How Much Exercise Does an Indoor Cat Get?: Week Five

So, did the ridiculously elaborate automated Undercover Mouse setup that I built produce measurable results?


2013-01-15 Snickers fitbit week five
Daily breakdowns (7 Jan to 14 Jan)


2013-01-08 to 2013-01-14 (week five) summary
Week summary (8 Jan to 14 Jan)



  • Weekend warrior: Snickers racked up 7,739 “steps” on Saturday, crushing her previous record of 5,477. Interestingly, Jennie and I were asleep or out of the house during most of Saturday, so it is possible that Snickers may play differently when left alone for longer periods.
  • Null hypothesis: Record-setting single day aside, the automated Undercover Mouse setup does not appear to have made a big difference. Snickers’ step totals remain around 30k/week.


  • Fitbit charging was performed from 6:30 to 10 on Tuesday evening (Jan 8). This is a bit longer than usual, as I accidentally left the Fitbit on the charger before we left for a fancy dinner party.  If Snickers’ activity was similar to her hourly average, those 3.5 hours work out to 650 steps; not a significant dent.

What’s Next?

I’ll buy some silly plastic cat toy off of the shelf while I work on the next ridiculously over-engineered cat annoyance. 

CatPlay iPad test

How Much Exercise Does an Indoor Cat Get?: Week Four

Heh. Cat videos: the currency of the Internet. Anyway…

2013-01-08 Snickers fitbit week four
Daily breakdowns (31 Dec to 7 Jan)


2013-01-01 to 2013-01-07 (week four) summary
Week summary (1 Jan to 7 Jan)



  • I topped off the battery on Tuesday (1 Jan, 9:30-10:30 P.M.) after seeing a low battery warning. I must have failed to properly seat the tracker on the charger during the normal Monday charge window.

Undercover Mouse: How Is That Going?

  • Anecdotally: Awesome. Snickers loves this toy, and now that it is automated she gets more quality playtime with it than even the craziest of cat ladies could provide. She has learned to recognize the sound, and will regularly trot downstairs with a few moments of it activating.
  • Empirically: Might be too early to tell. Her weekly “step” totals (even when considering “steps” not counted during an extra hour of battery charging) are consistent with those of the weeks before this fancy Undercover Mouse setup. This may be her initial apprehension of the toy wearing off. When she first began playing with the UM she would sit in one place and cautiously poke at the wand whenever it approached her, as seen in the video. Jennie has informed me that Snickers has gotten better at playing with the toy over the week; she will now chase, jump, and even do quasi-somersaults trying to catch the wand. Another issue that may affect the results: Often when Snickers catches the wand, she will detach it from the UM (as designed) and bat it around the basement. Jennie or I will then find it -hours later- and reattach it. This likely means that several cycles go by with no wand attached, and probably therefore little or no cat exercise going on. Hmm.

I think another week of data collection (with this fancy Undercover Mouse in isolation) is warranted before I move on to the next hilariously over-engineered cat exercise system.

Can You Light a Blowtorch with a Wimshurst Machine?


How Much Exercise Does an Indoor Cat Get?: Week Three

This is the boring/awesome engineering post.  But first, data:

2013-01-01 Snickers fitbit week three
Daily breakdowns (24 Dec to 31 Dec)


2012-12-25 to 2012-12-31 (week three) summary
Week summary (25 Dec to 31 Dec)



  • Sunday (30 Dec) was Snickers’ most active day yet, with 5477 “steps.”
  • Not much to report this week, data-wise.


  • Mondays remain the charge-the-Fitbit day, usually from 7 or 8 until 10 P.M.

Modifying An Undercover Mouse

As I said last week, I would imagine that Snickers would grow bored of her new Undercover Mouse if it were just left on 24/7, so a little modification is needed to make it turn on and off on a schedule. “Fifteen minutes on, two hours off, repeat” sounds reasonable.

I would have liked to just wire the UM up to an AC adapter, put that adapter on a simple vacation timer, and be done. Sadly though, turning on the UM is a two-stage process: 1) connect power (usually batteries) and 2) use the button on top to select a mode (Low/Medium/Fast/Random). I could have automated this process using relays and such, but at that point it would just be easier to bypass the circuit board completely and directly control the motor. Plus, direct control would allow me to tweak exactly how the toy works. Direct control it is, then.

Undercover Mouse circuit board

The guts of the UM are pretty simple: three AA batteries power a circuit board that controls a typical 5V hobby motor, which is in turn hooked to a few gears and ultimately to a little nub to which the wand attaches. After sampling the voltages across the motor leads when in use (Low = 2.4V, Medium = 2.6V, Fast = 2.7-2.8V), I snipped them from the circuit board, routed them through a convenient hole in the battery case, and soldered them to a single pair of 24 gauge wires that I pulled from an old piece of CAT5. (A note about heat shrink tube: wife’s hair dryer is apparently not hot enough, blowtorch is awesome but perhaps a bit too hot; even with an aluminum foil shield the base’s plastic was superficially dulled a bit.)

UM drive wires

I taped the wires to the floor, and ran them into a SainSmart L293D Motor Drive Shield, a preassembled version of Adafruit’s fantastic mshield. With all the messy hardware done, I then wrote a nice little Arduino program to control everything.

UM in basement

My Arduino lacks a real time clock, so we won’t be able to exactly pin activity from the Fitbit tracker to a particular session of Snickers playing with the UM. But with any luck, next week’s total activity numbers may show a slight improvement above the last three weeks of baseline.