Smart Pet Feeder Is Well Engineered

Having pets can sometimes be more demanding than raising kids. Pet owners obviously love and adore their pets, but anything that can be done to reduce their “chores” can be a welcome relief. One big pain point is feeding them at the right time and in the right amount, especially when it comes to cats. As the saying goes, “Dogs have Masters, Cats have Staff! ”

[Sebastian] had had it with his cat [Strachu] nagging him at odd hours for food. Luckily, [Sebastian] is a skilled maker, and his IoT Cat Feeder is not only practical, but also extremely well engineered. He designed and built it from scratch, and the beautiful, final version shows the effort he put in to it. His requirements were quite straightforward. It had to integrate with his home automation system, had to dispense food based on a regular schedule, send him a notification at other times of the day when the feeder detected the cat so he could decide if the cat deserved a special treat or not, and allow him to manually dispense cat food. Finally, he also wanted it to be easy to take apart so he could wash the parts that are in contact with food.

For the electronics, [Sebastian] designed a custom board to hold the ESP12F module and all the other associated parts. Everything, other than the stepper motor is mounted on the PCB. A PIR sensor is used for cat detection. A piezo buzzer lets the cat know that food is ready. A push button can be used to manually dispense food when required. The ESP8266 is flashed with ESPhome which allows control via simple yet powerful configuration files and control them remotely through the Home Assistant addon. If you’re interested in taking a look under the hood, [Sebastian] walks through some of the key code blocks on the ESP side, as well as the various configuration and setting options for the Home Assistant.

But by far the most effort he needed was in getting the mechanical design perfected. He had to go through several rounds of prototype iterations – after all, his cat deserved the very best in feeder design. The basic parts of the design are simple – a stepper motor drives an auger that pushes the cat food from the main container and deposits it in the bowl. Check out the detailed assembly instructions and pictures on his blog. The best part of his design is how easy it is to take it apart the feeder for cleaning. The stepper motor is held in place by a snap fit end piece without using any screws. The main body then just slides out from the top of the electronics box. Check out [Sebastian]’s cat feeder video after the break for details.

If this design makes you hanker to make one for your cat too, head over to his blog post and provide your mail address and [Sebastian] will send all the files for the project.

If your cat isn’t satisfied with dry food nuggets, you probably ought to build this Automated Cat Feeder That Handles Wet Food With Aplomb.

16 thoughts on “Smart Pet Feeder Is Well Engineered

    1. Yeah, unlike dogs, cats wont over eat unless they are rationed or don’t have enough space for healthy activities.

      In any case, this isn’t what I would do for a pet food dispenser.

      First off, cat pallet food isn’t completely dry and as well it will absorb moisture in humid environments. Small parts of the pallet will break off eventually turning to a dust like substance and during that time it will absorb moisture and become a haven for bacteria. This needs be cleaned out periodically.

      In this design the lower physical constraint is horizontal meaning that this dust will stay there until it is cleaned out. So cleaning would have to be frequent and as the lower constraint is part of the housing, cleaning would also be difficult.

      In a design like this you need to be able to remove the auger and (removable) auger chamber and spout for cleaning.

      Aligning the auger chamber on an angle (or even vertical) would greatly reduce the frequency of required cleaning as most of the “dust” would end up in the bowl which you clean periodically anyway.

      All in all this is well engineered but it has ended up like the kitchen designed by an (average) man.

      1. Wow i bet your fun at parties. I have an electric pet feeder. If someone has to work late occasionally they can benefit from tech like this. Sometimes I wish Hackaday had vote buttons so i could downvote.

  1. I bought an off the shelf feeder and it has some of the problems that he lists off as solved with his design, I might have to build this one…. Mine jams up often and the stepper motor does not have the power to keep moving. While the unit does detect that its jammed it does not dispense food. I had been considering making a new board for my feeder that can reverse the unit when it jams and try again and maybe increase the motor size at the same time.

  2. I’m pretty sure my cat would just knock the whole thing over and eat the food that spills out of the container.
    Interesting choice of wood for the legs when the rest is 3D printed…

    1. I’m sure that in my cat’s endless task to train it’s owner that it would first ponder for a while and calculate the optimum floor coverage area before knocking it over.

    2. That’s a trick I like to use, too. Why wait an extra hour for printed legs when the wooden dowel in the corner of the room can be cut up in 5 minutes? Anything I can get away with not printing, I don’t print.

  3. “Having pets can sometimes be more demanding than raising kids.”

    What?????

    I have never had my own children, but have had/do have dogs and cats. Which was ok because they vacationed with us and have several fenced acres for them to run around. Have had several minor relatives live with me for several years; they were damn good people but human children are at least two orders of magnitude more demanding than dogs and cats.

    And I will never use an automatic feeder for my furry buds.

  4. This is a bad idea, once the cats figure out how to get their own food what do they need us for? You want Human civilization overthrown by these furry little buggers, this is the way to do it!

  5. As others have stated, most cats don’t over-eat, so a simple gravity-fed dispenser should work ok.
    But my main issue with these smart feeders is that they are not fail-safe. If you are leaving your pet alone for a weekend, and the smart feeder fails for some reason, this would suck. The “smart” part should actually be somehow impeding automatic feeding, so that a failure would not result in starving pets.
    Or, at the very least, an independant circuit should confirm that food has actually been dispensensed and eaten (e.g. via a scale under the output tray), and sound an alarm if something is off-nominal or the check isn’t sending data.

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