probably on the autism spectrum—that’s another talk.) So what do we do about this?
  • Well, we’re geeks, so obviously the solution is to build a cat-feeding robot. Dispensing dry cat food is a simple, repetitive task which can be automated.
  • Now, when I say “robot,” you might think of something like this. This is not what I’m talking about. All I’m talking about is an AUTOMATED SYSTEM that performs a simple task.I don’t want to overstate the sophistication of our system—it’s basically just a TOY which happens to do something useful.“HOMEBREW” means hobbyist, amateur, jerry-rigged!
  • And here it is. It’s a really DUMB robot. It’s very rough. MacGyver would look at this setup and say, “Hmm, seems sketchy to me.”It’s not robust, it doesn’t have [sensors or active feedback loops], but it works. It does what we need it to. And actually, the very fact of its [being jerry-rigged]—all the “exposed wires”—makes it easy to modify as we discover new requirements, usually through trial and error. It’s science AND technology!It’s taken us about a year and a half to get to this point.
  • The system does what we would do: calls the cats to tell them they’re about to get fed, gives them the proper amount of food, and watches to make sure they eat it.HAD WEBCAM SETUP ALREADY! (SINCE JANUARY 2010 FOR TYECAM)ALL “OFF-THE-SHELF” COMPONENTS“SYSTEM INTEGRATION PROBLEM”
  • Other than the software, this is the most “homebrew” part of the whole “robot”: a ramp made from supplies we always have around the house (cardboard boxes and blue tape).
  • “foodcam” web pages: main, timeline, popup, text-only, mobile?
  • This is what we want to see, five times a day.
  • ALREADY HAD ANT MOATSWe went through a few iterations of the dispensing setup. First, we learned that one bowl is not big enough for two cat heads, and the boys do NOT like to take turns eating.So we switched to a two-bowl solution, which required building a forked ramp out of cardboard, of which we have plenty on hand. Also added “food noise” to signal to Jasper that it was time to wake up and eat! So at this point, the computer is running webcam AND audio playback scheduler.This was maybe six months of development to get to this point.“TRIAL AND ERROR”
  • This is the system we had toward the end of 2010: version 2.5. We felt pretty happy with this, until we went away on a cruise for a little over a week. And the cats did everything they could to starve themselves.
  • disaster recovery: cruise incident 1 - rugs are bad, m’kay
  • disaster recovery: cruise incident 2 – ramp problems
  • disaster recovery: cruise incident 3 – crash!
  • So you’ll notice in version 2.8, the feeder has been taped down to the island. And after that, we added the loudspeaker so we had better control over the food noise volume.No major problems since then. KNOCK ON WOOD
  • This is the system we have today. Maybe it’s not the most polished, or the most flexible, but it does what we need. And it’s easy to adjust as we discover new things we need to tweak.We also get a lot of data to analyze: for example, most recently, we noticed that Jasper rarely eats at 5am or 6pm, so we’re considering changing those feeding times. It’s an ongoing process of adjustment.
  • How do we KNOW it’s working? DATA.We also get a lot of data to analyze: for example, most recently, we noticed that Jasper rarely eats at 5am or 6pm, so we’re considering changing those feeding times. It’s an ongoing process of adjustment.This is part of an entire system of feline health information that we track—for example, we monitor their weights, so we can see what effect any auto-feeding schedule changes or other events might have.“CORRELATE”
  • It’s all worth it when you see this. And also when they don’t jump on your head at five in the morning screaming for food.
  • Thank you!

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