Meet the talking cat from Mars

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A prototype cat’s speech device – developed in Sweden with funding from NZ petfood brand Mars Whiskas – can interpret a cat’s miaow and play a phrase in human speech. Now it’s part of a test campaign for Whiskas Temptations being run via social media in NZ and the US.

The technology uses a complex algorithm to distinguish various cat sounds and accents. In other words, the device knows the difference between a miaow and purr or some other type of cat noise. The device fits on the cat’s collar.

The campaign was devised by adam&eveDDB London, and the device’s development was funded by Whiskas NZ.

It identifies a cat’s miaow with a digital sensor and uses a unique programme to turn it into a phrase spoken by human voice.

The Catterbox device houses a microphone, speaker, Bluetooth technology and wi-fi. The collar will output sound, while a smartphone app will analyse the sound against an extensive database of cat miaows using a custom-made algorithm which can distinguish sounds from a wide range of cat ‘accents’.

The device has a preprogrammed selection of phrases that are spoken, based on its interpretations of the cat’s voice. It uses digital signal processing technology similar to that found in the speech recognition software used in the operating system of smartphones.

Researchers used a technique known as spectral analysis to process the audio data and characterise the frequency content of the sounds, helping researchers build and interpret a database.

The prototype collar was produced using a high end 3D printer with numerous iterations to ensure an ergonomic design and fit so cats wearing it would be comfortable.

Whiskas NZ marketing manager Oliver Downs says international studies have shown that cats do not communicate with each other by miaowing, rather it was their chosen way to communicate with humans.

He cites research by anthrozoologist John Bradshaw* whose work found that cats and humans had developed a secret language of miaows and concluded that while many of us thought a miaow was classic cat behaviour, it was simply their way of getting our attention.

“Numerous studies have shown this to be the case and we wanted to take this one step further and enrich the relationship between cats and their owners,” Bradshaw said.

“A purr essentially means that a cat is content,” Downs says. “A cat can, and will, purr when it’s being petted, when giving birth and even when dying. It’s a state of relaxation.

“A miaow on the other hand is something a cat uses almost exclusively to talk and mimic humans – very much like a parrot does, in a sense. The only other situation where a cat will miaow is with its kittens.

“We believe this new technology will offer a new way for cats and their owners to interact on a daily basis and enrich their relationship,” he says.

A video has been shot in Sweden, and is currently being screened globally on social media. See it below.

*John Bradshaw is a University of Bristol anthrozoologist and the author of Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet.


Client: Mars
Brand: Temptations Cat Treats
Project name: Catterbox
Client: Peter Simmons, Global Brand Director
Agency: adam&eveDDB London
Chief Creative Officer: Ben Priest
Executive Creative Directors: Richard Brim, Ben Tollett
Copywriter: Natasha Lyons
Art director: Dan Lacey
Agency producer: Agne Acute, Matt Craigie
Planner: Stuart Harrison, Jessica Lovell
Business Director: Fiona McArthur (Managing Partner), Amelia Blashill (Business Director)
Account Director: Katie Baker
Production company: Acne Sweden
Executive Producer: Ben Clark
Creative Director Acne R & D: Johan Holgrem
Producer R & D / Digital: Niclas Bergstrom
Research Acne R & D: Caroline Tell, Mikael Vig
Engineering Acne R & D: Patrik Lindberg
Sound Engineer Acne R & D: Svante Stadler
Public Relations: Fleur Revell – Impact PR NZ

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