Updated: Feb 5
We started work on the LitterPod® in 2017.
The idea was born because we suffered from some litter 'issues' at home.
Let me explain...
Leia is Kuba's sister. She's... well... particular. And we had a few issues with her using the litter trays around the house.
From time to time she would 'spot' urinate outside the tray and we noticed that Kuba - who's awful at covering up his mess when he's done his business - was leaving both a smelly house for us and an environment Leia was more than happy to turn her nose up to.
I didn't like the current 'self-cleaning' options on the market. So I decided to design our own product. One that looked great but most importantly was intuitive for cats to use. It needed to look and feel like a normal litter tray, while using standard clumping litter.
So our journey began. I partnered with a brilliant product designer, mechanical engineer and electronic specialist to design the LitterPod®.
Early Prototype Work
We have developed and tested four rigs and prototypes of the LitterPod®. These images show the evolution of the design.
When considering the mechanics we wanted the LitterPod® to have as few moving parts as possible. It had to be reliable and follow a simple design philosophy - because simple mechanics means a longer product lifespan.
The rigs and early prototypes we developed allowed us to settle on a design that used an elegant and reliable rake and plow system. To this day all our prototypes still work well.
Why we chose a rake system.
We looked closely at competitors. It was important to us that the LitterPod® didn't tumble or turn.
Leia's a sensitive cat, who is easily spooked, so we wanted to ensure our design route looked like a normal litter tray. Essentially a rectangular base that holds litter flat. We wanted to minimise the need for any new learned behaviour, making the transition from a normal tray to the LitterPod® seamless.
The rake is a crucial part of the design. Perhaps the most important. The loads involved in 'plowing' through litter is surprisingly high - so it was vital we installed a motor with enough torque to cope, while also building in lateral strength into the rake arm.
The final rake design is made of stainless steel with an ABS sprung loaded 'plow'. It is removable, washable and will not rust.
The in-built plow system allowed us to simplify how a full litter change could be achieved too. We're also particularly proud of the 'Japanese Garden' effect - where neat little lines form in the litter as the rake returns to its home position.
The rake system requires very few moving parts. So we chose this design route because it's the right solution for manufacturing a product that will stand the test of time and require little maintenance.
Weight Sensors - an unintentional design benefit.
Once we decided on the mechanical design route, next up was safety.
Safety has always been our number one priority. We'd never create a product that could harm a cat or human, so we needed a way to measure 'cat occupancy'. It was essential the LitterPod® knows if a cat is inside or near it. Of course we had to factor in multi-cat households, kittens, and any other moving objects!
Originally we considered using a very sophisticated thermal sensor that monitored heat, movement and also had the ability to identify objects. But we vetoed this quickly as it wasn't reliable and required significant coding. It became too complex. It was also prohibitively expensive and would have added at least £20 to the RRP of the LitterPod®.
Our electronics engineers had previously worked on a large scale project with the National Health Service here in the UK. They used weight sensors on hospital beds to weigh patients and to keep track of when the bed was in use and to monitor body movement.
We worked together to scale down this principle for the LitterPod® by attaching a load cell weight sensor to each foot. These load cells offer both an excellent degree of accuracy for measuring changes in weight, but most importantly require very simple coding to measure for weight increase and decrease.
Measuring weight increase AND decrease is hugely important. We needed to know not just when a cat or cats have gone into the LitterPod® but also when they have left. The LitterPod® always knows its 'base' weight and as such will never run a cleaning cycle even if a tiny kitten went aside and decided to have a long nap!
Of course, one of the unexpected benefits of these weight sensors is the ability to weigh your cat accurately to 50g. So we added a white LED display on the front of the LitterPod®.
Adding the weight sensors was something we were really excited about. But we also knew that they couldn't be trusted in isolation. We needed a back up sensor too. So we added a motion sensor above the entrance of the LitterPod®.
The interplay between the four weight sensors and the motion sensor prevents the LitterPod® running a cycle if a cat is inside or nearby. Ticking off the all-important safety features we needed.
Keeping the technology simple
This may sound like a counter-intuitive thing to say, especially as the LitterPod® simplifies litter cleaning, but we believe it's still important for us cat owners to have an active relationship with the litter tray.
Being able to keep an eye on your cats stools and inspecting the litter regularly to see if it needs changing are important for our feline friends well-being.
So this created a kind-of technology conundrum for us. Should we add smart technology? An app? Monitor usage?
At this time we've decided not to. Mainly because the technology needed - is still, in the main, unreliable or at best inconsistent. Our design philosophy has always been about simplicity.
So while our focus may change in the future and we will likely use technology in meaningful and helpful new ways - for now the LitterPod® is simply plug and play.
One eye on the future. Being 'upgradeable'.
Another key concern for us is product longevity and ensuring what we manufacture can - in the main - be recycled and more importantly will not end up in landfill.
As such we've designed the LitterPod® to be 'upgradable'. We've also ensured that the parts that are likely to take the most clawing and wear and tear over the years can be easily repaired or replaced.
The approach we're using borrows from the now well-established approach called the 'circular economy'. In fact, we've created this nice animation that gives more detail:
Test, test and test again.
We are often asked why it's taking us so long to manufacturer the LitterPod®. There are a number of answers to this, as with any young business, we've hit some hurdles along the way.
But most important has been testing. To get a reliable product into the hands of amazing customers like you, we have to test, test and test again. Over the last three years we have had to tweak and refine, dealing with a number of unexpected adjustments and fine tuning.
Without any real-world testing, we have been reliant on building multiple pre-production prototypes and after nearly four years of hard, fun and exciting work, we now have a product we're proud of and can't wait to bring it to market.
The final product. Coming in 2021.
Thank you to all of you who have been waiting patiently for the LitterPod®. Our last hurdle is a financial one, and we will be using every penny of profit we make from the sale of the BrushPod® to fund the tooling and manufacturing of the LitterPod®.
I'm pleased to say that Kuba & Leia still use the pre-production prototypes we have here at home everyday and Leia no longer spot urinates. We're hugely excited about the LitterPod® and hope you are too.
Thanks for reading!
Kuba & Leia.