Many people question the practical uses for RFID technology other than for payments or data transfer, but I've always felt that there are many other applications of the technology that simply haven't been fully explored yet. The Surefeed Microchip pet feeder is an excellent example of RFID technology being used to enhance daily life. It's essentially RFID access control for your pets' food, and I've been using it for a few weeks with two cats who love to fight at feeding time.
In terms of design, the feeder is quite unobtrusive, and fits in well with our existing 'cat area'. It's made of a tough white plastic, and comes supplied with nicely neutral grey feeding bowls and mats. Sureflap also offer coloured accessories to help with differentiation if you have multiple pets and feeders - I'm using green and blue.
The feeder works by recognising that an authorised pet has placed its head above the feeding bowl, and then opening the tray to allow access to food. If your pets are microchipped, they can be added based on their embedded chips; if your pets aren't microchipped, the feeder comes with an RFID tag that can be easily attached to your pet's collar. Each feeder unit has enough memory to store the details of 32 authorised pets.
Many cats will initially be wary of the feeder cover movement and associated sound of the motors working, which is why it's important to gradually teach your pets to get used to the feeder and how it works. Sureflap have made this easy with the inclusion of a training mode for the feeders, which can be activated using the buttons on the back of the feeder unit.
This allows gradually introducing different levels of movement of the food cover over a few days, until the cat is comfortable with the feeder opening and closing fully. I found that it took our cats about two weeks to get fully used to it, but they are rather jumpy - they'd be the Luddites of the cat world, but even they took to it in the end.
In terms of maintenance, each unit runs on four C-sized batteries (rechargeable batteries aren't recommended for use). I'm not sure on how long each set of batteries should last, but that will of course vary with the batteries used and how many times your cats try to eat every day. The use of removable feeders and mats makes cleaning very easy, and the folding food cover is also removable.
Using the feeders has definitely had an effect at feeding time for us. Our (unneutered male) cats used to almost always fight at feeding time, to the point where we'd sometimes have them in separate rooms. Now that they've become acclimatised to the feeders, this is no longer an issue - and that's after only about a month of use. We keep the feeders in the same room, and each cat knows which feeder to go to whenever they're hungry. At £100 delivered per feeder, I don't feel it's an excessive price to pay for a device that will reduce your pet-related stress for multiple years (each unit comes with a three-year guarantee). This is truly an excellent use of RFID technology to help solve a genuine problem, and I'd certainly recommend the feeders to anyone with cats that are uncooperative at feeding time.
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