I need some Flo Control – or Arnie Control, more like

Regulars may remember the trouble my PC was having with Arnie the cat well I could use some more technology in and around the house to solve another little problem.

Arnie & his sister have now got quite big – they’re just over a year old, so fully-functional adult cats (well, not entirely fully functional, if you know what I mean), with a keen sense of how to catch, kill and sometimes eat quite a bit of the local rodent population (which given that we live in the country, is quite high).

Now it’s not much fun catching live mice that have been hauled in through the cat flap, it’s not a great deal better picking up the (sometimes partially consumed) cadavers of others, and I’m sure it’s not exactly a great time for the poor little meeces either.

Today, we spent some time dragging the fridge out to locate where the stink was coming from – and eventually located a long-dead mouse underneath. Less than an hour later, whilst we were sitting in the kitchen having lunch, Arnie came steaming through the flap with his latest victim in his gob – prompting stern and immediate attention, in slamming doors, shooing him back outside again etc.

So, a solution must be found.

A few years ago, I came across an intriguing project called Flo Control, where someone had rigged up a PC to the cat flap and performed facial recognition on the cat that was trying to come into the house – in this case, a cat called Flo. If Flo was alone, the flap would open, but if she was carrying anything in her mouth, it would stay resolutely shut.

It seems the guys behind Flo Control think that processor technology has come on so much in recent times, that it will be possible to release a box that fits to the door, without needing the PC attached.

The current solution looks pretty cumbersome – not just with the PC attached, but the box on the other side of the door.  It essentially takes a snapshot of the silhouette of whatever sticks it head towards the flap, and then uses shape recognition technology to decide whether to open the door or not…

All clear, Flo Not so fast, buster…

I Want one of those

This kind of idea could even be a winner for the likes of Dragons’ Den – I’d be quite happy (as a consumer) to pay ~£100 for something like this, and since there are reckoned to be more than 6 million cat owning households in the UK, there’s clearly an opportunity in this country alone. Magnetic flaps which only allow a cat wearing a specific collar to come in & out cost about £40, so it’s not outrageous to think people would spend a good bit more.

A basic device would have a mini-USB port that could take a laptop controlling it (to check on settings etc), would have a rechargeable battery and a simple training mechanism where the cat is plonked on the other side, and (like those fingerprint recognition devices) a few attempts of cat coming in are used to let the device’s cheapo camera figure out what “normal” looks like.

Deluxe editions might be inobtrusively mains-powered, offering the delight of being able WiFi attached, so you could help train it, provide a log of when the cat came in & out (and even which cat it was, if you have a collection) etc etc. Even get alerted on your PC if the cat’s trying to come in but the flap’s not sure if he is solo or accompanied…

Added finesse could even be automatic timing control – eg. cats can’t leave the flap after 9pm but if they’re still outside, then can come in until 11pm after which it closes for the night…

Is this a great example of a techy toy, or something that only a techie could dream up but which could find a following in the general populace? Or another “seems like a good idea at the time” gadget that would gather dust in one of those catalogues full of things you didn’t know you needed, that fall out of the Sunday papers..?

Happy New Year!

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