The Latest Web Distraction: Playing With Kittens Online
Forget the online video games. Now you can play with kittens over the internet.
Apriori Control Systems, a tiny Idaho-based company, has developed a system that controls robotic arms with a web-based application. While they're waiting for paying customers, they're putting their time and spare equipment to the test for the benefit of shelter kittens.
The first test of the system was an online application that allowed users to shoot a paintball gun by pressing computer keys, which drew more than 2,300 viewers.
Apriori made some improvements to their software and took the system online again, this time with kittens. They equipped kitten playrooms at the Idaho Humane Society and the Oregon Humane Society with cat toys attached to robotic arms. Now people who want an online distraction can visit the animal adoption groups' websites, download a browser plug-in and get in line for a turn at moving the toys. While they wait, they can watch over a live webcam as others try to catch the kitties' attention with a flick or bounce of the toy.
"Sure, this technology has practical applications. But, really -- kittens!" says Leila Brillson of tech site Switched. "Not only does it give the orphaned kitties something to do, but locals in the market for a tiny, fur-covered angel of their own can see their potential pet in action."
The application requires Internet Explorer and a Windows computer, but when this reporter (who uses a a Mac with the Safari browser) attempted to use it, a message popped up indicating that the company is developing versions that will work with other browsers.
"The interface is clean and simple," Brillson reports. "You click up and down to move the robo-toys, and swap to different activities. We didn't experience any video lag watching the kitties pounce and play."
The system isn't flawless, though. A reporter who visited the Oregon site had trouble with her computer freezing during installation of the plug-in. And once the technology was running smoothly, the kittens had decided it was a good time for a nap.
Apriori is already at work on its next project, a system that allows people to feed animals at the Indianapolis Zoo from their home computers.
Scott Harris, Apriori's founder, has plenty of other ideas for future uses of the technology, from interactive Halloween haunted houses to dispensing medications remotely.
"I don't want to be known as, 'Apriori, the company that plays with kittens,'" he said.
Harris says he has been approached by the adult entertainment industry, which has seen great potential in his virtual-to-real-time application. Harris said he might consider the offers "if I go broke."
"Good for him," Brillson says. "Porn comes and goes, but the joy of a kitten lasts forever."