The case for a connected cat flap

There are a lot of token or novelty connected products around these days. It’s hard to imagine a pressing use-case for many of them. (Update: As my collegue Adam says, there are too many things, not enough internet.)

But recently we became cat people, getting a lovely 18 month old tortoiseshell from a rescue shelter. And, much to my surprise, I keep coming up against moments where a connected cat flap would, gasp, actually be useful.

Our basic routine is this: Most of the day, the cat can come and go as she wants through a cat flap in the utility room door to the garden. At night when we’re sleeping, or if we go out, we set the security alarm, which means the cat is limited to the utility room. If it’s daytime she can still come and go. At nighttime we shut the cat flap to keep her in, and she sleeps shut in the utility room.

We’ve got a Sureflap Microchip Cat Flap. Its big differentiating feature is that it recognises the existing microchip embedded in the cat’s neck, so it only lets our cat in. Otherwise it has the usual manual control, to set the flap to shut, open both ways, in only or out only. It’s great, and has worked effortlessly for 6 months so far.

Sureflap Microchip Cat Flap

But I keep coming up against situation when I wish our catflap was connected to the internet. It sounds like something from The Onion or HBO’s Silicon Valley, but it’s true.

Here are the use cases I’ve found, so far, where a connected cat flap would be useful:

  • Being able to see if the cat is in or out. Our cat isn’t really allowed upstairs yet, but she does sometimes sneak up there and then hides — so we’re not really sure where she is, she could be in or out. If we unwittingly left her upstairs while we went out, she may set the security alarm off, and she would definitely wreck stuff. Being able to know from a glance at an indicator or screen if she was in or out would save us a lot of frantic searching under beds.
  • Being able to change the cat flap setting remotely. If our children grant us a rare and unexpected lie in, we’d like to be able to to free the cat to go outside from our bed.
  • Being able to set simple rules for the cat flap. For example we’d like to let the cat go out at sunrise, and make sure that when she comes in after sunset, she can’t then go back out again. But sunrise and sunset change every day throughout the year. Something like IFTTT is perfect for this kind of thing.
  • Being able to fulfil your curiosity. All cat people wonder what their cat does when they’re not around. Seeing when their cat went in and out would be a good start. Being able to analyse your cat’s activity levels over time could be pretty interesting, even useful, at least curiosity fulfilling. For example, at the moment she seems to have gone nocturnal (rather than crepuscular) — she goes out when it gets dark and is back in the morning, but we’d like to know what time she came in.

Update: We’ve had the cat for 12 months now, and we’ve just discovered the ‘killer’ feature for a connected catflap. Literally, our cat has become a killer. She’s catching voles, mice even rats and bringing them into the house, which isn’t nice. Sometimes they’re still alive, and make their escape under a cupboard, which is even less nice. So I’d like the catflap to detect when she has a caught something (perhaps by detecting their alarmed shrieking) and temporarily not let her in.

Hardware entrepreneurs, please let me know when your Kickstarter is live. Over and out.

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