Introduction: Solar Powered Cat Feeder (SPCF)
After owning dozens of colored but lifeless cat bowls and food dispensers I decided to build something with more soul.
Solar Powered Cat Feeder (SPCF) Is a DIY cat (or dog, or human, or robot) feeder controlled with a smartphone or over the web (I did not use the web because I don’t want my cat to be hacked by Russians).
For the motor I used a clever device called SOMA Smart Shades. (https://somasmarthome.com/). It’s basically a smartphone-controlled motor for window shades but I thought why not try it out as a pet feeder.
It has all the features I wanted: time triggers, strong enough motor and most importantly: safety features (so it would not be dangerous to my pet even if something malfunctions)
Let’s get started!
Materials I used for this project:
- 1x Soma Smart Shades window shade motorization device
- 1x Linear guide rail, you can use whichever you like I used NSK LS15
- beaded cord (from old blinds)
- Recycled wood
- Wood Glue
- Some screws and bolts
P.S. No coding skills are needed :)
Step 1: Make a Model
At first, I drew a 3D model, so I could see better how it supposed to look like.
The file is here, and you can view it in SketchUp.
I designed mine to look like that, but actually, you can design the appearance as you want to. As long there is a moving plate where you can insert the food bowl and box like closed space, where the bowl is hidden.
Step 2: Prepare the Parts
As seen in picture 1, the Cat Feeder is made from 3 parts. The bottom plate (on the right), the back (in the middle) and the top part (on the left), that is used to hide the food.
The back part is already glued together in the picture. I made it from three parts (one bigger plate and two smaller ones). You need to attach them so, that the guide rail would fit between them (seen on picture 2) and so the slider could move easily.
The top part is also glued together. I made it from three parts. One so called top plate and three walls. Two side walls need to be a little bit shorter so you would have the room to attach bottom and back plate together. (See step 3).
Once the glue dries, I sanded the panels until they feel smooth. If you like you can use wood filler or thick paint to make the surfaces even smoother.
Step 3: Attach the Parts Together
I used the glue again to attach the top part. But you can use some screws also. I attached the linear guide to the back side of the frame using screws. The bottom plate is connected to the linear slide rail with angle bracket.
Important: Add a stopper to the bottom of the cat feeder so the slider would not slide off. I used a piece of wood and glued it at the bottom. (Picture 3).
Step 4: Add Smart Shades
Use double-sided tape and fix the Smart Shades in place on the side of the top part. Add the nail or a screw as the anchor where you can attach the chain. You need to download the Smart Shades app and install it as the instructions go.
The Smart Shades gear needs to make 5 turns between upper and lower position. If it is less then it does not let you complete the set-up. I have it about 60 cm between the top and bottom plate, and Smart Shades worked perfectly.
Step 5: Test It Out and Add Schedules
After the initial setup, I did some try runs to make sure my new automatic cat feeder is safe - my test dummy was Vermont the Teddy Bear. As we can see from the pictures Smart Shades did not stop as it should have.
I figured out that the problem was on the setup - I had a plate on the stand so when Smart Shades did the first calibration. It measures the weight it has to lift
and as we can see from the GIF, once his head was touching the upper part, it stopped right away.
There are two different feeding protocols available:
- ASAP or the Instant feeding - with a swipe up and down on my smartphone.
- Scheduled feeding - using the mobile app and setting delayed triggers.
You can switch between the manual and the automatic control easily in the mobile app.
Step 6: Finished!
I called it Solar Powered Cat Feeder as the Smart Shades comes with a solar panel and the regular USB cable - but the problem was that the original solar panel cable did not reach to the nearest window so I have to buy some cable extension or recharge it every now and then from the mains.
All in all, I am happy how the project turned out and it was cool to hack the Smart Shades. The cat fell instantly in love with the new feeder system (built by humans, designed by cats!)
Plans for the future:
- The upper part is designed to hold food for 1 day - next build will be with built in the freezer to keep the food fresh for even longer periods.
- Add cat meow detection (thinking of some kind of Arduino setup with machine learning) so I could train my cat to meow it’s food from the SPCF
- Figure out a proper branding and name for the device and start a startup company :)
Any feedback is appreciated!