2021 project - Multi-cat Food Dispenser

Phase 1

This is my initial project description for 2021.
As a continuing student (I started my Fabacademy in 2020), I already planned a project last year.
But I have another project idea that might replace my initial one : a Multi-cat Food Dispenser.

Second project idea - inspiration and description

The idea emerged because I have several cats that don't necessary have the same need for food quantity. And because I don't like the idea of letting them eat "as much as they can" and in several different bowls.

Cats are also very different on how they deal with food...
While some of them like to not eat all in one go and keep some for later, others will tend to eat as much and as fast as they can (binge eating, which can even lead to throwing).
Beside that I think that having their own bowl is also more hygienic.

Here are some facts and advices on how to feed cats better:
Feeding Times and Frequency for Your Cat
How Often Should You Feed Your Cat?

Things to consider

I'd like each cat to eat just what it needs, not all at once, and in its own personal bowl

Feeder:

  • multi cat management
  • has a reservoir for food
  • reservoir must be removable / washable
  • can adapt food quantity per cat
  • cat recognition (attributed bowl n┬░)
  • deny access for a 2nd cat in the same bowl
  • food distribution frequency control (portions)
  • low cost

Cat:

  • one cat can only access one bowl
  • has its own bowl
  • must be delivered custom food quantity
  • can access anytime and as often it wants (free access)
  • can't be delivered new food until its bowl is empty
  • can access even if the bowl is empty (free access)
  • must be identified by the feeder (cat recognition). But how?
    • special necklace with RFID?
      • my cats never had necklaces and might not like it
    • pet identification microchip?
      • if this data is accessible (shared, open-source)
      • not all cats have one (some have tattoo instead)
    • video?
      • cat facial recognition?
      • might be costy... (keep it low cost)
    • other?

Project research

Commercial products

I found a few similar commercial products. Some are microchip based, others are RFID based :
Microchip cat feeders for multi-pet homes
Microchip PET feeder
Ourpets SmartLink Feeder
Automatic Pet Feeder
And this one is face recognition based.

Some others don't have any cat recognition system and are more intended for single cat owners.
But some of their features are interesting:
5 Meal Automatic Pet Feeder
Automatic 2 way Feeder

DIY projects

I also found this blog article with interesting reading about DIY Pet Feeders and what to consider.

And many different projects with different and interesting approach :
Raspberry Pi Powered Pet Feeder
Arduino Uno Cat Feeder
Hackaday projects
The ultimate cloud cat feeder

Fabacademy projects

And here are similar or related Fabacademy projects :
Kayla Proctor's Kitty Matic
Toni Filipe Barreiros Automated Cat Feeder
Mohammad Naeem Alhamadi's Cat Feeder
Nanjie Chen's project

Cat face recognition systems

After human face recognition, it seems that cats are the next playground for AI face recognition systems and that it's already there:
Cat recognition using Windows IoT
Using AWS Rekognition cloud service
Facial recognition for cats
Python cat facial detection
Cat face recognizer in Python

Other very interesting projects with image analysis:

Catcierge
cvFlap

Project sketch

Here is a rapid sketch for a potential design:

But the more I think about it, the more I believe it might be better to have several single-cat dispensers than a single, massive, and complex multi-cat system...
It will adapt better on everyone's situation and can be usefull even for single cat owners.
So here is another sketch for a "single cat dispenser" instead:


Early programming planification

Early CAD prototyping

I used my 2021 CAD week to start prototyping my new project and it can be seen here.