Curiosity May Kill the Cat, But RFID Could Save Its Life

By Rich Handley

MyKotty's new smart litter box, funded via Kickstarter and designed to monitor feline health while automating supply reorders, looks to be the cat's meow.

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I grew up in a house filled with cats. We had a single cat when I was a toddler—a bobcat, believe it or not (my parents took in a stray kitten, unaware of its nature until an alarmed veterinarian told them during a checkup), then another when I was in elementary school (this time of the ordinary, far-less-dangerous variety). And then… well, my family lost all sense of perspective, as we were raising fourteen cats simultaneously by the time of my high school years, in addition to two dogs, two birds, and a variety of fish and mice. It was a feeding-frenzy in the making that thankfully never escalated into a bloodbath.

In addition to the exorbitant expense involved in keeping all these animals fed and regularly examined by the vet, the presence of so many cats also created another problem: namely, the unpleasant smell and unappealing look of having multiple litter boxes in a modest-sized house. The latter problem was addressed by hiding the boxes in the basement, but there was no way to entirely avoid the former, short of stationing someone near the trays 24-7 to empty them as soon as each cat finished using one.

A neglected litter box can pose health risks for cats—and since humans have jobs, children, bills and household chores to distract their weary minds, it’s easy to forget to check the litter in a timely manner. Cats are meticulous animals with personalities that can perhaps be described as the feline equivalent of obsessive-compulsiveness. They get agitated (and understandably so) about having unclean litter boxes, to the extent that if their owners fail to empty the trays regularly, cats might refuse to enter them, holding in their waste materials for prolonged spans of time until their human family members finally do their part. That’s not good, as it can lead to infections of the urinary tract or bladder, as well as kidney dysfunction.

The result: pain and distress for cats, as well as expensive vet bills for humans.  MyKotty has come up with an RFID-based solution to this problem in the form of the  Space Kotty smart litter box. The system is designed to monitor a cat’s health, enabling pet owners to avoid the onset of diseases that could become chronic issues. Using an implanted RFID chip or an RFID collar, the system monitors cat health by tracking the animal’s weight, which means owners can keep an eye out for potential obesity issues, a nice added bonus.

The Space Kotty records the frequency of bowel movements and urination by tracking how often a cat visits the box, along with the amount of time it remains inside before leaving to pursue other interests—clawing the furniture, for instance (while ignoring the scratching post sitting right next to it), as well as knocking over glass objects (especially expensive ones). Sadly, the Space Kotty cannot do much about those behaviors. Yet.

Image: MyKotty

The system collects data about the cat, analyzes it using a set of algorithms and transmits notifications to a smartphone app if it detects any problems. Cat-shaped LED lights along the sides will illuminate in red if there’s cause for alarm, alerting the pet owner to take action to help the sick kitty. What’s more, by monitoring RFID-tagged litter inserts, the solution can reorder litter automatically when supplies run low. This means owners are spared the panic that results from discovering, only moments after emptying a litter box, that they’re out of clean litter, then scrambling to get to the store and back before the animal soils the litter-less plastic tray—which, of course, it will do because it’s a cat.

One particularly useful aspect is that since the system utilizes an RFID tag with a unique ID number, it can monitor multiple cats sharing the same litter box. As each cat enters, the Smart Kotty’s RFID gate will read the implanted chip or collar tag, determine which pet has arrived to relieve itself, and begin monitoring that animal’s health. Back in my youth, when we had fourteen cats, a system like this would have come in quite handy; I can remember more than one occasion when we would notice blood traces, worms, or other problems in the litter but had a heck of a time figuring out which cat was sick so we could take it to the vet’s office for treatment.

Image: MyKotty

As an added bonus, the system looks less like a litter box and more like a futuristic escape pod from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. Thus, those with limited floor space can keep it out in the open without having to feel self-conscious, when guests arrive, about the large box of fecal matter and urine-covered clay chunks sitting near the sofa.

MyKotty is funding the Space Kotty via  Kickstarter. The company recently surpassed its fundraising goal, and I might even consider ordering one for my own home. My wife and I have a cat (just one, thank you, not fourteen), and the litter box sits in the basement, where my home office is also located. If I have to share an area with a litter box, I’d be much happier knowing it was actively keeping our Ringo healthy. Plus, a spaceship escape pod would not look out of place near my memorabilia-filled office.

Now I just need to figure out how to trigger the system to say “Open the pod bay doors, HAL” every time my cat approaches. If only my name were Dave.

Rich Handley has been the managing editor of RFID Journal since 2005. Previously, he was the managing editor of Advanced Imaging magazine and the associate editor of Printing News. Rich has authored, edited or contributed to numerous books about pop culture and is also the editor of Eaglemoss’s  Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection.