Katrina Nguyen Automates Her Mice

When embarking on a career in the life sciences, it seems like the choice of which model organism to study has more than a little to do with how it fits into the researcher’s life. I once had a professor who studied lobsters, ostensibly because they are a great model for many questions in cell biology; in actuality, he just really liked to eat lobster. Another colleague I worked with studied salt transport in shark rectal glands, not because he particularly liked harvesting said glands — makes the sharks a tad grumpy — but because he really liked spending each summer on the beach.

Not everyone gets to pick a fun or delicious model organism, though, and most biologists have had to deal with the rats and mice at some point. It’s hard to believe how needy these creatures can be in terms of care and feeding, and doubly so when feeding is part of the data you’re trying to collect from them. Graduate student Katrina Nguyen learned this the hard way, but rather than let her life be controlled by a bunch of rodents, she hacked a solution that not only improved her life, but also improved her science. She kindly dropped by the Hackaday Superconference to tell us all about how she automated her research.

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Eat Some Pringles, Feed the Cat

You know the saying: “Dogs have people, cats have servants.” This is especially true when your feline overlord loses track of time and insists on being fed at oh-dark-thirty. You’re tempted to stay in bed feigning death, but that’s a tall order with the cat sitting on your chest and staring into your soul.

An automatic cat feeder would be nice at moments like these, but off-the-shelf units are pricey. [Mom Will Be Proud] decided to roll his own cat feeder, and the results are pretty impressive for what amounts to a trash can build. Two old food cans form the body — a Pringles can on top to hold the food and a nut can below for the servo. The metal ends of the cans nest together nicely, and with a large section removed from each, an aperture opens every time the hopper rotates, dropping food down a chute. A BeagleBone Black controls the servo, but anything with PWM outputs should do the trick. We’d lean toward the ESP8266 ecosystem for WiFi support for remotely controlling feedings, and we’d probably beef up the structure with PVC tube to prevent unauthorized access. But it’s a simple concept, and simple is a good place to start.

You shall not want for pet feeder builds around these parts. Take your pick — snazzy Steampunk, super cheap, or with an Archimedean twist.

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Squirrel Café To Predict The Weather From Customer Data

Physicist and squirrel gastronomer [Carsten Dannat] is trying to correlate two critical social economical factors: how many summer days do we have left, and when will we run out of nuts. His research project, the Squirrel Café, invites squirrels to grab some free nuts and collects interesting bits of customer data in return.

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Hack Your Cat’s Brain to Hunt For Food

This cat feeder project by [Ben Millam] is fascinating. It all started when he read about a possible explanation for why house cats seem to needlessly explore the same areas around the home. One possibility is that the cat is practicing its mobile hunting skills. The cat is sniffing around, hoping to startle its prey and catch something for dinner. Unfortunately, house cats don’t often get to fulfill this primal desire. [Ben] thought about this problem and came up with a very interesting solution. One that involves hacking an electronic cat feeder, and also hacking his cat’s brain.

First thing’s first. Click past the break to take a look at the demo video and watch [Ben’s] cat hunt for prey. Then watch in amazement as the cat carries its bounty back to the cat feeder to exchange it for some real food.

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3D Printed Fish Feeder

[Helios Labs] recently published version two of their 3D printed fish feeder. The system is designed to feed their fish twice a day. The design consists of nine separate STL files and can be mounted to a planter hanging above a fish tank in an aquaponics system. It probably wouldn’t take much to modify the design to work with a regular fish tank, though.

The system is very simple. The unit is primarily a box, or hopper, that holds the fish food. Towards the bottom is a 3D printed auger. The auger is super glued to the gear of a servo. The 9g servo is small and comes with internal limiters that only allow it to rotate about 180 degrees. The servo must be opened up and the limiters must be removed in order to enable a full 360 degree rotation. The servo is controlled by an Arduino, which can be mounted directly to the 3D printed case. The auger is designed in such a way as to prevent the fish food from accidentally entering the electronics compartment.

You might think that this project would use a real-time clock chip, or possibly interface with a computer to keep the time. Instead, the code simply feeds the fish one time as soon as it’s plugged in. Then it uses the “delay” function in order to wait a set period of time before feeding the fish a second time. In the example code this is set to 28,800,000 milliseconds, or eight hours. After feeding the fish a second time, the delay function is called again in order to wait until the original starting time.

DIY Chicken Feed Indicator Tells You When To Feed The Chickens

While prepping for the upcoming apocalypse, the [prepforshtf] folks had time to design and build an automatic chicken feeder. It’s a very simple design (the best kind) that is made from standard PVC drain pipe. The pipe is positioned vertically and filled with chicken feed. A T-joint at the bottom of the pipe allows chickens to access the food inside. As food is eaten away, gravity pulls more food down to the feeding area.

That sounds pretty straight forward but it quickly became clear that checking the food level was a chore, almost as much as just feeding the chickens everyday. To remedy the requirement to constantly check the food level, the automatic feeder system was taken apart and modified to include a level indicator. Now, inside the 4-inch pipe resides a plate that resembles a butterfly valve.

This plate doesn’t control the flow of feed like a normal butterfly valve would, the feed actually holds the plate in a vertical position until the feed level drops below the plate. Since the plate has a heavier side, it will rotate when the feed no longer holds it in position. A large red pointer was attached to the plate’s axle and, since it is on the outside of the feeder, it allows a clear indication that the feeder needs a refill.

This is a great project that shows that even simple projects can be very beneficial in everyday life. With no electronics or batteries to fail, this feed indicator will certainly be very reliable. No doubt the chickens will be happy. Check this out for a more involved electricity-powered feeder.

DIY Auto Fish Feeder Feeds Fish Automatically

[Brian] has a fairly large 400 liter aquarium and loves the fish that call it home. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way of keeping those fish fed on a regular basis. There are automatic fish feeders out there on the market and [Brian] gave one a try. Although it worked, it dropped one huge clump of food in at a time (rather than sprinkling it in), the food hopper held a very small amount of food and the unit drained a new set of batteries in less than a week. Fifty euros were spent on purchasing that auto feeder and in the end it wasn’t any more convenient than just feeding the fish.

Faced with a tough decision on whether or not to buy another product he may not be happy with, [Brian] decided to make his own automatic fish feeder system out of parts anyone can find lying around the house. The main housing is a small Tupperware bin, inside of which 3 pieces of plastic were glued together to make a v-shaped hopper. The fish food is loaded into the hopper and as it falls to the bottom it meets a reverse-spinning drill bit that acts like an auger, pushing the food out of the container. The drill bit is powered by a small stepper motor connected to the drill bit by an improvised coupling made from a silicone sealant cap!

The control system is an Arduino and a stepper motor driver chip. Through trial and error [Brian] figured out that 100,000 half steps of the motor dumped a good amount of food into the tank. The drill bit delivery method even sprinkles the food nicely for total fish enjoyment. To keep the food flowing at regular intervals, an AC timer unit controls how often the Arduino is powered on and subsequently feeds the fish.

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