Gadget of the Week: Automatic pet feeder ticks a few cat boxes


What is it?

Just three years ago, the Consumer Electronics Show in las Vegas, the world’s biggest launch pad for new gadgets, was set alight by a Wi-Fi enabled automatic pet feeder called Feeder-Robot, “designed to give every pet parent complete peace of mind”.

It was the first device of its kind to feature advanced scheduling software, allowing owners to monitor and control their pet’s feeding habits from a phone. It wasn’t on the market yet, but could be pre-ordered at the time for the equivalent of about R4,000. Add import costs and markups, and it would have cost upward of R6,000 in South Africa.

Today, the concept is mainstream, to the extent that a company like Xiaomi, which specialises in both smartphones and a wide range of smart home devices, doesn’t think twice about adding it to its range. And Xiaomi products usually mean two things: state of the art smart technology, and affordable pricing.

That is the context for the arrival in South Africa of the Xiaomi Automatic Pet Feeder, at less than half the local price of the 2020 pioneering device.

The feeder is ideal for anyone who has to travel regularly, as well as for cats with special dietary needs.

In our case, we had been feeding Blue, our grey rescue cat, a little too well, and he was a kilo or two overweight. Making things right was not only about putting him on a temporary diet: we also needed to measure precisely how much he was eating, and spread it out through the day, so that he wouldn’t get so ravenously hungry that he decided to destroy all that he surveys. Apparently, cats get like that. Completely unlike humans.

The Mi Home/Xiaomi Home app allowed us to plan, dispense and monitor Blue’s food, down to the last gram. The amount that it dispenses sometimes looks like less than one thinks it should be, but generally it always balances out over a day in terms of what the pet should be eating.

Of course, there is one major drawback in South Africa: loadshedding. On the plus side, that doesn’t affect the app on the phone, so unlike time switches, it doesn’t throw out the Feeder’s internal scheduling once power is back. But it does mean the pet may not be fed on schedule.

If someone is home, of course, the pet can be fed manually. The device can also be fitted with four AA batteries, and one can then dispense at the touch of a button – which can also be used to issue an extra feed. For that to work via the app, Wi-Fi also needs to be working.

But it does mean that, If one is traveling, loadshedding will out a spanner in the automatic feeding works.

Another major drawback is that, sometimes, the app indicates that there is still enough food in the feeder, when it is running out.

When it works according to plan, and when there is power, it brings a new dimension to pets’ lives.

The biggest positive of all is that the cats become attuned to the sound of the food being issued – or about to be dispensed. The app lets off a particular beep and, in our case, Blue begins running for the feeder the moment he hears it. If the app bearer is not around, the moment the food falls into the tray, also with a distinct sound, Blue becomes a flash of grey across the house.

What does it cost?

Retail price is typically R2,399. It is distributed in South Africa by Syntech (www.syntech.co.za)

Why should you care?

We asked ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence writing tool from OpenAI, which scours the Internet and delivers answers, to answer this question:

“The Xiaomi automatic pet feeder is a great option for pet owners looking for a convenient and reliable way to feed their furry friends while they are away. The feeder is easy to set up and use, and it’s compatible with both dry and wet food. It has a large food storage capacity, and it’s easy to clean. It allows you to schedule feeding times in advance, so you can be sure your pet will be fed even if you are away for a long time. Overall, the Xiaomi automatic pet feeder is a high-quality, affordable option for anyone looking to keep their pet well-fed and happy while they’re away.”

What are the biggest negatives?

·      Not always accurate in measuring stored food.

·      Subject to the whims of loadshedding.

What are the biggest positives?

·      Can keep about 1.8kg of dry pet food that can feed a grown cat or small dog for up to a couple of weeks.

·      The food compartment, food stirrer, dispensing blade and stainless steel food bowl conform to the food-grade contact requirements.

·      Food is kept fresh thanks to a 360° silicon sealing ring for the food compartment lid, and a hidden revolving door. Due to the way it is sealed in, it also keeps ants out of the pet food.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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