If cats are not stimulated often, they get bored and lazy. The goal of this project was to create a toy to engage the cat during feeding time. Meouse emulates a real mouse, trying to escape the cat and keeping the cat guessing. The interesting part of this project was thinking about how an animal might interact with technology instead of humans. We had to consider how to teach and engage a cat that would have different affordances than a person and actually make the interface challenging to use, contradictory to normal UX design.
We started prototyping with LEGO Mindstorms and created works-like and looks-like models. The works-like model is a Mindstorms robot with a fleece cover to hide the hardware. Because of the size, a looks-like model was created to demonstrate the actual size and appearance of the final product.
When the cat approaches the mouse in front, an ultrasonic sensor is triggered and the mouse backs up. After the cat approaches several times, the mouse runs away faster. The cat must figure out they have to sneak up behind the mouse to attack. There is a touch sensor in the back that will sense an attack and cause the mouse to run as well. Once the cat attacks a random number of times, Meouse “dies” and the cat can eat. The opening for the food is too small for the cat to eat directly out of, so they must grab the food out to eat it. This creates one final obstacle for the cat to be engaged. Because the required attacks are random, the cat won’t get as bored easily.
Meouse was prototyped using Lego Mindstorms but a looks-like model was also created to obtain the correct scale. The proximity sensor detects the cat when it is 10 in away and the servo controls the wheels. The cat presses the touch sensor and the speaker makes mouse noises. The Red LED attracts the mouse when moving its tail.
This project is ongoing, the next steps being prototyping with Arduino and determining the best interactions. Meouse could be a “Tom and Jerry” type toy where the mouse learns the cat’s behavior and reacts accordingly, or the owner could be more involved with the cat and actually control Meouse themselves.