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This cat's dinner hinges on its skill in hunting RFID-tagged toys

A tech-enabled feeding system keeps a modern house cat busy hunting special balls that trigger his meals.

Monkey with his Wiffle-ball prey. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Monkey the cat doesn't get any free rides from his person, Ben Millam. Millam is a self-described "cat geek" and Monkey is the willing tester for his creations. The human in the house decided he wanted to give his cat "a more fulfilled and self-actualized indoor kitty existence," so he created a feeding system that requires Monkey to hunt down RFID-tagged "prey" to get his kibble.

Monkey is tasked with searching for small Wiffle-ball like balls that are equipped with RFID tags and hidden around the house. Monkey picks up a ball and drops it into an Arduino-powered ball receptacle. An RFID reader in the receptacle notes the arrival of the ball and triggers a Super Feed feeder to dispense food.

Monkey's meal routine now involves a game of hide-and-seek that challenges his tracking skills. The feeder controller can also triggered by a keyfob remote for "days when Dad is too busy to go around hiding balls," writes Millam.

Getting your own cat to perform at Monkey's level will be a bit of a challenge. Millam spent a lot of time clicker-training the kitty first. It's a way of reinforcing desired behaviors and it worked to train Monkey to find the ball and then pick it up. From there it was a matter of teaching the fluffball that delivering the toys to the machine would result in food.

It's easy for domestic house cats to just lay around getting bored and fat. Millam's system uses Monkey's natural hunting instincts to keep the cat active and engaged. The success of the project indicates two things: geeks love their felines and cats are indeed trainable.


(Via Laughing Squid)