Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Petnet Goes Offline and Then Goes Silent - A Lesson of Connected Devices




I love tech and I’d be willing to bet that if you are a regular reader of this blog, then you are too.  I love gadgets and tinkering with them.  Sometimes they break and honestly some of my best times have been hacking broken devices and getting them running again and/or back online again.


However, sometimes new and exciting tech comes back to bite you and instead of a cool device, you end with a brick or a boat anchor.  That’s the risk of living on the cutting edge or the bleeding edge of technology.  Often times if faced with 2 manufacturers of similar devices, my buying choices factor in how long both companies have been in existence and their long term viability.  If a company cannot provide to sustain itself long term, the necessary infrastructure to support or update the tech won’t be there when you need it to be.  It’s unfortunate that you have to factor those kinds of things into the equations, but sometimes it is just flat out necessary.  If the device service fails to work, you’ve paid for basically nothing.


This is one of those unfortunate stories.  Petnet *was* a company that had a pretty cool idea and product.  It was an Internet connected pet feeder.  Obviously with the schedules some of us are forced to deal with, we can’t always be home when it’s time to feed our furry friends.  The idea behind the Petnet system was that you could setup a feeding schedule OR you could provide an unscheduled snack from an app or your phone.


The idea was pretty simple, but was a good one.  It sure beats having to impose on family, friends, or neighbors to go to your place and sprinkle kibbles in the bowl.  Something like that could, factoring in travel time, take 30 minutes or so out of someone’s day just to help a friend out… and may well not have been just a one time favor.


The bad part of things like this is what do you do when the system fails you?  Starting in March, Petnet owners began to realize that their feeders were NOT feeding their pets.  Some found out by notices from the company, but some owners only found out when their pets began to pitch a fit and bug the owners for food.


The real tragedy is that the company went out of business, but it did so quietly.  Many owners didn’t even know.  They just realized their systems stopped working and never worked again.  The devices relied on communication with a server to tell them when to feed the pets.  Why this function wasn’t simply loaded into the device itself is a mystery to me.  It wouldn’t be that hard to have the feeding schedule simply be local data, it seems.  When the server connection was lost, the devices bricked.


So now a group of people who paid around $150 for a smart pet feeder system are now left holding the bag.   This is the part of technology that has risks.


Ars Technika has a great story on this whole debacle.  If you are in the least bit intrigued by my overview here, head over to the Art website and read the entire tale…  

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