No matter how hard you try to stop them, some cats will always find a way to devour the food contained in pet dishes that neighbor their own. Pet owners with multiple cats will recognize this scenario: you put food out for all your furry friends, and that one greedy tabby cheerfully trots up to gobble — and subsequently throw up — whatever its siblings' dishes contain. But a new Indiegogo campaign launched today by a Taiwanese company called 42ARK might have a high-tech solution for your feline feeding problems: a cat-feeding device that uses facial recognition technology to dispense a predetermined amount of kibble to the appropriate cat.
"If a human can recognize the facial differences [that distinguish one cat from another], than the machine can do it too," says 42ARK co-founder Mu-Chi Sung. "And the platform that the cat sits on is actually a scale, so it can recognize cats by weight" as well.
facial recognition technology in a kibble dispenser
Sung first came up with the idea for this kibble dispenser — called the Bistro smart cat feeder — after experiencing a scare with one of his pets, Momo. The white feline developed pancreatitis and subsequently stopped feeding, but Sung's other pets were eating her food, so he didn't notice right away. "I have been raising so many cats and some passed away, but usually we didn't notice that they were sick," Sung explains. "I should have noticed earlier, because it's often too late when they show serious symptoms."
Momo's brief but serious illness is what prompted Sung to think about integrating facial recognition technology in a kibble dispenser. But the Bistro smart cat feeder doesn't just hand out food to a specific animal: it also knows when to stop. By monitoring how much your cat has eaten and had to drink during each feeding session, the company says that the feeder can determine when your feline has had enough — or when it hasn't eaten at all. And users can set the food dispenser to only hand out small quantities of kibble at a time, so cats that tend to eat quickly and throw up are forced to pace themselves.
quantifying your cat to avert throw-up
Moreover, the device records your cat's feeding and weight information in the accompanying free Bistro app, which graphs your pet's food intake over time. "I wanted to have a device to monitor their appetite and their weight changes" Sung says, "because these are early symptoms [of illness]."
And especially involved cat owners will be happy to learn that the camera that recognizes their cat can also be used to live stream their feeding sessions. All a user has to do is set up the Bistro app to notify them when an animal is feeding — thus allowing cat-lovers to watch their pets eat while at work, or on the go.
"It's also a social network," Sung explains. "You can use this device to establish your cat's profile." When you take a picture of your cat, you can post it to the profile, and your cat's feeding history can be posted as well, Sung says. "It's basically a live stream of your cats' everyday moments."
"It's basically a live stream of your cats' everyday moments."
The feeder isn't perfect though, because it won't prevent multiple cats from sticking their heads in there at once. To counter this, 42ARK suggests that users try different strategies like adjusting food quantities to ensure that nothing is left on the tray once a cat has finished eating, or by spacing out feeding times. And eventually, the founders say they will "open up fully programmable feeder APIs for people / hackers to create new sharable feeding strategy to control [a cat's] daily intake" using the Bistro app.
For now, 42ARK has chosen to market the Bistro feeder solely as a cat-specific kibble dispenser because of the device's size. But Sung says that it might also work for small dogs, despite the fact that it's not optimized for canines. Early-bird Indiegogo backers can get a Bistro for $149 USD, but quantities are limited. The official Indiegogo price for the Bistro is $179. And once it hits the market, Sung expects that the price will rise to $249, so retailers can turn a profit. If the project is a success, 42ARK plans to ship the Bistros to backers by February 2015.
As for Momo, Sung says she's doing well now. She lost two legs because of her illness, but "she plays with the laser pointer every day." And for $50, you might actually get to see her do this, since one of the Indiegogo rewards involves a video-chat session with Momo and the 42ARK founders.