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From educational programming to cat flap spying: How the Raspberry Pi is looking out for pets

Posted by Hannah Wright on 10th January 2014

Here at EML Wildfire, we are self-confessed cat lovers (we are still maintaining an internal campaign to be allowed an office cat of our own). So imagine our delight when we were catching up with freelance journalist Kate Bevan, and she lets slip about her new ingenious ‘invention’, designed to keep a close eye on the comings-and-going of her feline family member, Daphne.

With the help of good friend Bernie Sumption (the brains behind the software at interactive restaurant, Inamo) the ‘Daphne Flap’ was born. Fundamentally it’s a gadget that monitors Kate’s cat, Daphne, as she comes and goes from her cat flap, posting live pictures and captions straight to Twitter. And of course, her growing fan base.

But the unique thing about the Daphne Flap is the whole homemade piece of technology is run purely by a Raspberry Pi and a burglar alarm sensor. And according to creator Bernie – “beer, pizza and prayers!”

So how does it work? A burglar alarm sensor is connected to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO ports through a couple of resistors. An assortment of software components, (including the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO library for reading from the GPIO port) were also incorporated. A USB camera is attached to the Pi and a reed switch on the cat flap itself (also wired to the Pi) so when the circuit is broken by Daphne opening the flap, the camera fires and posts an image and a tweet to Twitter.

Ingeniously, Bernie’s homemade tweet generator uses generative grammar to create thousands of different tweets from a relatively small number of rules, allowing a wide selection of tweets to be sent across the twitter handle @DaphneFlap.

And with pet owners getting increasingly worried about the psychological impact of leaving pets unattended at home for hours, the Raspberry Pi could be opening doors for DIY technology enthusiasts to keep tabs on their furry friends. Or at least try and make them a social media phenomenon.
After all, we’ve seen an abundance of ‘pet monitoring’ technology hit the headlines, including a new invention called the Petziconnect, allowing an owner to remotely watch, speak and feed bones to their dog. Yet these gadgets are expensive and most are in the KickStarter phase, with no real stock distribution.

However if anything is to be learnt about the Daphne Flap, it’s examples such as this eccentric “spying” gadget that highlight the hundreds of quirky uses the Raspberry Pi can truly bring to life.

Hannah Wright

After joining in 2011, Hannah brings a wealth of experience across both consumer and B2B PR.