TECHCAT: RISE OF THE AUTO-FEEDER

Tech­nol­ogy can't stand be­tween my cats and their food.

HWM (Singapore) - - Think -

My two cats Sa­man­tha and Bob are of­ten out­smarted by tech­nol­ogy. To date they've been foiled by the laser pointer, freaked out by the sound of an inkjet printer, fooled by YouTube into be­liev­ing their home was be­ing in­vaded by in­vis­i­ble ghost cats... And then there's the story of the auto-feeder. Not too long ago, when our fam­ily went for an overnight stay-cation, I bought an auto-feeder for the cats. It was de­signed like a round dish, and seg­mented the way you'd slice a pie. Cov­er­ing the dish was a ro­tat­ing lid with a wedge-shaped cutout, such that the lid vaguely re­sem­bled Pac-Man. The idea was to pro­gram the auto-feeder so that the lid would turn at fixed in­ter­vals, re­veal­ing a new pie-seg­ment with dry cat food in it.

So we set it up and loaded it with kib­ble. We even filled an ex­tra seg­ment just in case we were run­ning late. As luck would have it, we ar­rived home ear­lier than planned - to the scene of a suc­cess­ful cat bur­glary. The auto-feeder was ly­ing askew, its ro­tat­ing lid pried off com­pletely. There was no cat food left in­side. (The lit­ter-box was over­flow­ing; I'll spare you the de­tails, gen­tle reader.) And, as you might have guessed, two cats with bloated bel­lies were passed out on the sofa, bliss­fully sleep­ing off a food coma.

It was the first recorded in­stance of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the fe­line res­i­dents of my house­hold. It was also our last recorded in­stance of auto-feeder us­age.

I con­sulted the own­ers of some lo­cal celebrity cats – cat­terati? – and found that they owned auto-feed­ers of a dif­fer­ent, stur­dier build. A prime ex­am­ple is the Per­fect Pet­feeder, which dis­penses kib­ble from a pet-proof tank large enough to hold cat food for a week or two.

I also found out that celebri­ties re­ally are just like the rest of us. I spoke to Lee Amizadai, bet­ter known as the Min­ion of fe­line fundraiser and of­fice cat Duke Orange. Since Duke lives in an of­fice, an aut­ofeeder helps en­sure he's fed on week­ends when the of­fice is empty. The cat took to it in­stantly, but the hu­mans had ini­tial doubts about its re­li­a­bil­ity.

As a fail­safe, Amizadai in­stalled a mo­tion­de­tect­ing we­b­cam so that she could re­motely check that the auto-feeder was work­ing. She would also drop by dur­ing long week­ends to en­sure that Duke wasn't lack­ing for food or wa­ter. “It took a few weeks, but I ended up trust­ing the auto-feeder,” she said. “Duke only ever missed meals when I pro­grammed it wrongly.” And as a side ben­e­fit, us­ing the aut­ofeeder helped Amizadai dis­cover that her cat wasn't just us­ing her for food – even though Duke re­ceived his meals from a ma­chine, he con­tin­ued to af­fec­tion­ately pester her and her col­leagues for pats.

Thanks to Amizadai I also learnt about an up­com­ing auto-feeder prod­uct that ap­pears to com­bine hard­ware stur­di­ness with a ro­bust AI. Called Pintofeed, it lets own­ers feed their pets re­motely via a smart­phone app. It can also tweet to let you know your pet has eaten. Now, let's see how it'll fare ver­sus my two greedy glut­tons.

"The auto-feeder was ly­ing askew, its ro­tat­ing lid pried off com­pletely. "

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