Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Cats and chips

Seeing as I've seen a few other RepRappers with cats, I thought I'd introduce mine to the internet:
We started with Jess, who's now a bit old and grumpy, mainly because of the two newbies.
From Cats
Recently, we've given a home to two more kittens from the rescue home, two brothers, Harry and Oscar. Here's Jess and Harry:
From Cats
And here's Oscar - who appears to be made of rubber :-)
From Cats
With three cats, we go through a lot of catfood. In fact, we were going through 3 pouches morning and evening + two big bowls of dry food. However, after a while we found that it wasn't just down to ours. Jess is very nervous, and runs rather than confront other cats, and Oscar and Harry are very friendly, which even extends to other cats in the area. Several evenings we saw other neighbourhood cats wandering into our house - we even ended up naming them. FatCat was a big tomcat, who could barely fit through the flap: GreyCat was an adult long-haired grey, and black kitten frequently comes to play with Oscar and Harry in the garden. Most mornings, as I came down, the catflap would bang as someone left and all the foodbowls would be empty.

So, what's a computer nerd to do? As usual, I found a high-tech solution. PetPorte make a cat-flap that has a built-in chip reader, so it can identify your cats and open the door for them, while keeping the others out. Oscar and Harry were already chipped (Neutering and chipping is part of the rescue deal), and Jess got chipped at the local vets for £30, since it's a good idea anyway. Chipping is a tiny RFID tag injected into the back of the neck - the ID number is linked to a database with your name and address if your cat ever gets lost.

The catflap looks pretty normal - it's just got a covered 'porch' on the outside, containing a coil to read the RFID tags. Pics: Inside is pretty normal, just a small mains wire to the plug.
From Cats
Cat's eye view from outside - you can see the coil in the porch used to read the tags.
From Cats
Once an authorised cat goes under the reader, the flap unlocks for a few seconds, so it can come in, then re-locks (out only) so others can't follow it. There's also some extra features if you want, like a light sensor that doesn't allow them out after dark, and 'vet mode' - i.e. in only. It runs off a standard mains plug and/or a 9v pp3 battery backup.
It's a bit expensive, compared to other systems (like magnetic collars, etc) but it does exactly what it says on the tin. It will read our cats as soon as they're under the reader, and all three have been using it successfully for the last several days. It's well suited to Oscar, as he's lost four collars in the last three months - he tends to leave then in trees while climbing. You do have to 'scan' your cats the first time - it has a learning mode (half a minute to scan a new RFID tag) for each one. Both Harry and Oscar were so interested while I was installing it, they were picked up straightaway. Jess hisses when I pick her up, but it only took a second to scan her, then she stalked off in disgust.

It's been working perfectly so far - none of the intruders have been in, and the food bill has been cut by about half, plus Jess is a bit happier now the other cats are confined to the outside.

Pretty successful so far - I wonder if they do a human version? Children do lose keys so often... :-)

Catflap in action: Black kitten has just tried to follow Harry in, but isn't allowed:
From Cats