Using a Raspberry Pi to make a hamster pedometer

Stanislav Cociorva, 123RF.com

Racing Rodents

Researchers assert that hamsters run the equivalent of four marathons per night. We tested this with the help of a converted playback head from a video recorder, a hall sensor, and a Raspberry Pi.

Last year, two young Roborowski miniature hamsters [1] took up residence in my home. At first, the two little creatures looked exactly alike. As such, both the male and the female were given the name Hamtaro. In the meantime the hamsters have matured into adulthood, and the female weighs more than the male. She is therefore now known as 'Hamtaro Grande'. Within the first few weeks, it was clear that the Roborowskis were excellent athletes. During the night, they could run endless laps on their hamster wheels without ever taking a break. The constant squeaking from the wheels kept the household awake.

I turned to the Internet out of curiosity and a desire to learn more about the activity level of Roborowskis. As it turns out, they are the most active members of the crecitid family. According to the available literature, they run the equivalent of four marathons every night. I could not help but ruminate on this astounding piece of information. What actual distance is considered to be a marathon for a hamster? Do these tiny rodents really run this distance four times over each night, even though this effort would cause a even a professional human athlete to collapse? With these questions in mind, I decided to find out what the hamsters are truly capable of by applying some learning along with a Raspberry Pi as a measuring device.

Building a cricetidometer

The first step in the testing process was to improve the stability of the hamster wheel in order to minimize squeaking and provide the hamsters with a continuous, smooth running surface. I used a ball bearing mounted head drum from a discarded video recorder to make the hamster wheel stable and to reduce noise associated with turning almost altogether. The next step was to develop a cricetidometer which would serve as a network-capable pedometer for reporting the distance run by the Roborowskis.

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