This article is the result of the first Curious Cat engineer interview. My favorite post detailed the great engineering project Jürgen Perthold undertook to engineer a camera that his cat could wear and take photos. So I decided to interview him.
The Engineer That Made Your Cat a Photographer by John Hunter:
This time I thought about our cat who is the whole day out, returning sometimes hungry sometimes not, sometimes with traces of fights, sometimes he stay also the night out. When he finally returns, I wonder where he was and what he did during his day. This brought me to the idea to equip the cat with a camera. The plan was to put a little camera around his neck which takes every few minutes a picture. After he is returning, the camera would show his day.
The Amazing CatCam is not only a great product but a wonderful engineering story. See our past post for some background on how an engineer allowed you to help your cat become a photographer. On the development of the CatCam Jürgen Perthold says, “More or less it was just a joke, born with a crazy idea.” Such a great sentiment and with wonderful results.
What path led him to the desire and ability to pursue the crazy idea and become the Curious Cat engineer of the year? He was born in Aalen, Germany. He started playing with electronics as he was 13. At 15 he added computer programming and with a friend they programmed games, applications and hardware control over the years. He studied Optoelectronics at the University of Aalen, Germany extending his knowledge further.
For the last few years he has worked for Bosch, an international manufacturing company, in the automotive hardware section. Last summer, he transfered from Germany to Anderson, South Carolina as a resident engineer for transmission control unit in a production plant for automobile parts. On a side note, the United States is still by far the largest manufacturer in the world.
The demand for the cameras is still higher than his capability to produce the cameras. He has raised the price, to limit the demand. When I first saw the prices I couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was. And, in my opinion, they are still a incredible deal. Order your CatCam now: it is a great gadget for yourself or it makes a great unique, gift. Most orders have been from the UK, Germany and the USA.
Most people don’t have technical background so they buy the full unit. But he reports that some brave souls order a kit because of price or availability although they have not done anything similar before. What a great way to challenge yourself and, if you succeed, end up with a wonderful creation when you finish.
He is in discussion with several different groups to ramp up production. The main problem is that producing the device requires electronics, optics, software, mechanics and logistics expertise. So, for the time being, he continues to modify the cameras by hand because no investments are necessary and the production can be scaled according to the demand. The required soldering, electronics and system knowledge makes it a challenge to outsource. So, for now, CatCam production is adding to the USA manufacturing output total. He is also planning to produce more products.
Jürgen believes that getting the cat camera working was not that challenging. You can take a look at his explanation of how he did so to decide for yourself. He does admit that challenges do arise if you want to produce cameras for others. To do that you must create a product that is foolproof, reliable, and easy to use and manufacture.
“I was surprised how famous one can get with ‘boring’ technical engineering stuff. I like this not only for me but for all other engineers out there who daily work hard on challenges which others don’t even understand. We as engineers make the world moving but usually we are not recognized.” Everyone enjoys the products of the labors of engineers (such as cell phones, MP3 players, cars, planes, bridges, internet connections) but few see the required knowledge, work and the people that bring those products into being.
Jürgen “hopes that I made ‘engineering’ a bit more visible to people who did not think about it before, for example, female cat owners who never had a solder iron in the hand and bought plain SOIC chips because they wanted the cat camera…”
I think he has done a great job illustrating the engineering behind the CatCam and making engineering fun. And in so doing hopefully is making more people aware of the engineers that make so many wonderful modern gadgets. Go buy a CatCam now (and if you are adventurous buy the parts and create your own – you will learn a lot about what makes all your modern gadgets work). And then send in the pictures your cat takes so everyone can see the wonderful things engineers make possible.
The photos here show the results of several new cat photographers (Binky the cat [first 2 photos] and Jacquie the cat [last 2]). Only a small percentage of CatCam owners have shared there pictures so far.
Over the next few years he would like to learn to sail, visit Yellowstone national park, walk the Camino de Santiago again, move on to other international assignment (maybe far east) and continuing raising his two children.
The Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog is written by John Hunter and tracks a wide variety of developments, happenings, interesting under-publicized facts, and cool aspects of science and engineering.