PicoCat, printed in yellow filament, looking at you with its ultrasonic sensor eyes

Build Your Own Cat – Some Assembly Required

Robotic pets are sci-fi material, and [Kevin McAleer] from [Kev’s Robots] is moving us all ever so closer towards a brighter, happier, more robotic future. One of his latest robot builds, PicoCat, is a robot cat with servo-driven paws. It follows in the footsteps of the OpenCat project made by Dr. Rongzhong Li back in 2016, and we’re always happy seeing someone pick up where another hacker left off. [Kevin] took heavy inspiration from the OpenCat design – rebuilding it with hardware more friendly and accessible for makers today.

Projects like these, involving data processing and calculations to get the servos moving just right, stand to benefit from the computing power of recently released RP2040 MCU. As such, the Pimoroni Servo 2040 board is a crucial component of this build, being both the brains of the project and also a PIO-boosted driver for the eleven servos helping this robot come alive. This cat’s eyes are an ultrasonic sensor, and you can add a whole lot more sensors for any robotic intention of yours. Don’t expect this kitty to jump one meter high or scratch your favourite couch to death just yet, but there’s already a lot of potential, especially coupled with a small speaker.

A PicoCat with a non-robotic kitten in the backgroundDoes this robotic cat interest you, whether it’d be due to your sci-fi propensity or a cat hair allergy? You’re in luck, because [Kevin] is keeping things firmly in the “open-source everything” realm. MicroPython code is stored in a GitHub repo, STLs are in a .zip linked on the page, and there’s plenty of renders to never leave you confused on what goes where. With all these resources, you can source the servos and the boards, fire up your 3D printer and sit down to assemble your own PicoCat. But not just that, [Kevin] also recorded three whole streams with insights, giving us over four hours of how-it-came-to-be video material for us to learn from. First, two streams of him designing the PicoCat in Fusion360, and then, him talking about the way he creates unit tests in MicroPython to improve his robots’ reliability and significantly reduce the amount of bugs cropping up.

This is not the last we will hear from [Kevin]’s robot-filled workshop, and previously, we’ve covered his Cray-1-shaped Pi Zero cluster system and a Raspberry Pi theremin, both as open and reproducible as this kitty! As you assemble yourself a PicoCat, or perhaps a Stanford Pupper or any of the other lovely quadru-pets we’ve previously featured, you might wonder how to properly move the servos, and we’ve covered a project that teaches you specifically that.

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Robotic Pets Test An Automatic Pet Door

Lots of people get a pet and then hack solutions that help them care for their new friend, like an automatic door to provide access to the great outdoors. Then again, some people build the pet door first and then build the pets to test it.

It’s actually not quite as weird as it sounds. [Amir Avni] and his wife attended a recent GeekCon and entered the GeekCon Pets event. GeekCon is a cooperative rather than competitive hackathon that encourages useless builds as a means to foster community and to just have some fun. [Amir] and his wife wanted to build a full-featured automatic pet door, and succeeded – with NFC and an ESP8266, the stepper-powered door worked exactly as planned. But without any actual animal companions to test the system, they had to hack up a few volunteers. They came up with a 3D-printed dog and cat perched atop wireless cars, and with NFC tags dangling from their collars, the door was able to differentiate between the wandering ersatz animals. The video below the break shows the adorable plastic pals in action.

It’s clear from all the pet doors and automatic waterers and feeders we’ve seen that hackers love their pets, but we’re pretty sure this is the first time the pet itself was replaced by a robot. That’s fine for the test environment, but we’d recommend the real thing for production.

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