"Alexa, did Fluffy just drop a dookie?"
January 14, 2020 8:13 PM   Subscribe

LuluPet’s is not the first smart cat litter box, and not even the only one at this year’s CES. But while the majority of smart litter boxes focus on automatic cleanup of the cat’s deposits and the resulting odor, LuluPet’s device is aimed at helping improve the cat’s overall health. It has a built-in camera (apparently you can watch live via its connected smartphone app), as well as infrared and weight sensors to determine whether the cat did number one or number two. The images from the event are compared with images of other cats’ excrement in LuluPet’s database to make sure all is normal. Yes, I just wrote that sentence. (Kim Lyons, The Verge)
posted by Johnny Wallflower (33 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I...actually see the utility in this. I have an automatic cat box, and while it's great, last year when my cat was sick, the vet and I had the following conversation:

"Is she eating?"


"Is she having normal bowel movements? Diarrhea?"

"I...uhh... have no idea."

But I'm not sure I need live connectivity via smartphone app.
posted by Hatashran at 8:38 PM on January 14

I LOLed at this, but upon reflection, it is yet another example of how our pets sometimes get better healthcare than we humans do.

(Personally, I would not want cameras recording the, er, events... but I can imagine that having that kind of analysis could help with early detection of many human illnesses, too. As long as we didn't use the info to drive ourselves into fits of anxiety.)
posted by rpfields at 8:55 PM on January 14

This device proves conclusively thar the cat memes have won CES. Which is not the worst thing that could be happening... but I still hold out hope for something Doge.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:36 PM on January 14

but I can imagine that having that kind of analysis could help with early detection of many human illnesses, too.

If you are over 45, your doctor will likely order up the Cologuard home test which is literally this. It tests for colon and rectal cancers and it’s often used as sort of a “pretest” to see if a full on colonoscopy is necessary.
posted by sideshow at 9:55 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]

I can’t even be mad about this, though of course I’m so mad people can’t even get decent healthcare for ten times that price!

We have a LitterRobot (refurbished but still approximately a million dollars) and I love it. My cat loves it. Except the one time it got stuck upside down for a weekend in a room I only go into on weekdays, so my poor cat did his business on the floor instead. And poor us, hundreds of dollars of cleaning later because cat pee on carpet does not go away without a fight. I’ve seriously considered spending the $100 or whatever it costs for a LitterRobot upgrade that tells you the status, but then I remember I have eyes.

Anyway it doesn’t look like this box also scoops itself? I couldn’t tell from the article or slideshow pictures. If it did then $150 would actually be a great price compared to other options out there. I hate that I know that. I’ve spent too many hours looking at robot litter boxes. And now I’m going to send this to a friend who has two cats with kidney disease.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:18 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

I would pay any amount of money for a device that could tell me why my cat is peeing on the bed every day. And for a mechanical litterbox. Any amount of money. I'll take out a loan. I just don't believe anything to actually work anymore.
posted by bleep at 11:23 PM on January 14

And the Surveillance State takes another step.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:06 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

I feel this would turn me into a neurotic mess
posted by daybeforetheday at 2:15 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

It's neat and all, but the first thing my cat would do is slap a post-it over the lens.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:13 AM on January 15 [14 favorites]

I feel this would turn me into a neurotic mess
posted by daybeforetheday

I feel that it could turn the cat into a neurotic mess.
posted by Splunge at 4:58 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

As a sad reflection of the ridiculous cost of education in the US, this device is simply one more piece of over-thinking a basic problem in order to pluck at the heart-strings of pet owners to get them forking out huge amounts of money for their pet care (and in the process help the veterinarian pay off their student loans/s). I shook my head recently when a friend recounted the procedures she had her cat go through - a 13 year old with cancer - and the subsequent $11,000 + bills for 'treatments'. Six months later the inevitable happened. That amount of money would have given many abandoned felines good lives and it would have been far more humane for said cat to have been euthanized at the very start. As a cat (and dog) owner I understand the emotional attachment to an animal. However, living in the countryside like we do, you develop a certain pragmatic grounding re the relationship.

Spending money on scented and clumping litter along with complex set-ups to contain an obvious problem is environmentally unfriendly and costly. Cracked pine and frequent changing of the litter and cleaning the box (es) is far more effective. We have a low tray we place inside a recycled cardboard box with high-sides lined with paper. Once a month the external box is replaced and the inner tray cleaned and disinfected.

"determine if the cat is too fat or needs more food or water" - if you need a machine to tell you this then you are not 'caring' enough for your pet.

And on the subject of human health checking... The Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a non-invasive test to check for early signs of cancer. It is not as effective as a full-on colonoscopy but, if you have no symptoms arising from using the FIT, there is no real need for the latter until you are much older. It is important to check out the risk factors associated with a colonoscopy as well. A subject often not fully explained by doctors.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 5:37 AM on January 15 [5 favorites]

I find this almost offensively stupid (offensive given the state of human health care in the US, and globally). You know the best way to monitor your cat’s poop? Scoop their freaking box by hand every day. It takes 20 seconds and uses no electricity and reports no data to Jeff Bezos or whatever. And you will be ready to answer your vet’s question in detail.

Old man (and devoted cat dad, I scoop daily) rant over.

Now for the cherry on top:

This is the strangest CES product I’ve ever seen. I have no idea how these people got their cats’ shit wedged in these scanners. Or why.
posted by spitbull at 6:00 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]

Just to be clear, I find most things exhibited at CES to be offensively stupid, if not terrifyingly dangerous, applications of technology to everyday life.

Also if you can’t deal with your cat’s excrement how do they know you love them? /joke
posted by spitbull at 6:04 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

If you have a cat at risk of urinary blockage, this would be great. I have seriously considered putting a cheap webcam watching the litter box.

Urinary blockage can kill a cat within 24 hours. The only symptom is the cat straining in the litter box but nothing comes out. I worry about what if I’m out of the house and miss seeing the warning sign.
posted by snowmentality at 6:12 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]

Internet of Turds

But, wait:
Amazon: People with cats who poop like yours have also bought....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:39 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]

I mean if I could pick any personal information for my household to send to the all-gathering eyes in the cloud, detailed information and/or pictures of cat shit is a pretty good option
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:47 AM on January 15 [14 favorites]

The actual website for the company has some hilarious mockups of the app and the different poop symbols it uses to show what your cat(s) did at various times of the day.

I know it can recognize multiple pooping cats - and I’m waiting for the inevitable future news story about someone being arrested after police used the latest in cat facial / rectal / poop recognition to find where the suspect lived.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 7:33 AM on January 15

Also I’m having this hilarious thought they may have a very earnest QA intern who’s job it is to use cat hand puppets and poop samples to generate test data for the AI learning.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 7:44 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

This might sound silly but I think it's actually kind of great -- the camera at least -- there are a bunch of health things where the first questions are, any problems pooping/peeing, how often does the cat go (and is that a change from normal), does the cat strain with no results, which cat is the one having a problem, etc. I'm a crazy cat lady but I don't usually follow the cat if he's going to the fortress of solitude. I could see this being a help.

The "just scoop it" thing is a fair criticism of some pet owners, but remember (a) scooping is pretty physical and there are reasons why it's harder for some people, it's cool if technology can help with that; and (b) scooping doesn't mean the owner knows which cat's having the problem or about occasions when the cat attempted with no results etc. So yeah - this is a decadent first world problems thing, but assuming a scenario where people are already buying expensive stuff for their pets, this kind of thing is more practical/less frivolous than it might sound.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:21 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]

Acts of convenience will be commodified.
posted by JohnFromGR at 8:27 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

Wow, they finally found a way to put that SmartPipe technology to use! Surprising, considering the... unsavory legislation issues the original faced.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:53 AM on January 15

When my last cat developed life-threatening kidney problems I was giving him subcutaneous fluids twice a week, medication every few days, and tracking how many grams of food he was eating each day and the approximate volume and condition of his daily excretions. Suuuuuuper fun, but he was an amazing cat and it bought us several more really good years together (he was only ~4 years old when he was diagnosed). I did eventually lose him to a severe and poorly positioned urinary tract blockage - by chance I was at home when it happened so he got same-day treatment, he just had terrible luck.

If there had been an affordable product that could have automated part of the excretion monitoring process for me and provided extra detail like frequency it sure would have been nice to have.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:23 AM on January 15 [5 favorites]

The "just scoop it" thing is a fair criticism of some pet owners, but remember (a) scooping is pretty physical and there are reasons why it's harder for some people, it's cool if technology can help with that

Ooof, this. During my cat's final year I managed to fall and viciously sprain my ankle - spent a long time on crutches and was still having trouble with weight bearing a month and a half after the initial injury. Trying to maintain my daily litter scooping & monitoring routine under those circumstances was brutal and I don't think it would have been fully possible without outside help.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:32 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

Gesturing vaguely at healthcare to dress up the fact that your objections to this are merely aesthetic rather than rigorously moral is more transparent than you think.
posted by invitapriore at 11:37 AM on January 15

How much not to know my cat just pooped? [We live in a studio and the older he gets, the more startlingly eye-watering his room clearing events become.]
posted by Space Kitty at 12:02 PM on January 15 [4 favorites]

Gesturing vaguely at healthcare to dress up the fact that your objections to this are merely aesthetic rather than rigorously moral is more transparent than you think.

I genuinely don’t know what you mean by this though I've reread it several times over, could you rephrase it? And if you’re comfortable, say what comment(s) it’s in reaction to?
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:58 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]

Because my younger cat already doesn't have anxiety from his older brother constantly staring him down and wanting to chomp his ass out of cute aggression.

Now he gets another big brother to stare even when he wants that brief moment of respite! The sheer horror. Must we constantly teach our pets to be surveilled/ Must they not have any dignity and freedom! I MEOW FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT MEOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.
posted by symbioid at 1:02 PM on January 15

When one of the cats was having a diarrhea issue, you betcha I followed them to the litter box and conducted regular surveillance of pooping. Now the other cat has decided that he can't bear to stay a second longer in the litter box and bounds out without covering his poop.

I agree with LobsterMitten, of the high-priced gizmos and gadgets that people buy for their pets, this one actually seems more useful. Ethical allocation of money is important to think about, but as much as I get where Peter Singer* is coming from about spending as much money as we can afford to reduce suffering (near and far), I also think our relationships, including those to our cats, come with moral obligations as well.

It's okay that we are not strict utilitarians in our actions. Singer's standpoint (which to be clear, isn't what earlier posters are advocating, but they are in the same general vein) also induces paralysis in me, if I am trying to maximize the impact of every single dollar I donate or spend. I am a satisficer when it comes to how to act ethically in the world, I do the best I can with the knowledge I have. I can't judge whether directing Christmas gift money to buy socks for the Catholic Workers' footcare ministry is better than donating that to support the Moms 4 Housing campaign in Oakland. They both seem super important to me. I also know that I don't always make the most beneficial (in the global and individual sense) choice when I spend my money. I just bought a selfie light. Selfish maybe, though I think I justified it as being for a class project.

*I've had a heated discussion about whether having a well-padded savings account is ethical or not with one of my closest friends.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:36 PM on January 15

Anyway, I would want this for the cats especially as they get older. And I also want the human version in my toilet. Though I bet it would just tell me, "your pee is full of B vitamins. you are wasting your money on those supplements. also you should eat more insoluble fiber."
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:39 PM on January 15

I genuinely don’t know what you mean by this though I've reread it several times over, could you rephrase it? And if you’re comfortable, say what comment(s) it’s in reaction to?

I mean that acting like this litter box is the height of frivolity and like it's an insult for it to exist is sanctimonious, performative asceticism along the lines of mentioning loudly that you don't own a TV, and it's annoying and disingenuous commentary. I can imagine a few legitimate uses for this type of thing (a multiple cat household where one cat has diabetes, for example, where it can be important to know how often a cat is urinating), and at $150, I bet there's a good chance that anyone railing at this has spent more on less.
posted by invitapriore at 1:55 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]

Thank you, invitapriore! I was thinking you were saying the opposite but couldn’t quite tell (I don't mean because of how you phrased it but rather it’s my brain, sometimes online comments are more opaque to me than others for whatever reason.) Appreciate you expanding!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 2:02 PM on January 15

Oh, shoot, it's only $150? Yeah, whatever. I mean, ok, I think y'all who spend thousands of megabucks and hours of hours upon their pets' persistent health issues are maybe a little _weird_, but you do you, I can't judge too much, but when I had two reasonably healthy cats $150 was maybe 6 months of Kitty Consumables, all told? And if your cat is unhealthy, well - I just spent $160 on a prescription renal care diet for 2 months. $150 is downright _cheap_ in this market.

I mean, I expect I'll spend well over $150 re-outfitting my house with cat supplies when we get around to it later this year after cleaning out all the old stuff when the nest emptied out, as it were.
posted by Kyol at 2:14 PM on January 15

The Internet of Shit of shit!
posted by Cardinal Fang at 6:55 AM on January 16

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