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Cat Naps For All!

Photonics Spectra
Jul 2015

More than 80 million cats currently reside in U.S. homes, with an estimated three cats for every dog on the planet. That’s a lot of fur. But more to the point, it’s also a lot of play time – of which we lowly humans don’t have much to spare. So what is there to do when our rested, hyperactive cats paw and jump around our tired, work-worn bodies, looking for attention?

You could follow the lead of 24-year-old Finnish inventor Miska Karvonen. His latest gadget is a hands-free, 3-D-printed laser robot for cats. Karvonen’s creation keeps our feline friends occupied by flicking a low-power, 5-mW red dot laser around a room via a mechanical arm, grabbing their attention. The device consists of an Arduino USB board, a simple shield and two RC servos, running on either a 9-V battery or a USB port. A PrintrBot was used to produce the robot’s parts, with 3-D print-time taking a little over an hour and costing about 15 cents.


“I have had the idea for years to build something like that,” Karvonen said, “but [my] overactive cat made me do it for real. When you are just too tired after school or work to play, she will revenge the missed playtime in the night by waking you up.”

The robot stanched the disquiet. It uses a simple construction that pays dividends for cat owners who can’t always be at the beck and call of their four-legged companions. But why is the build so innovative? Karvonen has taken full advantage of “maker culture” by posting the project on Instructables, a website that specializes in user-created and -uploaded projects that can be reproduced, step by step, by anyone willing to try. It all comes down to access: The technology, the plans, the techniques and every part of the process are open to the masses in a collaborative forum, providing a truly do-it-yourself project that can be made at home. Karvonen’s stereolithography files are available on the site for download, and if any problems or questions arise along the way, you can just shoot the inventor a message.

“It’s a great place to share your builds and makes,” Karvonen said. “The people in it [are] supportive and kind. It’s nice that people [can] share their knowledge of many different categories, helping you learn new things and smash everything up in your head to make something even better.”

And while Karvonen counts his own cat as the robot’s source of inspiration, the instant gratification of social media makes his projects even more dynamic.

“It is nice to see that someone likes your project and comments on it,” he said. “This makes you want to do another project to see who likes that. A bit narcissistic, really.”

Narcissistic or not, it’s a great way to gauge the popularity of a device. But for those who think the robot can replace human-cat interaction, think again. Karvonen’s design only gives you a brief time-out.

“It ensures my own good night’s sleep – so I can play the next day.”



GLOSSARY
stereolithography
A method of creating real three-dimensional models by using lasers driven by CAD software. In contrast to the normal practice of removing material, this process polymerizes a liquid to quickly produce shapes that are untouched by human hands or cutting tools. Also known as three-dimensional imaging and three-dimensional modeling.  
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