I believe that ubiquitous computing can offer more than just an interface for humans and digital information. I propose that we can now introduce animals to our technology. In this paper, I will describe a mechanism for networking a interactive cat toy to be accessed from anywhere on the internet. The World-Wide Web is primarily perceived as information space but can also be considered as activity space. With this device a pet can be interacted with from anywhere in the globe.
When we think of ubiquitous computing we often think of humans linking to computers, humans to humans and/or computers to computers. What about the millions of other living things sharing our living space that we call pets? This project is an attempt to provide a network node for pets and pet owners to interact over the internet.
Poster from Ubicomp Conference 2003
This may seem like a bizarre proposition but ask any pet lover if they wish they could play with their pet from work or check up on them while traveling. A human beings devotion to their pet often borders on a parent child relationship.Besides allowing pet owners to play with pets from home I also see the network being deployed in animal shelters as an online marketing tool to get publicity for animals. Hopefully by luring people to play with dispossessed animals over the internet animal-human connections will be made and pet adoption rates will increase.
Consider that the toy will have to be designed for optimal animal interaction. It’s not just a toy but an animal interface center, a pet equivalent to a monitor and keyboard. Which brings us to another point. If all the nodes are linked for two way communication on the network then stay at home cats could conceivably play with each other via the network .
It’s fun to think of playing with a pet while traveling, keeping an eye on your cat while you are away is a longing for most dedicated cat owners. The parental guilt felt when leaving Fluffy at home is considerable but relieving the stress of a pet owner is only a fraction of the intended purpose for this device. The initial goal of the Networked Cat Toy is to provide a conduit for interacting with animals stuck in shelters. The device is not ment to be a surrogate for actual human contact but rather a first contact mechanism. I can imagine people talking about the adorable kitten they played with on the internet the other day and perhaps developing an initial attachment that way that would lead to adoption, or volunteering or a web based cash donation.
What it does
This prototype allows the user to play with a house, or shelter bound animal while at school or at work. The live webcam feed providees visual feedback while playing with the cat and the feeder can also be used to feed the cat while the owner is on vacation.
The system is centered around an embedded network device that takes messages from internet browsers and transmits them to events in the real world. Clicking on a link in the web page can make the toy move or the feeder feed. The web cam simply sends a live video image so the user can see that the cat is being fed of playing with the toy.
The prototype as it is now requires a microprocessor and embedded network device, a PC and a webcam. A microcontroller is basically a very small, simple computer that can be programmed to control simple tasks. An embedded network device, depending on manufacturer, allows a microcontroller to be accessed and controlled over a broadband internet connection, like DSL or cable. A PC is used in this prototype soley as a means to network a video camera. In future versions the camera and microcontroller will be integrated into the micro web server.
First working prototype
A: web camera
B: cat toy
C: web controlled feeder
D:web controlled servo mototr
E: electronics container
Wilson, Stephen Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science and Technology. MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusets, 2002
Wallich, Paul. Geek DIY. Popular Science. Dec. 2002
ITP New York University Winter Show 2002
Ubicomp Conference for Ubiquitous Computing, 2003