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Smart pet feeder keeps Fido's kibble cool with PCM

Ben Welter - Thursday, September 07, 2017

It's not much to look at, but an ingenious assembly of off-the-shelf electronic components could be just what a busy (and geeky) pet owner needs. The Mario Feeder allows users to schedule and monitor pet feedings from a smart phone and plays a personalized message alerting Fido when it's time to chow down. If Fido fails to heed the call, an alert will be sent to the owner's phone. Other features of the rotating dispenser include:

Mario FeederProximity detection: The bowl will open only when your RFID-tagged pet is nearby, to stop other animals from stealing food.

Bark detection: The feeder is "constantly listening" and will send an alert if your pet sounds distressed.

Smart scale: Tracks what your pet eats, when it eats and how much it eats.

Phase change material: Keeps perishable food cold. 

Developers have launched an Indiegogo campaign in hopes of raising $46,500 to help bring the product to market. They've also produced a video that might be the cutest ad you'll see on the Internet today:

Mario pet feeder video grab

Lead engineer Justin O'Neill answered a few PCM-focused questions by e-mail:

Q: What type of PCM is used? 

A: "We believe that the ability to keep food cold throughout the day is an important feature in a premium pet feeder, and strangely absent in competing products. We are using an organic PCM with a melting point of around 6 degrees Celsius. ... [It is] a bio-based PCM. This isn't because we believe there is a risk of food contamination (very small risk since we are using a robust casing) but more of a product life-cycle consideration with disposal."

Q: How is the PCM encapsulated? 

A: "The PCM is encapsulated in the walls and base of the main bowl, and it is recharged by placing the whole bowl into the freezer/ fridge. We did play with the idea of having separate removable compartments, but this did not fit with our ethos of reducing the total number of components. The bowl is sized so that it will fit in to most domestic freezers/ fridges (also less fiddly for the user). ... Our final design has two compartments with thicker base to hold more PCM. Prototypes have been developed with an ABS housing, but the final version could be PP or HDPE. ... We would have loved to use aluminium or stainless casing but the bowl is a fairly complex moulding and I suspect we would have ended up with high pressure die casting and a step change in cost."

Q: What are the dimensions of the product? 

A: "The bowl is ~310mm in diameter, depending on where exactly you are measuring. We tried to balance catering to larger pets with ensuring it isn't too big for apartments, and of course getting the food bowl with PCM it into a fridge/ freezer."

Q: How long does the product provide a cooling effect?

A: "Our intent is only to provide the ability to delay food spoiling, not keep it frozen or cold indefinitely. Our target has been delaying spoiling for 3-4 hours vs food being exposed, and obviously the performance varies greatly with ambient temperature, the foodstuff and volume of food. The Mario feeder allows users to set an expiration time. I.e after a specified time a particular compartment will be forbidden to expose even if the dog is near (RFID proximity detection) as food may be spoiled. By keeping food out of the sun (using proximity detection and rotating the bowl) we further improve total performance."

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