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.

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Serving The Feline Masters: A Chair To Follow The Sunny Spot

Terry Pratchett once wrote, “In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this”. [Jonathan]’s cat has clearly not forgotten, and makes it loudly known whenever her favorite chair needs to be moved to stay in the spot of sunlight. He was looking for a fun hack anyway, so he decided to give in to her majesty’s demands, and automated the task.

[Jonathan] first considered adding motorizing the chair itself, but decided to keep it simple and just drag the chair across the room with a spool attached to a motor. The rope spool was attached to a small geared DC motor, mounted on a salad bowl base, and connected to an ESP8266 via a motor driver. The ‘8266 is running  NodeMCU with a web server that accepts simple motor commands through a RESTful API. This setup can’t reset the chair to it’s starting position at the end of the day, but this is a small price to pay for simplicity. The motor was a bit underpowered, but it only needed to move the chair in small distances at a time, so [Jonathan] removed the chair’s back to reduce the weight, and upped the motor voltage.

Determining when and how far to move the chair is the second part of the challenge. [Jonathan] considered a simple lookup table for the time of day, but the motor’s movement wasn’t consistent enough. The final solution was a set of three BH1750 digital ambient light sensors to give feedback. A pair of sensors on the chair determines its position relative to the sunny spot, by comparing light levels to a reference sensor mounted in the window. These light sensors are also attached to NodeMCUs, and send movement commands to the winding unit as necessary.

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Watch A Fast Sand Plotter Plow Patterns At Speed

[Mark]’s sand table wisely has a glass top.
Most of us have probably seen a video of a sand drawing table at work, in which a steel ball — magnetically-coupled to a gantry under a layer of sand — lazily draws geometric patterns with utter precision and zen-like calmness. That’s all well and good, but [Mark Rehorst] thinks it can also be interesting to crank up the speed and watch the ball plow through sand just as physics intended. There’s a deeper reason [Mark] is working at this, however. Faster drawing leads to less crisp results, but by how much, exactly? To answer this, [Mark] simply ran his table (which is named The Spice Must Flow) at both fast and slow speeds and documented the results.

These two images show the difference between running the table at 100 mm/s versus 500 mm/s. The slower speed is noticeably crisper, but on the other hand the faster speed completed the pattern in about a fifth of the time. [Mark] says that as the ball aggressively accelerates to reach target speeds, more sand is thrown around over existing lines, which leads to a loss of detail.

Crisper detail, or a faster draw? Which is “better” depends on many things, but it’s pretty clear that [Mark]’s cat finds the fast version more exciting. You can see [Mark]’s table at high speed and the cat’s reaction in the video, embedded below.

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Auxiliary Display Makes Ham Radio Field Operations Easier

As popular as the venerable Yaesu FT-817 transceiver might be with amateur radio operators, it’s not without its flaws, particularly in the user interface department. [Andy (G7UHN)] is painfully familiar with these flaws, so he designed this auxiliary display and control panel for the FT-817 to make operating it a little easier.

There are a ton of ways to enjoy ham radio, but one of the more popular ways is to bust out of the shack and operate in the great outdoors. From the seashore to mountain peaks, hams love giving their rigs some fresh air and sunshine. The battery-powered, multimode, all-band FT-817 is great for these jaunts, but to fit as much radio into a small package as they did, Yaesu engineers had to compromise on the controls. Rather than bristling with buttons, many of the most-used features of the radio are buried within menus that require multiple clicks and twists to access.

[Andy]’s solution is a PCB bearing an Arduino Nano, an LCD screen, and a whole bunch of actual buttons. The board sits on top of the case and talks to the radio over a 8-pin mini-DIN cable using both documented and undocumented  CAT, or Computer Aided Transceiver commands. The LCD displays the current status of various features and the buttons provide easy access to changing them, essentially by sending keystrokes to the radio.

Hats off to [Andy] for tackling this project. The only other FT-817 hack we’ve seen before was useful but far simpler, and didn’t require KiCad, which [Andy] had to teach himself for this one.

Robotic Mouse Toy Built For Cats

Cats are nature’s born hunters. Whether its rodents, insects, or lasers, they’ll pounce and attack with ruthless efficiency. Built to challenge a cat, or perhaps merely to tease it, Sourino is a robotic mouse built with common off-the-shelf parts.

A test subject appears unamused.

So named for the combination of Souris (French for “mouse”) and Arduino, the project is driven by an Arduino Nano. Hooked up to three sets of ultrasonic transducers, this gives the robot mouse much improved obstacle avoidance abilities compared to using just a single transducer front-and-centre. The ‘bot can navigate basic mazes or household floors with ease. A pair of geared motors are used for drive, using simple skid-steering to turn corners. It’s all packed in a 3D printed enclosure, which mounts the various components and exposes the ultrasonic sensors. There’s even an IR remote enabling mode selection or full manual control.

While the ‘bot lacks the speed and agility of common house mice, it’s nevertheless a project that teaches plenty of valuable lessons. We’re sure [Electrocat01] picked up plenty of skills in robotic navigation, mechanical design and 3D printing along the way. Creating robot mice is actually a competitive field, as we’ve seen before. Video after the break.

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Automatic Cat Weighing Machine Knows Which Pet It Is Feeding

Have you ever tried to weigh a cat? For that matter, have you ever tried to get a cat to do anything they don’t want to do? The wilful independence of our feline companions is a large part of what endears them to us, and must have done ever since the ancient Egyptians first had a hybrid wildcat that became domesticated

No wonder it’s so hard to care for multiple cats with different dietary needs. But the mere act of weighing the cats just might be the key to automating their diets while giving them the choice of when they want to eat. It’s a task that [Psy0rz] has cracked with the Meowton, a weighing machine/feeder combo designed to regulate the diets of his various moggies.

Cat scale uses a load sensor under each corner of the platform

The multi-faceted system involving a scale to weight the cat, a food hopper with dispenser, and a scale for the food bowl. The cat has to stand on the scale to eat, and the dispenser doles out some food when it detects this. It identifies each cat by weight, and controls the quantity dispensed accordingly to spread that cat’s allotted diet over the course of the day.

Behind it all is an ESP32, which delivers the stats to a web interface and makes them available for import to a database. He’s identified a flaw in the system, that two cats of the same weight could cause misidentification. To that end he has an RFID reader under way, but it’s still a work in progress. There is even a live stream of the unit in action.

We’re suckers for cats here, and while the various Hackaday Cats provide plenty of companionship and entertainment we’re always up for more. Over the years we’ve featured plenty of cat feeders, but only one cat elevator.

Ghost Frame Shows People (and Cats) That Don’t Exist

[Dan]’s project from last year slipped past us until now, but his Ghost Frame is a great example of tying some modern hackable hardware together with online resources into a clean result, and we like the clear idea behind it. The Ghost Frame is so named because its purpose is literally to show pictures of people (and cats) that do not exist in the physical world.

This cat does not exist (thank goodness.) The computer doesn’t always get it right.

To make it all work, [Dan] used an Adafruit PyPortal as the guts of the device. It pulls images from (which displays computer-assembled images of faces that do not represent actual living people) and displays them as though they were pictures in a digital photo frame. Formatting the image to show up nicely on the PyPortal’s 320 x 240 display took a little extra work; [Dan] solved that problem with a small PHP script to convert the image to a bitmap and scale it correctly in the process. The PyPortal makes fetching resources from the web simple, so this kind of fiddling didn’t present much of an obstacle to [Dan]’s artistic vision.

What about the cats? Well, it turns out that is also out there, and Ghost Frame can happily display computer-generated images of nonexistent cats as easily as it shows imaginary people. However, it does seem that the state of nonexistent cat generation is lagging somewhat behind that for people. The site usually gets it right, but results are occasionally (amusingly) bizarre as you can see here.

The PyPortal is perfect for this kind of project, and it can do more than just display static content. It has some GUI functionality baked in, as we saw showcased recently in this touchscreen Blackjack game.