Mu-Chi Sung has three cats, Momo, Feifei, and ZongZong. One day, he found Momo paralyzed and in pain on the floor. The vet diagnosed her with pancreatitis, a condition that caused her to go off food for days, something Sung hadn't noticed considering he has several cats. Due to some incredible efforts, which required amputating Momo's back legs, the cat was saved and can now get around well on her two remaining legs.
Sung was haunted by having missed the signs of her loss of appetite and set about to find a way to make sure it would never happen again. That's the origin of the Bistro, a smart cat feeder from 42Ark that can follow the eating and water-drinking habits of multiple cats. The feeder consists of a food hopper, a feeding tray with a load sensor, a water bowl with a load sensor, a weighing scale, and a camera. It can also be set to dispense set portions for cats that try to overeat.
Bistro tracks individual cats using facial-recognition software that has been customized for the feline crowd. It connects to your home Wi-Fi and collects data on the cats' weight, eating, and drinking habits. This information is sent to a mobile app so pet owners can follow their cats over time and even check in on them with video feeds. It sends alerts when there's a change in appetite and generates analysis reports. An LED lighting system turns on gradually at night so the machine can collect data even when it's dark.
There is a working 3D-printed prototype of the Bistro. "Most of the physical features are functional, but the mobile app is still being developed," Sung tells Crave. "The algorithm for facial recognition and the mechanics (dispersing the food and water) are in place and functional." During the eight-month development process, the Bistro received angel funding from Phison Electronics, a Taiwanese electronics company, which will also act as a partner for manufacturing expertise.
Sung is no stranger to the world of facial recognition. "Our company operates the largest dashcam website in the world, called pushcam.com, and our research and development into facial recognition came out of the same foundation of image recognition research we did here," Sung says about adapting the software to work with cats. Granted, the Bistro could face some challenges if pet owners have identical twin cats, but most feline family members have distinguishable differences.
The Bistro is currently halfway to its $100,000 funding goal on Indiegogo with 30 days left to run. Pledge levels for the smart feeder run between $179 and $219 (about £105-£130 or AU$190-AU$235, with an additional $40, about £23 or AU$43, to ship outside the US and Taiwan). So far, nearly 300 cat owners have shown up to back the Bistro.
It's easy to see the appeal. Loss of appetite can be a serious indicator of a cat's health, but can be hard to notice if you have free-feeding approach with multiple cats. Beyond catching these signs, the Bistro could potentially open a window into your cat's overall well-being, especially as cat owners try to keep their furry little loved ones at healthy weights.