Throwing to the Dogs

Craft & Design
Throwing to the Dogs

When Ken Schroeder was repairing appliances for a living, he decided that a spring-loaded switch from a dishwasher would be ideal as a trigger for some kind of device that his dog, Bender, could activate. Two years later, while studying industrial design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Ken mounted the switch behind the sensor plate of the world’s first automated dog-biscuit thrower.

Bender places his paw on the sensor plate. An electric can opener turns gears that feed a biscuit from a magazine. Bender waits expectantly. Tension builds. The motor from a hand-held kitchen mixer starts whirring, driving eggbeaters coated in silicone caulking. The biscuit hits the beaters, which kick it out of an ejection port. While Bender chases the biscuit, the machine resets itself, ready for the next cycle.

The bone thrower satisfied three goals for Schroeder. “I had to make a project that involved gears and electrical,” he recalls. “Also I made a video about teaching an old dog new tricks, for a psychology class. And, Bender and the bone thrower were attractive to potential girlfriends.” He pauses. “Can you express that in the nicest possible way?”

Schroeder has a long history of building gadgets. “When I was a kid,” he says, “I used to take Legos and add motors and paddlewheels, and play with them in the pond. Also I used an angle grinder to cut notches in the rims of bicycle wheels, so that I could ride on ice. Unfortunately, that didn’t work very well.”

Currently Schroeder lives in Florida, where he and his brother hope to start a business selling furniture fabricated from unusual materials, such as string soaked in resin. What motivates him in his design projects?

“It’s fun to be creative and make things,” he says with a shrug, as if the answer should be obvious.

Dog Biscuit Thrower:

From the column Made on EarthMAKE 9, page 21 – Charles Platt.

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