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I Let My Cats Try the $500 Super-High-Tech Litter Box and Now I Can't Live Without It

Andrew Moseman
Photo credit: Litter Robot

From Popular Mechanics

The Litter Robot puts forth a straightforward proposal: For $500, the mechanized litter box will transform the chore of constant scooping into a breezy task no more bothersome than taking out a garbage bag. Beneath the surface lurks another promise: Owning a high-end toilet pod will make the dirtiest parts of cat ownership-the poop scooping and the litter tracking-disappear.

You can see the lifestyle messaging in the machine's deeply curated social media presence, in which the glittering globe sits proudly among the plants and the concrete floors of a design-blog's dream living room, not hidden away in shame in the bathroom. It is the Casper of feline feces, the imagecraft-y crapper for cats.

The Litter Robot is extra. But for my family, it was also the potential missing piece. We own an automatic pet feeder to parcel out our two pets' meals while we're away. We have webcams to watch the cats from afar and reassure ourselves they can go on napping and fighting without us. Yet traveling for even a few days meant coming home to a stanky litter box. Surely the self-turning, self-cleaning cat toilet of the future was the solution.

It's a Process

We need to start with the most potentially deal-breaking trait of the Litter Robot 3 Connect (aside from its price tag): The size. No Instagram post can convey, no spec sheet can communicate just how much real estate the robot occupies. Its footprint forbade sneaking the device into our bathroom. Its volume threw off of the spiritual harmony of our New York one-bedroom.

This was particularly frustrating during the early days and weeks of the transition period, when neither of our darling felines, White Fang and Dorian Gray, would approach the colossus. Gray, the girl, made a few detached approaches just before veering around to her traditional business zone. White, who thinks he is a Brave Boy, could hardly bring himself to touch the space invader.

Because cats can't be guaranteed to like or use something, and because eating $500 on a rejected magic litter box isn't the same as giving up $20 on a Jackson Galaxy toy they won't touch, the Litter Robot features a decent money-back guarantee: 90 days, plus an 18-month full warranty. It also features a series of instructions about how to make your kitties use the new box. One of them: Put the box it came in over the robot and cut a whole by the door, so that cats, curious by nature, will venture inside to investigate. This did not work.

Photo credit: Janet Fang

It took weeks. Both cats would slink by the robot, taunting either us or it, en route to the tried-and-true litter box. Then: poops appeared. One, and then an eventual follower, a sighting that caused us to race into the bedroom to spy on the cats and catch them entering the Litter Robot. Gray was the breakthrough. Her brother surmounted his trepidation in kitten steps once she demonstrated it was safe.

How It Works

Let's get down to mechanics. To put it simply, the Litter Robot is a sphere on top of a box. The box contains a compartment for cat waste to fall into, which is lined by a plastic bag. The sphere is what your cat actually walks into. Inside, its bottom is lined with rubber marked with a line for the ideal amount of kitty litter.

When a cat enters the globe, the robot's sensors pick up your pet's presence. The machine won't move or turn while a pet's inside (in theory). Once your cat enters, the robot's control panel changes the blue standby to a red light, indicating it has sensed a cat's presence. Once your pet departs, the Litter Robot initiates a seven-minute countdown (this can be changed to other durations) to give kitty plenty of time to get clear before the clean cycle begins.

It's here, as the Litter Robot starts to whine and rotate, that it reveals its mechanical secrets. There's a plastic netting that cat litter will pass through but cat waste will not, which is how the machine separates the two and tucks away the remaining litter. As the globe continues to spin, a small square hole at the bottom is revealed. The cat waste, now separated from the litter, plummets through the hole and into the collection bin. Having reached its apex, the globe spins back where it came from and the machine retracts the gate, letting the litter go so it can resettle into a flat bed, ready for your cat's next visit.

Here's a thing that happened: Our cat White realized that it is a very fun game indeed to smack the poop and the pee rocks as they tumble down the sphere, and has learned to associate the whir of the cleaning cycle with this fun activity. Now, whenever Litter Robot activates, he leaps across the room to watch and bat at the contents, trying to pull them out into the apartment before they can fall into the collection box. Your results may vary.

Our boy cat's antics also revealed the not-quite-perfect nature of the Litter Robot's sensors: It doesn't always register that he's there, and thus doesn't always activate the clean cycle after his visit. On the plus side, the machine features an eight-hour sleep mode that can be programmed to match your own sleeping schedule. This pauses the device so it won't whir and hum and wake you when your precious pets proceed to the commode at 4 a.m.

The Litter Robot manages those functions and more from a simple and honestly elegant control panel featuring just four buttons and three indicator lights-though make sure to keep the quick guide around so you can decode what the machine is trying to tell you. The most high-end version, Litter Robot Connect III, comes with a series of smart features befitting its aspirational status. The connected phone app tracks the fullness of the container and reminds you when it's time to empty the bin.

It can also pass along push alerts when the bot completes a cleaning cycle. Receiving two or three in rapid succession is my midday signal that the cats are having a jolly time running in and out of the machine while I'm at work.

Is It Worth It?

There are more satisfying ways to sum up a product than "it's worth it if you've got the money to burn." Yet here we are.

I can't quite say I would recommend the Litter Robot. It might make your living room a little more Instagrammable, especially if you opt for the sleek grey version. On the other hand, depending on the litter-kicking habits of your particular feline you might just end up with a living room full of little rocks.

Photo credit: Andrew Moseman

An automatic litter box really can be a godsend to those scooper troopers out there. A few days ago, I caught a peripheral glimpse of the old dumb litter box that still hangs out in the bathroom, just in case the cats stage an about-face rebellion against the machine, and I remembered the constant chore of tending to it, a task now disappeared from my life. But frankly, if you're in it to stop the scoop, more economical options exist. They're just not as imagecrafty-or enormous.

Even so: We love it. Yes, my cat is driving me crazy with his pee-slapping shenanigans. And yes, we think we need more storage now that a plastic poop idol inhabits our bedroom. But there's nothing like being able to leave for a few days and know the cats aren't going to the bathroom in a box that won't be cleaned until our return. And honestly, I'm kinda growing attached to the push notifications. They might as well say, "your cats are probably being jerks right now, but you love them."

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