Test-flying Tidy Cats' amusingly bad litter-scooping drone

The Clump Claw 2000 concept is a delightful failure timed for April Fools', but the concept has some real-world appeal. Crave's Amanda Kooser and her cat Archer give it a go.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
3 min read

Tidy Cats drone
The Clump Claw 2000 makes a valiant but futile effort. Amanda Kooser/CNET

I'm imagining a world where an aerial drone drops off a box of cat food from Amazon on my front porch. Then, a tiny smart drone zips around the house, amusing my cats. Finally, I lean back on my couch and say, "Clump Claw 2000, go clean the litter box," triggering a drone to buzz over and dutifully scoop and dispose of the cat waste.

The Clump Claw 2000 is real, after a fashion. The yellow-and-black prototype from Tidy Cats comes with a plastic litter scoop attached to its underbelly. It really flies, just not very well. It looks like it might actually be able to dredge a litter box, but it doesn't really work. It's a joke, but it's one that makes you imagine the possibilities for some future world where powerful drones handle all sorts of less-than-thrilling chores.

Archer and the drone
CNET test cat Archer isn't impressed. Amanda Kooser/CNET

While Tidy Cats marketers could have just sat behind a computer and created renders of a scooping drone for April Fools' Day, they instead went all in and build three prototypes, one of which was sent to me for testing.

Tidy Cats reports that the first drone is somewhere in the Grand Canyon and the second, designed with a cup-shaped scoop, is in the Tidy Innovation Lab in an undisclosed location, no doubt to keep it secure from the prying eyes of competitors.

Tidy Cats provided some tongue-in-cheek quotes from a key executive." A clump-removing drone feels like the logical next step in innovation for Tidy Cats, and a leap forward in consumer technology as a whole," said Jim Kerley, Tidy Cats assistant brand manager.

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I started off by flying the drone at a local park. It got liftoff and buzzed around a bit. It survived multiple crashes into the grass, mainly due to my poor drone-flying skills. Next, I tried it out with a litter box full of Tidy Cats' Pure Nature litter, a clumping litter made from cedar, pine and corn. I chose it partly for its light weight and partly because my cats are used to natural litters.

On approach to the litter box, the drone kicked up a small storm of litter particles. I congratulated myself for choosing to use clean litter for the experiment. I then parked the drone directly in the box, with the scoop partially submerged. After sending more litter flying, I gave up. The drone never made it out from the clutches of the litter.

Archer oversees the drone's test flight. Amanda Kooser/CNET

Internally, Tidy Cats code-named the drone "Project Ghostrider" and conducted a series of flight tests that seemed to be just as successful as my own. The company says the inspiration for the drone was the introduction of a 4-in-1 Strength cat litter product earlier this year. It got Tidy Cats thinking about how to improve the overall litter box experience for cat owners. Somehow that translated into aerial litter scooping technology.

While the drone doesn't work for its intended purpose in the slightest, it still makes me wonder if something this outlandish could really function, given the proper equipment. We've already established that whirring blades and a lack of lift are a recipe for a mess. But what about a snake robot? It could live in the litter box like a robo version of the sandworm from "Dune," emerging to collect the waste and deposit it in a container for disposal.

So why not just use one of the automated litter boxes already available, you might ask? Because it's not as cool, that's why. It's not much fun to say "I have a self-cleaning litter box" as it is to declare, "I have a robotic snake-drone servant that does my litter box-cleaning bidding! I am the master of the litter universe!" A gal can dream, right?