Prey Detection AI and RFID Keeps Wildlife Outside

Published: January 31, 2024

Startup ZeroMouse is selling an AI-based system with cameras and IR, to identify when a cat has an animal in its mouth and prevent its entry.

RFID technology already can detect if an animal that’s trying to enter your house—through the cat door—is actually yours.

The LF 134 kHz RFID chip in the cat, or on its collar, enables a reader in the door to capture the ID, confirm its an approved pet, and grant its entrance.

But what if that cat is attempting to bring a surprise home to its family—a dead or live mouse, a bird or a snake?

Startup Full Funded

German tech startup ZeroMouse has designed a system that expands on existing automated RFID cat doors, to identify when a cat has some unwanted baggage, and deny them entry.

It uses infrared, cameras, and AI to identify what’s in the cat’s mouth, and uses the door’s existing RFID system to refuse the cat’s entrance.

In December 2023, ZeroMouse reached its Kickstarter funding goal to build and sell the devices. The company estimates that there are currently about 25 million cat doors in use around the world.

RFID-based cat doors

There are numerous versions of cat doors that leverage an embedded RFID chip, systems designed to ensure unfamiliar cats or wild animals don’t take advantage of the egress to come inside.

However, ZeroMouse founder Thomas Prosser points out that even if the cat is part of the family, what it is carrying may not be and the RFID cat doors do nothing to keep them out. So the company went about developing a technology to make the microchip cat door more intelligent.

Development began in early 2022 and has since then gone through rounds of beta testing, including with two cat doors in Prosser’s home.

Built to be a Simple Retrofit

The device integrates with existing cat door systems, without touching software or mechanical interfaces, Prosser says.

The unit consists of a circuit board built in IR and camera. The current version requires a wired power source, so it must be plugged into a nearby outlet (future versions may be battery powered). Additionally, it features a Wi-Fi radio so the data can be forwarded to a cloud-based server using the home’s existing network.

ZeroMouse’s software is stored via Amazon Web Services in the cloud. There is an app that can be installed on the user’s iPhone or Android device.

Users mount the device on the bottom of the door tunnel so that the camera shoots toward the cat’s face.

Fooling the RFID System

Once in place, it remains dormant until the IR detects something approaching the cat door. The system wakes up and determines when the face of the cat is in the right position to shoot the pictures. Then it starts to shoot.

If the cat has an RFID chip the door will identify that chip ID and unlock the flap to allow entry. However, if ZeroMouse’ algorithms determine that the cat has prey in its mouth, it transmits an RFID tag ID that does not match the familiar cat’s ID. That transmission is received by the cat-door reader, and it refuses entry.

“In that way the cat flap thinks there is a foreign chip and it does not open,” Prosser explains of his patent-pending design.

The process of identifying if the cat is familiar and has no prey typically takes about 2.5 seconds. During this time, the cats are usually carefully touching the flap and awaiting the chance to enter.

AI Training Itself

Because the technology uses AI, the system’s algorithms are refined over time, as more images and data are collected from all the doors and cats entering them. This allows the system to continually retrain based on images captured and the resulting actions.

“The more precise we are at the position of the cat, the better results we get in the end,” Prosser says.

The system forwards a text message to users that their cat has been detected and has been denied entry. If the user finds that the system experienced a false detection they can notify the ZeroMouse app, and that information can be used to retrain the algorithms.

Cats Being Trained As Well

Throughout development and testing, Prosser’s team discovered that cats can be trained to accommodate the requirements of the technology as well.

“There is a learning effect on the cats,” he says, as they learn that they can’t enter the home when they have their prey. “So they just go and eat it somewhere else and then come back.”

The cost of the technology will be about €200 ($218). ZeroMouse officials are open to the possibility of providing its technology to a cat door company as well. The company estimates that there are currently about 25 million cat doors in use around the world.

Key Takeaways:
  • ZeroMouse’s AI solution can fool RFID readers to ensure cats don’t bring prey inside.
  • With Kickstarter funding complete, the products are shipping early in 2024.