BlenderDefender: Automating Pavlovian Conditioning


This isn’t your typical home automation project; who turns a blender on remotely? [Brian Gaut] did, when he rigged his blender and a strobe light to scare his cat off the kitchen counter. To be fair, we’ve linked to this project before on Hackaday—twice actually—but neither the article about relays or the related cat waterwall article actually talk about the BlenderDefender, and that’s a shame, because it’s pretty clever.

[Brian] began by installing a DCS-900 network camera on the wall near his kitchen sink. The camera monitors any motion on the counter, and once it detects something, a networked computer starts recording individual frames. This security camera setup isn’t looking for criminals: [Brian] needed to keep his cat away from a particularly tasty plant. The motion detection signals an X10 Firecracker module to turn on both a nearby blender and a strobe light, provoking some hilarious reactions from the cat, all of which are captured by the camera.

Check out some other ways to work with the X10 firecracker, and feel free to jump into the home automation discussion from last week.

[Thanks Joy]

29 thoughts on “BlenderDefender: Automating Pavlovian Conditioning

      1. Dogs are usually more cacophonous, odorous, and slobberous than cats, in my experience. And the cleanup is usually a much larger problem than a litterbox. I’ll keep my cats, thank you.

        1. Agreed. But I’ll have to say, I like this idea because I have more than 10 indoor cats and would like very much to keep them off my counter tops. I love my kitties but they need to learn their place, and this would probably do it. My real concern is that if i implement it, would i be instigating a full scale revolt. we are way outnumbered in our house and the feline overlords are not always forgiving.

        2. You must have experience with horribly trained dogs.
          I’d rather use a long-handled shovel a couple times a month, outdoors with good ventilation, than get up close and personal to a litter-box every couple days.
          Plus, cats feces smells a *lot* worse, because they only eat meat, whereas dogs’ food has other stuff mixed in, which makes it a lot easier on your nose.

      2. Believe it or not, while widely believed to be true there’s very little supporting evidence for cats “decimating” bird populations. The claims are based on a 1997 study in Wisconsin that used shaky data and estimated cat kills to be between 8 and 219 million. That’s a heckuva range, even with unbiased, accurate data.

        I actually use this case in my classes to teach how commonly accepted “facts” can be far from true.

    1. Ah ha. It seems you are correct!

      In a last-ditch effort to save face, could it be argued that the strobe light portion is classical as it (might be?) considered neutral? That is, I’m not sure a cat would flee from flashing lights per se, but could be classically conditioned to do so.

      1. Agreeing with Peter, most people would simple call this punishment (a sub-class within operant conditioning). But, in most real-life instances of operant conditioning, you can find features that may overlap with respondent or classical conditioning. Like you said, perhaps the flashing light is beginning to elicit the same startle response as the sound. You might also argue that he’s pairing the scary sound and light complex with “being on the counter”. This perhaps makes “being on the counter” “scary” and something best avoided. Still, an operant account is still more straight-forward: jumping on the counter is being punished by the loud sounds and weird lights, and results in less jumping on the counter.

  1. Firstly, most people don’t realize that having a cat requires training just like a dog does. Sure they wont always listen, but you CAN and SHOULD train your cats. My cats react to their names, no! and stop.

    Secondly, I can’t help but think that the project is…euh… while cool, a bit misguided. Controlling creatures whether human or cats by fear is a bad idea. Rub the counter with citrus oils (cats hate the smell) or put double sided tape on the counter when it’s not being used. The cat will learn over time that the counter is a bad place to be and should avoid it.

    We keep the door closed to the kitchen when it’s not in use, and when it is the cats have been trained (and are nok cheeky enough) to go into the kitchen when we’re there (results may vary).

    Often misbehaving cats are a result of their needs not being fulfilled. Both my cats to completely crazy if there’s no food and one of them gets clingy and meowy when there’s no water. It works :)

    Train your pets.

    1. your idea is to cover your counters in take and strong citrus oils so that the counter top environment is repellent to cats, and the cat learns through negative reinforcement that the counter tops are bad.

      his idea is flashing lights and loud noises so that the cat learns that the counter tops are bad places…

      Still through negative reinforcement.(do you just think the degree of scare is bad?)

      Also the idea of shutting the door doesn’t work in all cases, I know that my cats need to go through the kitchen so that they can get to the cat flap to get outside. shutting them in would mean that they couldn’t get out.

      1. You’re using the term ‘negative reinforcement’ incorrectly. Negative reinforcement is the strengthening effect obtained by removing something aversive contingent on behavior. What you really mean is ‘positive punishment’, or the response-contingent delivery of some stimulus (the citrus oils) that results in future decreases in behavior.

      2. With a strobe and a blender you create an environment where the cat is punished out of thin air for an action it does not understand. If you use tape or citrus oil if will find the area unsuitable and simple cease to use it. There’s a giant difference here.

          1. I had a crazy Italian thermodynamics professor who’s unit of measure for engine cylinder displacement was how many babies it could fit.

            “You could fit a whole baby in there!”

  2. My cat absolutely *loves* tomatoes. And not just any tomatoes. No, he loves the more expensive organic Roma tomatoes that I use to make Shrimp Caprese (the wife’s favorite) and will eat a good dozen in one night.

    And I really like the hack but to teach my cat not to get on the counter I took 1′ long stretches of cheap (read as “weak”) clear packing tape and laid them sticky side up on the counter, about 1/4″ apart.

    This served 4 purposes:
    1. Training the cat not to get on the counter because he will be entrapped by tape.
    2. Training the cat not to get on the counter because the tape has to come off (remember to use weak tape, unless you’ve always wanted a Sphynx).
    3. Satisfaction at seeing him caught red handed.
    4. Entertainment. Nothing quite like his explanative look of “You should reward me. I was defending the food from Ninjas” to start the morning.

    Love my goofy furball


Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.