The Little Cat That Could

Most humans take a year to learn their first steps, and they are notoriously clumsy. [Hartvik Line] taught a robotic cat to walk [YouTube link] in less time, but this cat had a couple advantages over a pre-toddler. The first advantage was that it had four legs, while the second came from a machine learning technique called genetic algorithms that surpassed human fine-tuning in two hours. That’s a pretty good benchmark.

The robot itself is an impressive piece inspired by robots at EPFL, a research institute in Switzerland. All that Swiss engineering is not easy for one person to program, much less a student, but that is exactly what happened. “Nixie,” as she is called, is a part of a master thesis for [Hartvik] at the University of Stavanger in Norway. Machine learning efficiency outstripped human meddling very quickly, and it can even relearn to walk if the chassis is damaged.

We have been watching genetic algorithm programming for more than half of a decade, and Skynet hasn’t popped forth, however we have a robot kitty taking its first steps.

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Make An Electric Skateboard For Your Cat

Have you ever looked at your cat and thought “You know, my kitten really needs an electric skateboard!” Probably not, but this seems to have happened to [Kim Pimmel] while looking at his cat MIDI, so he decided to build one. This process involved building a simple, low powered skateboard with a Feather mainboard and motor controller combined with a laser-cut switch mechanism. When [Kim] puts a treat into the mechanism, the cat pulls the switch and the skateboard moves forward, moving into a brave new e-skateboarding feline future. MIDI looks somewhat unimpressed by this whole business, but I suspect that as long as the treats keep coming, he will be happy to keep on truckin’. Now, if he can just figure out how to persuade the cat to ollie, we will be really getting somewhere.

Feline tomfoolery seems to be a regular pastime here on these pages, and more than just a quest for easy moggy-driven clickbait. A lot of cat feeders and cat finders abound, but this project isn’t the only cat-operated one. Our readers’ pets can probably spot an Arduino a mile away by now.

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Cat Robot’s Secret to Slim Legs? Banish the Motors!

The first thing to notice about [Bijuo]’s cat-sized quadruped robot designs (link is in Korean, Google translation here) is how slim and sleek the legs are. That’s because unlike most legged robots, the limbs themselves don’t contain any motors. Instead, the motors are in the main body, with one driving a half-circle pulley while another moves the limb as a whole. Power is transferred by a cable acting as a tendon and is offset by spring tension in the joints. The result is light, slim legs that lift and move in a remarkable gait.

[Bijuo] credits the Cheetah_Cub project as their original inspiration, and names their own variation Mini Serval, on account of the ears and in keeping with the feline nomenclature. Embedded below are two videos, the first showing leg and gait detail, and the second demonstrating the robot in motion.

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Doing Logic Analysis To Get Around The CatGenie’s DRM

The CatGenie is an amazing device to watch in action, basically a self-cleaning litter box for cats that even does away with the need to replace the litter. It’s comparable to what the indoor flush toilet is for humans compared to maintaining a composting toilet. However, there is a problem. It uses costly soap cartridges which have to be replaced because an RFID reader and a usage counter prevent you from simply refilling them yourself.

CatGenie and Arduino
CatGenie and Arduino

[David Hamp-Gonsalves] reverse engineered the electronics so that he didn’t have to pay for the cartridges anymore. This has been done before and one of those who did it created a product called the CartridgeGenius, but it’s made and sold as a parttime project and there were none in stock. The cartridges have an RFID tag and another solution which we’ve covered before is to replace the RFID reader board with an Arduino. That’s the solution [David] adopted. So why write this post if this isn’t new?

The RFID reader board communicates with the rest of the CatGenie using I2C and he needed to know what was being transmitted. To do that he learned how to use a cheap logic analyzer to read the signals on the I2C wires, which makes this an interesting story. You can see the logic analyser output on his blog and GitHub repository along with mention of a timing issue he ran into. From what he learned, he wrote up Arduino code which sends the same signals. He and his cat are now sitting pretty.

What he didn’t do is make a video. But the CatGenie really is amazing to watch in action as it goes through its rather complex 30-35 minute process so we found a video of it doing its thing, shown at 3.5x speed, and included that below.  If you’re into that sort of thing.

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Where’s The Cat? Locating Your Moggy Without Eating Batteries

Where the Hackaday Cat goes when she steps over the threshold into the wider world is a mystery, she reveals her whereabouts strictly on her terms and would we suspect be very cagey were we able to ask her about it. [Andy C] however has a need to know where his cat is spending her time, so he’s made a GPS collar for a bit of feline spying.

There are commercial GPS collars for pets, but they all share the flaw of extremely limited battery life. His challenge then was to create a collar that delivered the required pinpoint fix alongside a battery life measured in months. The solution was a combination of a low-power miniature GPS receiver and a low-power PC microcontroller hooked up to an FSK radio whose frequency he doesn’t give but which we suspect is probably the usual 433 MHz. The collar remains in low power mode until it receives a call on the FSK, at which point it wakes up, gets a GPS fix, transmits it, and returns to sleep.

The summary links to a series of posts which provide an extremely detailed look at all aspects of the project, and go well beyond mere GPS trackers for a cat. If you have an interest in low power devices or antenna matching for example, you’ll find a lot of interesting stuff in these pages. Of course, if all you need is a GPS tracker though, you may prefer a simpler option.

The Sensor Array That Grew Into a Robot Cat

Human brains evolved to pay extra attention to anything that resembles a face. (Scientific term: “facial pareidolia”) [Rongzhong Li] built a robot sensor array with multiple emitters and receivers augmenting a Raspberry Pi camera in the center. When he looked at his sensor array, he saw the face of a cat looking back at him. This started his years-long Petoi OpenCat project to build a feline-inspired body to go with the face.

While the name of the project signals [Rhongzhong]’s eventual intention, he has yet to release project details to the open-source community. But by reading his project page and scrutinizing his YouTube videos (a recent one is embedded below) we can decipher some details. Motion comes via hobby remote-control servos orchestrated by an Arduino. Higher-level functions such as awareness of environment and Alexa integration are handled by a Raspberry Pi 3.

The secret (for now) sauce are the mechanical parts that tie them all together. From impact-absorption spring integrated into the upper leg to how its wrists/ankles articulate. [Rongzhong] believes the current iteration is far too difficult to build and he wants to simplify construction before release. And while we don’t have much information on the software, the sensor array that started it all implies some level of sensor fusion capabilities.

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No, Cat, This Is Not The Litter Box

Hackaday.io user [peterquinn] has encountered a problem with his recently unruly cat peeing under the dining table. Recognizing that the household cat’s natural enemy is the spray bottle, he built an automatic cat sprayer to deter her antics.

The build is clear-cut: an Arduino Uno clone for a brain, an MG995 servo, PIR sensor, spray bottle, and assorted electronics components. [peterquinn] attached the servo to the spray bottle with a hose clamp — ensuring that the zero position is pointing at the trigger — and running a piece of cabling around the trigger that the servo will tug on. Adding a capacitor proved necessary after frying the first Uno clone, as the servo powering up would cause the Uno to reset.

The code is set up to trigger the servo — spraying the cat twice — once the PIR detects the cat for more than ten seconds. After toying with a few options, [peterquinn] is using a 9V, 2A power supply that works just fine. For now, he hopes the auto-sprayer should do the trick. If it somehow doesn’t work, [peterquinn] has mused that a drastic upgrade to the vacuum may be necessary.