Smart home tech can permeate in all aspects of our lives. Up to now we have been pretty old school with our Bengal cat, Tapioca. We have had him since he was a twelve week old kitten so being old school means a lot of bonding time with him.

We have recently introduced the Choubox, an automatic cat litter box, to Tapioca.

Editor note: that this review unit is self-funded.

Updated 17 July 2023 by Kevin Cheng – The Choubox is finally decommissioned a couple of weeks ago when my fixes no longer could keep it going. The unit refused to scoop (just displays it on screen). Also noting that the Choueer website has been taken offline recently. I have since shipped some of the electronics to other users around the world, hopefully they can keep their boxes going for a bit longer.

Updated 29 April 2023 by Kevin Cheng I have encountered the dreaded “Error” message on my Choubox now, along with some pretty awful grinding noises. Pulling it apart, the motorised trap door over the bin is stuck in a half closed position. Doing some DIY work on it to have a look, the itsy bitsy motor driving the open and close is the likely culprit (photo added to the end of this review). So at this stage, my only fix is to remove the bin lid altogether and disable bin detection via the control dial. The unit is developing a hard fault just 7 months into use. Along with my previous update below on 25 March 2023, I am going to say … not good enough.

Updated 25 March 2023 by Kevin Cheng – There has been a lot of feedback from other owners of Choubox with multiple issues. My own unit has been mostly working, with the “No Bin Found” message coming up a little more regularly than I would like.  However, recently I have attempted to purchase the ChouxBox HDPE Trash Bag and have been informed that the company is only shipping to US region (and it seems to be contiguous US region). Therefore I am flagging it as a not recommended at this point in time.

 

Choubox

Background

The Choubox was an Indiegogo project with a projected delivery date of June 2022. Despite being an early backer, ours finally arrived in early December 2022.

It is not a complaint as delivery dates for these kind of projects are generally fraught. One of the reasons for the delay was that Choueer, the company behind the project, opted to stop the delivery of the initial shipped unit in favour of an updated version with fixes to issues that can’t be resolved via firmware updates.

To be fair, the team could probably be better in communications at time. But on the other hand, I understand much of the focus was on finishing the product and shipping it safely. I could name plenty of other campaigns that was much worse in every aspect.

And no fault of Choueer, my tracking number never worked. You can blame this one on Toll and their awful customer experience. They seem to be taking the crown of poor everything from Fastway. The irony of using Toll takes a toll. Judging from the Facebook groups for the product, I am not alone with this problem in Australia.

King of the Choubox

 

First Impressions

The box is big. Damn it is big. The Choubox takes up pretty much all of space in the box. Contrary to what I have read for other people, the unit was well protected for transit with packing tapes, semi-rigid foam boxes.

A good sign for us is that Tapioca jumped straight into the unit before I could even lift it out of the shipping box.

There are quite a few tapes to remove, so take the time to check everything over and make sure you don’t leave some on by accident.

The unit arrives fully assembled, with the manuals and power adaptor stored in the litter tray itself. A sample roll of bin liners is also included, as well as some brushes for cleaning.

The Choubox is powered by USB-C. The included adaptor comes with a warning to only use this original supplied part. The braided cable with the original part is designed to be bite resistant. Given how much Tapioca likes to rip into cardboard and the (not quite) occasional gnaw on my hand, this is a much needed feature!

Choubox unboxingTapioca exploring

Design

The Choubox team claims to have completed a two-year research on cat’s behaviour on balancing the conflicts between cats’ biological habits and human family growth environment.

The open-top design is specifically catering to the cat’s natural position when pooping. It is a natural habit for them to raise their heads high for evading predators when they are at one of their most vulnerable times.

From our observations of Tapioca, he does position himself accordingly when he does his business.

Tapioca

 

Getting Started

The Choubox is compatible with both the Smart Life app, or the Tuya Smart app.

By default when you first start the Choubox, it is in Bluetooth pairing mode. I initially went with the Tuya Smart app as I already use it for other IoT devices I have around the home.

After setting up the unit, I ended up switching over to the Smart Life app instead. It has a lot more functionality compared to the bare basic that was showing up in Tuya. Noting that if you have paired the Choubox via Tuya, you will need to put the unit back into pairing mode to get it to work with Smart Life.

To reset the Choubox to go into pairing mode, I just had to use the knob located at the front of the unit and follow the steps.

Smart Life appSmart Life app

 

In Use

As mentioned, the Choubox ships with a sample roll of bin liners. These are sized to fit the litter tray (and yes it is a non standard size bags). That said there is nothing stopping you using a different sized one, or skipping it all together if you are a sucker for punishment.

The corners of the litter tray have little cutouts for the bags to slip into and hold the bag in place. There are some sensors on the back of the litter tray lid so take care they are not covered by the bin liner. I use a small piece of tape to keep the liner down. It is not particularly necessary but I was troubleshooting the common “no bin found” error message. More on that later.

For the record, the litter tray has a 10L or 0.01 cubic meter which Choubox claims up to two weeks free some cleaning. It does depend a lot on your feline, and even the breeder has commented that Tapioca is a big boy. For a cat that just had his first birthday, he is easily 600mm from nose to bum and coming in at about 5.8kg.

Funny enough Tapioca was happy to jump into the Choubox from the moment go. He has always been a bit particular with his litter boxes with obvious favourites with what is on offer. Can’t say we complained when he took to it right away.

With the Choubox he was in even before we could put litter in. When we managed to put litter in, we didn’t even have some of his old stuff mixed in when he decided to do a #1 right away. He also did the cat thing of trying to bury his business … something he needs to learn that is not needed with the Choubox. After about a week of use, he seems to be getting the idea of it.

After he got it out of his system, next is the curiosity of what the Choubox does to his business. In this case, curiosity didn’t kill the cat, thankfully.

The default scoop setting is for the Choubox to automatically clear the litter 3 minutes after the cat exits. This can be changed in app to as little as one minute after the cat leaves.

If your cat is inside, or coming close to the Choubox entrance, all moving components will immediately pause until the cat leaves the vicinity. There are seven safety sensors embedded in the unit, these include gravity sensors and infrared detection to ensure the safety of your pet. We have observed first hand every time Tapioca has gotten too close when the Choubox was cleaning, it will immediately pause.

Speaking of movements, the Choubox is quiet in operation. The rotating mechanism registers as a very low level hum in the background. Choubox claims the sound level is less than 35 decibels – putting it in between a whisper and a quiet library level of noise.

The app is fairly basic overall, but it does give you manual control to scoop or flatten the litter. There is also a “don’t disturb” mode which judging by the icon seems to indicate a temporary overnight lock, or a “lock” mode with a baby icon which I am assuming to mean it stops the Choubox from operating at all.

 

Cat Health

The unit will keep track of your cat’s weight each time he uses the Choubox.

Additionally it will log every use, and the duration of usage which feeds into the weekly, monthly and yearly statistics.

Whilst it won’t replace an owner’s observations and gut feeling, having the data will help keep track of your cat’s health over the longer term. And if you do need a vet visit, it helps to be able to give detailed feedback. Not much different from keeping track of a newborn’s business.

Choubox power cable

 

Broader Observations

A few things to note from both my own experience and reading about other users’ in the launch group.

Choueer recommends clumping cat litter within 20mm in diameter, and their website points out tofu, mixed and clay litter. The weight of the litter in the litter ball will affect the overall operation. At the moment we have wood chip clumping litter which seems to work well.

The key is a balance between the amount of litter and how much weight it is in the litter ball. It is important not to overfill, and we did end up taking out about half of what we initially put in.

We didn’t experience this problem as we have the Choubox on a tiled floor. Some people have had issues because they have placed it on carpet and the common resolutions seems to be as simple as placing a board underneath the unit.

Tapioca First Go

 

Gripes

It takes time and training to change a habit, and Tapioca is learning that he doesn’t have to dig much before he does his business. He certainly doesn’t need to bury it afterwards. Regardless there has been a bit of tracking when he leaves the Choubox as there is no litter trap at the entry.

A few times when he digs, I get a mountain of litter pooled in front of the Choubox as there is also no litter guard to stop him kicking the litter out. The lip of the litter ball is aligned with the entrance so it’s a nice clear path for him to build a mountain.

The alignment of the litter tray is unsightly. If I have the litter tray aligned with the body of the Choubox, I get a “no bin found” error. I have to push the tray in for the sensors at the back to be in contact with the chassis. But this puts the cosmetic alignment out of whack with the rest of the unit.

The apps keeps telling me to flatten the litter every time I open the app. Even if I try to cancel it, it just keeps popping up every few seconds.

Choubox alignmentChoubox little bin contact pins

 

Conclusions

It is still early days here, and Tapioca is not consistently using the Choubox although he is definitely not staying away.

For time poor pet owners, an automated litter box really helps remove a less than pleasant task. For us, Tapioca has taken to jumping us when we manually clean his litter boxes. This is partly due to a perception that we will soon put him into his room to rest when we do this. Having the Choubox changes our dynamics and helps us retrain his perception of our behaviour as well.

Other users have turned to automated litter boxes due to personal reasons, such as limited or restricted body movements. A smart device such as the Choubox can help reduce the number of times you have to bend down to clean a litter box.

So far we are very pleased with our investment. The Choubox is available from Choueer with an RRP of $620, and there is a 25% off on at time of publishing bringing it down to $465.

 

Choubox Specifications

 

Updated photos of under the bin lid.

Choubox lid motor Choubox under the lid