CLOSE
Original image

12 Cat-Related Patents That Are Really Quite Bizarre

Original image

To visit Google's patent website is to lose yourself in a black hole of totally weird wannabe inventions—a surprising number of which are for your feline friends. From toys meant to encourage exercise to systems that deliver live birds for food, here are 12 really weird cat patents.

1. "Method of Exercising a Cat"

If you watch My Cat From Hell (and you obviously do), you know that host Jackson Galaxy’s first step in kitty exorcism is almost always increasing exercise—and America’s inventors are on it. Patents for all kinds of strange, exercise-inspired toy patents exist, including number 5443036, “Method of Exercising a Cat.” Kevin T. Amiss and Martin H. Abbott propose a ray or glue gun-looking device that beams a laser onto an opaque surface. Give it to the human, who must move the light “in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct.” (Nothing you can't do with a flashlight.)

2. "Cat Exercise Wheel"

Elmer Paul Venson and Leona June Wilson, on the other hand, take the hamster wheel one step further with patent number D484284, “Cat Exercise Wheel.” Sure, it will get out your cat's excess energy, but expect her to be insulted that you’re asking her to act like a rodent she wants to eat.

3. "Bird Predation Deterrent Shield"

Many cat-related patents aim to keep the creatures from eating birds—and no wonder, since felines take out an estimated 500 million songbirds every year. In patent number 5755186, “Bird predation deterrent shield for a cat,” Susan B. Mandeville suggests a flexible bib that hangs from the cat’s neck nearly down to its feet. According to the patent, “Use of a shield according to the present invention has been shown to drastically reduce the number of birds killed by a cat when worn by the cat while outdoors.” (We can only assume Susan tested this on her own very disgruntled kitty.)

4. “Collar for a Cat for Warning a Bird of the Presence of the Cat"

Similarly, in patent number 5952925, “Collar for a cat for warning a bird of the presence of the cat,” Gordon P. Secker suggests popping a collar equipped with speakers on felines to ruin their stalking skills and warn birds off.

5. "Bird Trap and Cat Feeder"

But Leo O. Voelker doesn’t want to save the birds—or sparrows, anyway. His grisly “Bird Trap and Cat Feeder” is “designed to catch birds the size of a sparrow while releasing smaller song birds, wrens, swallows, or the like. The feeder providing means for continuously supplying a cat or neighborhood cats with sparrows to eat.” The device delivers sparrows into a mesh cage; when the bird sticks its head through the mesh opening, the cat can grab it with its paw and pull it out—bon appétit!

6. "Device for Restraining a Cat"

Cats are fast, and can be easily distracted—hence the patents for restraints that will save your hands from scratches, bites, and potential cases of cat scratch fever. In patent 6394039, “Device for Restraining a Cat,” Shanon O. Grauer imagines the feline equivalent of a straitjacket: There’s a hole for the cat’s head, and one for its tail. It forces the kitty to sit pretty so its human can easily administer medication. “A dog tends to receive medications … without serious complaint,” the patent says. “A cat is, by its very nature, finicky and presents to its owner, a constant challenge to ensure that [it] has received its proper dosage.”

7. "Another Device for Restraining a Cat"

Meanwhile, Ruby Y. Young’s “Cat Restrainer” looks like a horror film-approved torture device. The patent describes it as “a combination of a harness and frame assembly to provide a cat bathing, treating, breeding, transporting, and surgical restraint.” Yikes.

8. “Furniture Device for Cats"

Cats only have their tongues to keep clean, so it’s nice that some inventors have created devices to help with kitty grooming. James Piccone’s “Furniture Device for Cats" is both a house and a fur-removal device: As cats enter and exit through holes in the structure, a “brushing or combing device” affixed to the holes creates an “automatic grooming operation … on the external hair or surface thereof to prevent the shedding of loose hairs on floors and other areas where such shedding is undesirable.”

9. “Device for Collecting Cat Hair”

Jack Randall Kidwell’s “Device for Collecting Cat Hair” is much more likely to strike terror into the hearts of felines – before cats reach their food, they must first journey through an area of suction, which removes “loose particles” and hair.

10. “Vibrating Cat Litter Scoop”

And then, of course, there are patents designed to help humans do their part (if they can’t teach their kitties to use the toilet). Anthony O’Rourke’s “Vibrating Cat Litter Scoop” helps separate cat litter from cat waste by battery-induced vibrations originating from the scoop’s handle. Just don’t accidentally pack this in your suitcase before you go on vacation! (People will wonder what's vibrating in there, and why you brought a litter scoop on your getaway.)

11. “Cat-Shaped Computer Mouse”

These last two proposed gizmos are clearly aimed at the cat lady segment of the population, who would no doubt quickly snatch up patent number D639299, “Cat-Shaped Computer Mouse”...

12. “Acrylic Night Light Cover in the Form of a Cat”

...and patent number D426910, “Acrylic Night Light Cover in the Form of a Cat”.

Erin McCarthy is Deputy Editor of mentalfloss.com.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
Original image
iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES