Feline Felicity

I had this great idea for the cats. My wife has three of them. One of them is a haughty sort, very cat-like in personality and demeanor. She comes and goes from the house all day and night, and when she returns she makes it a point to check in with me, letting me know she’s on the job –whatever her job is. The other two cats don’t like people and tend to skulk a lot, fleeing quickly at the appearance of anyone. While they can avail themselves of the kitty door, they prefer to lounge about the house, usually as a pair. The kitty door makes for free access in and out for the kitties, but it will sometimes hang open, and in the winter that means lots of cold air coming in, and in the summer it’s like a gateway for multi-legged crawling things. I have an aversion to both. Cold air and crawling things, not the cats.

So I was thinking to myself, “self, you’re adept at the mystical art of electronics and robotery, why don’t you make something better than the kitty door. Reinvent the wheel, as it were.” I of course replied to myself that I could probably do that and so I placed my elbow on my desk, and cupping my palm, I put my chin in it and began to think. “Hmmmm.” I said.

My first thought involved an infrared sensor. It could detect reflected light waves and “see” the cat coming and operate a servo that would open the door flap in the direction the cat was moving. Inwards if the cat was coming in, outwards if leaving. But that left me with a problem we’ve experienced a few times. Neighborhood cats looking to expand their sphere of influence along with their diets have helped themselves to the catway, being discovered in the act of purloining kitty kibble. Caught red handed, the intruders would bolt back the way they came, escaping my wife’s wrath –which probably would have been a dinner of Ahi tuna with a nice merlot. So perhaps I should make the intelligent door even more intelligent by making it more selective.

RFID technology came to mind. RFID is the little bugs they stick into national ID cards, some credit cards, and is used to catch shoplifters. I could incorporate one of the tiny devices into the cat’s collars, taking it for granted I could get them to wear one. That way the door would recognize an authorized door user, precluding the uninvited neighborhood felines, marmots, raccoons, field rats and mice, and the odd mini dog. I’d still need to use the infrared detector so the door would open in the proper direction though. Cats become indignant when doors fling themselves open into their furry faces; they interpret it as an affront purposely targeting them. Cats make everything about themselves, so catiquette is an important design consideration. That’s also why I can’t use an ultrasonic detector to spot the cat’s arrival. Although tremendously more accurate, thay are ultrasonic and make a noise we people can’t hear but the cats sometimes can. I discovered this one day when experimenting with one of my robotic creations. Every time I turned the ultrasonic ranger on, the cat would get suddenly wide eyed and then leave in a huff. I routed the cat ahead of me a number of times that day, irritating the cat but proving my theory. To this day if it sees me reach for my soldering iron, it will suddenly remember some errand it needs to go do, stalking out with its tail all puffed up.

Of course, this led to adding subdued lighting for night excursions, illuminating the path for the kitty on the move. That meant that I would have to incorporate an ambient light detector so the door would know when it was dark. The thought of light made me think about a traffic signal for the cats, letting them know if one of the other authorized cats was approaching from the opposite direction. A head on kitty collision would be bad. Since it was getting complex, I figured what the heck and went all in. I would add a moisture detector and turn on a jet of warm air to dry the cats coming in from the rain or snow. This would also prevent the wet spot on my legs I got when the cat would arrive from a rainy day excursion and do its check-in by hopping onto my lap. By the time I was done with the design, I had something as capable as the parallel parking computer of a Limited Edition Ford Focus. I estimated its price at about $350. It was at this point I thought to myself that, after all, these were my wife’s cats and I actually wanted a dog.

I began to think about designing my own dog when it occurred to me that I already had a robotic dog. I’d bid for it on eBay and won it for the price of $122. I then anxiously awaited its arrival as it took three weeks to finally show up at my door. I installed new batteries in it, and turned it on, at which point it fell over and turned its head to the side and said yip, yip, yip. According to the manual it was capable of doing almost everything a regular dog could do, even to the point of obeying spoken commands. I found that my robotic dog would indeed perform these miracles, but only if you counted laying on its side and saying yip, yip, yip.

I need to think about this some more.