It’s no surprise that the home shared by an engineer and a tech journalist is filled with gadgets. We already own a robot, a Roomba, which vacuums our floors every day. So it wasn't a shock to me when my boyfriend showed up with another robotic helper for our home. It's called the Litter Robot II, an automatic self-cleaning litter box. The machine is a big black orb with a hole in the middle. It looks like the Death Star.
In the beginning, I scoffed at the price. At nearly US $400 with tax and shipping, it’s by far the most expensive waste receptacle in our house. I was also a bit worried about its integrity; friends had told us that their cats only took one day to destroy a different robotic litter box by ripping open the side panel and relieving themselves on the electronics inside.
Despite my skepticism, the boyfriend blazed ahead and started setting up the litter 'bot. The thing comes in a box that could fit a fully grown woman like myself very comfortably, should I decide to stowaway on a cruise liner. Thankfully, there were only a few easy-to-assemble pieces inside, including the large plastic globe and a base that contains a chamber where the dirty litter and other smelly unmentionables are stored.
With our litter box/Death Star playhouse fully assembled, we waited to see what would happen. I suppose one of my cats, Charlie, sensed evil, because his first instinct was to meow menacingly at it and trot away. But Starfox [pictured above], our more adventurous cat, seemed to welcome his new robot overlord. Noticing that his old litter box was gone, he decided this new one was worth a shot. With a little guidance, Starfox placed his paws on the ledge, which contains a sensor that detects the weight of a cat (2.3 kilograms, or 80 ounces, is the minimum). He then climbed into the globe and unceremoniously did his business.
Moments later, we watched the orb slowly rotate clockwise. An opening emerged on the side, and the waste fell into the chamber below. The pile of litter disappeared into the base of the machine and then reappeared, freshly combed, so that almost no clean litter was wasted. The chamber is lined with a plastic bag and the waste is completely sealed, ready to be retrieved in 3 to 4 days max [watch the video below to see how it works].
No smell, no wasted litter, and since the opening is equipped with safety sensors, no injured kitties. Just the reasonably quiet screech of the plastic globe as it rotates exactly seven minutes after the machine has detected that your cat has left its chamber.
And if you're still balking at the price, consider this: The Litter Robot II is an investment in convenience. It’s great for multiple-cat owners, people who work late, and those who like to get away for a few days without needing a friend to come by and take care of their cat’s business. Since we fit into all three of these categories, we decided that this gadget is worth keeping around. And looks like Charlie and Starfox agree: They've made peace with the robot.
Amanda Davis is an editorial assistant for The Institute, IEEE's member publication.
Image: Amanda Davis