HackSpace magazine

Making for animals

By Dr Lucy Rogers. Posted

An unscheduled trip to the vet this month (my dog was attacked by another – she’s OK now but I’m still fuming), got me thinking about making for animals.

Social media is full of cats and dogs wearing the ‘cute’ outfits that their owners have made. This even extends to the occasional hat-wearing owl. I’ve also seen automatic pet feeders – mainly for cats, but also a sunflower seed dispenser for a hamster.

But I started thinking more about how animals are being helped, which started me off down a (metaphorical) rabbit warren of Googling. I found all sorts of 3D-printed prosthetics – from a bright yellow beak on an eagle, to ‘spare’ shells for hermit-crabs. I thought small animals and birds may be the only ones to benefit – but there’s also a dolphin with a new tail, and an elephant with a new front leg. Admittedly, that was a metal structure bolted together, rather than made on a home PLA 3D printer.

As well as making something for an individual animal, there are a lot of ‘makes’ that are helping the farmers and keepers of herds, flocks, and swarms (sadly I couldn’t find anything that is helping crows, as I wanted to use the collective term ‘murder’ in here). Nyalas (a type of antelope) in Marwell Zoo are being kept cosy more cost-efficiently by harnessing machine learning, thermal sensors, and a Raspberry Pi. The sensor takes an image of the bedding area, and the machine learning works out whether there’s a nyala there. If there is, it switches the heater on; if there’s not, it turns it off.

Sheep rustling (as in stealing, not making a crunching noise) is causing problems for farmers. A swallowable ‘pill’ containing an electronic identification device has been designed to help recover these animals. It stays in the sheep’s rumen – and doesn’t get digested. Because of the play on words, I have always been amused by the term ‘rustling’, but in the UK, livestock rustling is estimated to have cost the UK rural economy £2.5m in 2018.

Bee-keepers have also turned to tech makes. Temperature, mass sensors, and a connection to the internet can help the bee-keeper know if something is wrong with the hive, without having to open it up. Bees keep their hives at a pretty constant temperature. If it suddenly changes, there may be something wrong. Similar with mass – if the hive suddenly gets heavier, there may be an infestation of mites. Both of which are worth checking.

And don’t get me started on the robot dinosaurs at a theme park on the Isle of Wight …


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