Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Interactive Cat Toy Initial Concept Ideas - IPC Final Project

As I outlined in my previous post, my final project for IPC will be an interactive cat toy. Before I share my initial concept I want to go over the considerations that guided my initial design choices. Over the next four weeks this design will evolve and change based on technical, esthetic, usability, and fun-factor considerations. Enough preamble, let's dive right in.

Inspiration for the Project
My main inspiration for this project comes from my cat, Sasha. That said, she can't take all the credit (or blame) because I've always liked cats even though I never owned one. Lauren's family's cat, Suzie, also deserves some of the responsibility. Since I've been hanging out with these two cats I've evolved from a cat-friendly to cat-obsessed. Here is a short video of Sasha, Suzie and a sickeningly cute kitten that we rescued three months ago, Little Scrappy.

Sasha is definitely the cat that will have the biggest influence on this project. My knowledge of her likes and dislikes guided my selection of the types of interaction that I want to integrate in this toy. For example the decision to include sound was driven by Sasha's reaction to bird sounds that my wife recently played at home.

Main Design Objectives and Considerations
My objective is to create a toy that deliver an experience that is fun for the cat and the human. All design decisions need to be made with this objective in mind. The main requirements that will also guide my decision are:
  • easy for the user and the cat to use - no instruction manual needed.
  • offer fun ways for the cat to play from both far away and near by. 
  • able to attract the cat's attention if the owner wants to initiate a play session.
  • esthetically pleasing enough to put in your NY studio or one-bedroom apt.
  • provide auto mode that plays with the cat while the owner is away.
  • make sure that toy is able to handle a lot of punishment because Sasha can dish it out.
  • focus on the situated interaction between cat and human to maximize connection. 
Here are some additional initial thoughts and considerations that guided my design:
  • consider using sound to attract cats (very effective for Sasha).
  • leverage video game buttons and joysticks to give the remote control a fun feel.
  • make sure all cables are cat safe, since they can be cable eaters.
  • use an power plug rather than battery to better support prolonged use of auto mode (maybe wrong decision from sustainability perspective?) 
  • keep in mind possible future upgrades (web connection with video feed and online controls, wireless remote control, etc).
The Initial Design
The concept for my interactive cat toy is a remote controlled device that contains: (a) a laser pointer, controllable by a joystick, to play with cats that are across the room; (b) several bird chirping sounds, controllable via buttons, to attract the cat over to the toy; (c) an arm with a hanging string and feathers, controllable by a joystick, to play with a cat that is near the toy.

I envision the toy having an L-shaped base which is meant to provide stability and can be secured to a wall. The arm protrudes from the top of the vertical leg of the L-shaped base. Next to the arm, a small ball-like object holds the laser pointer (I am considering using a mirror to move around the laser, as in the FroliCat Bolt toy). The motors and wiring are hidden in the base of the toy.

The remote control would have a old-school arcade video game feel, though I am considering to use PS joysticks. Though originally I planned to only use buttons for the bird sounds, I will likely needed to add a laser on/off button to the controller as well. I may choose to reduce the number of sounds down the three, so that I can keep the number of buttons on the remote to a minimum.

Here is my initial drawing of the cat entertainment center and remote:

Once the initial prototype is build I would like to extent this toy by creating a wireless remote and adding internet connectivity (both video feed and control). That said, the core of my concept is the situated interaction between the cat and human, so I will keep my focus here for the next four weeks. Then we can see whether it makes sense to extend this concept into these different areas of functionality.

Important Next Steps
Here is a brief overview of my next steps with this project:
  • Update toy design based on feedback from class
  • Determine dimensions of the toy
  • Design movement mechanisms for arm and laser
  • Identify the motor strength needed to move arm
  • Identify materials for building base and controller
  • Design circuit for controller and base
  • Purchase component parts

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