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article imageAI-equipped cat flap seeks to control a feline's killer instincts

By Tim Sandle     Jul 1, 2019 in Technology
Cats can be friendly and cute; they are also expert hunters, and as many cat owners know, cats will often bring home prey (either dead or partly alive). To minimize this, an inventor has used AI to develop an intelligent cat flap.
The objective of the cat flap to stop a cat that is intent on bringing in a half-dead mouse or remains of bird, as gift to their owners, from accessing the door of the flap. The cat flap functions to automatically bar entry to the feline pet if it tries to enter with prey in its jaws.
The cat flap has been designed by Ben Hamm, who works for Amazon. Hamm's flap makes use of machine-learning software, as The Verge reports. The software was used to train the system to recognise when a cat is approaching with an object in its mouth. Hamm developed the artificial intelligence by using his own cat, called Metric, using 23,000 photographs. In time the system was able to recognize if the cat was approaching the cat flap with an array of differently sized and colored rodents or birds, held in its mouth.
A domestic cat listening for sounds.
A domestic cat listening for sounds.
Hamm drew upon Amazon's own tools to achieve his goal, such as DeepLens, which is a video camera designed to be used in machine-learning experiments; and Sagemaker, a service enabling customers to buy third-party algorithms or alternatively to build their own and then train and tune them using their own data.
The cat flap, on detecting the cat carrying prey, locks down for 15 minutes. This is designed to teach the cat that it cannot bring prey into the house (the cat flap itself will not deter the cat's natural predatory instincts). The degree to which the cat is trained is debatable; it is more likely the cat will stubbornly realized that it needs to adapt, given the complexities of training a cat against a cat's own desire of independence.
A cat called Gizmo.
A cat called Gizmo.
This is why Hamm spent months using thousands of images - it was easier to train the AI than it would be to have attempted to train his cat, as he tells the BBC.
The video below shows the cat flap in operation:
As Hamm states in the video, of his cat Metric: "He brings in dead (or not dead) rats, mice, and birds. I tried to stop him with bell collars, operant conditioning, generous feeding. Nothing worked. So I built an AI-powered cat door that can tell when he approaches with a critter in his mouth. If it's just the cat, door's open! If he's carrying a rat or bird? Cat door locks, texts me pics, and donates to bird conservation."
The innovation represents one of the first times that machine learning techology has been used to try to help cat owners.
More about Cats, cat flap, Prey, Feline
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