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Cracking Litter Box DRM (davidhampgonsalves.com)
121 points by dh-g 82 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments



I had a Cat Genie and ended up throwing it in the trash. The DRM was annoying but it was the least of the problems with this device. The biggest problem is that the scooper doesn't always remove all the feces from the litter, and then when the heated air starts blowing on the litter to dry it, a very impressive smell fills your house. You haven't lived until you've smelled baking cat shit wafting through every room of your house. The machine has lots of other problems (sensors that require frequent manual intervention to clean, etc). The bottom line is that this device removes an everyday quick chore that's slightly unpleasant but replaces it with 30 minutes of sheer unadulterated horror at least once a week.

I've tried all the other robotic litter boxes too, and they all suck. I clean cat boxes by hand now. The robots are not yet up to this task.


This mirrors our own experience with the Cat Genie. When it works it's great, when it fails you are elbow deep into liquified cat shit.

There has to a be lesson here: when making a device that solves a problem, make sure that the failure mode isn't worse than the problem you're looking to solve.


> I've tried all the other robotic litter boxes too, and they all suck.

I wonder if there's something about your cats' diet that renders their excretions too incompatible with what the robots are designed for.

When we switched from commercial food to the homemade recipe on catinfo.org, the feces of all three cats in my home went from being the stereotypical, wet, stinky kind, to being dry and nearly odorless. (In addition to other visible and invisible health benefits).

Although the robots we use [1] handled the wet feces OK enough, the new feces ended up consuming less litter (i.e. approximately zero, with only urine consuming any) thereby slightly reducing the frequency of waste drawer filling up, requiring less frequent full emptying/cleaning of the robot itself, and never requiring an emptying of the waste drawer due to odor (rather than filled capacity).

[1] Litter-Robot IIs and one LR III. I'm less of a fan of the III, as it has a smaller effective waste drawer capacity before complaining of fullness and takes up significantly more space, meaning there are fewer locations it can go in. Considering how big the LR-II is to begin with, that's a problem.

tjr225 82 days ago [flagged]

Is this facetious

Even if it's not, this

> I wonder if there's something about your cats' diet that renders their excretions too incompatible with what the robots are designed for.

Is strangely funny and backwards, in my opinion


> Is this facetious

It is not.

> backwards, in my opinion

What would be the forwards way to express the same concept?


The same way the gp expressed it, that the robot was bad at dealing with the cats excretions.

Do you not see the cold irony in expecting the cat to poop in a way the robot can handle?


> The same way the gp expressed it, that the robot was bad at dealing with the cats excretions.

That (what the GP/OC expressed) omits the intellectual-curiosity point I was trying to get across: why?

Is there something backwards in my wondering about the reason for the mismatch?

> Do you not see the cold irony in expecting the cat to poop in a way the robot can handle?

That borders on being an uncharitable interpretation of my comment. I certainly have no such expectation (and certainly did not say so), but, as an engineer, especially on HN, I see no coldness nor irony in if the designers of the robot had certain expectations as to what the majority of domestic cat feces would be like.


If I have to somehow manipulate an organic system to create feces in a way that an engineered system expects in order for the engineered system to work properly, then the engineered system expecting the feces doesn't appear to be designed well at all, and I wouldn't use it. Could you imagine if the toilet required you to eat a certain diet?


> have to somehow manipulate

Now I fear you're just putting words in my mouth, and certainly not responding to the strongest possible reading of my comment.

Regardless, the implication that any domestic animal can have a diet that is not manipulated in the first place, stretches credibility.

> Could you imagine if the toilet required you to eat a certain diet?

Let's use a more accurate analogy, of a toilet that requires I not eat a certain diet, but where the vast majority of other diets, including an overall healthier one, are acceptable.

I don't need to imagine. That's all low-flow toilets and a low-fiber diet.


My intention was never to put words into your mouth but help you understand why I or someone else might read your comment as funny or backwards (since you asked). It seems that is impossible to do so I give up!


Author here: I've actually had good luck with my unit. I have two cats and run the unit two times a day. I haven't had to do any maintenance except cleaning the water sensor once. I do use safflower seeds in place of the plastic pellets which I have found to yield better results.


I think whether the cat genie works for you or not depends on if your cats primarily eat wet food or dry food. The more liquid in their excretions, the less likely I suspect it is to work properly.


I'm sure diet is a significant factor but in my case my cats do eat wet food.


I no longer have a cat but when I did I had a pretty snazzy litter box that had a roof, when you wanted to clean it you rolled it onto it's roof and back and all the clumps ended up in a little removable drawer.


I think "Omega" is a current brand of one of these.

The Litter Robot is essentially an automated/motorized version of this. Interestingly, according to a friend of mine who ran experiments with his cats, the robot version was noticeably more efficient in terms of litter consumed (and this prompted him to replace the manual versions with the robots on a faster schedule, since clumping litter is a non-zero expense).


Yes, it is called the Omega Paw. We've been using it for almost 2 years and quite happy with it. It is also much cheaper than the robotic ones.

Cleaning process is just rolling the whole thing 180 degrees and rolling it back. The clumps and poop will drop in the drawer, ready for disposal. Literally 15 seconds task.


> (and this prompted him to replace the manual versions with the robots on a faster schedule, since clumping litter is a non-zero expense)

Interesting. How expensive is cat litter where he lives? For me, it is indeed a non-zero expense, but also mostly unnoticeable one. Definitely not worth replacing with a robot that'll most likely take more than a year to pay itself back - and I don't expect this kind of tech to run continuously for a year without major, expensive breakage.


> How expensive is cat litter where he lives?

It's the US, so about $10 for 35lbs of "Litter Purrfect" from Costco. Around 20lbs/month/cat was his pre-robot, usage, IIRC, and he had multiple cats.

> For me, it is indeed a non-zero expense, but also mostly unnoticeable one.

Every non-zero expense is noticeable to someone living frugally, since they can easily add up if left unnoticed.

> Definitely not worth replacing with a robot that'll most likely take more than a year to pay itself back

To be clear, he wasn't basing the purchase decision itself on the cost savings in litter, merely accelerating the timing of the purchases. He had already decided to "splurge" on replacing all the manual litterboxes with robots.

> I don't expect this kind of tech to run continuously for a year without major, expensive breakage

Most of the tech's actually remarkably simple (for the LR-II model, anyway), which means, in a way, it's overpriced, but the market bears it. The standard warranty is 18 months, and the extended warranty (another $50 or $100?) doubles that.

Personally, I've had them last over 5 years, with the main failures being the electronics (cheap and easy to replace, unlike many other products), power supply wall wart (which I merely replace myself with a better one), and a metal spring for the "waste door" (not as easy, but the parts were free, and it's a very old-age failure).


Also clumping cat litter doesn't biodegrade in landfills and the dust is bad for cats / human respiration.


> You haven't lived until you've smelled baking cat shit wafting through every room of your house.

Oh my. Noooooo thank you.


Not to devalue reverse engineering work...

However, knowingly buying hardware with DRM of this nature only signals the acceptability of this utter garbage to the marketplace. The best way to "hack" them is by not buying it at all, or disassembly if given.

I've seen 3d printers with the same scam as well; "buy our special filament" (aka: rfid chipped garbage). Thankfully those printers are usually stripped for the nema17 motors and switches, and junked for a reprap.

I'm glad people still take to the 4th R of "reduce, reuse, recycle... Repair. But I despise manufactured obselesence in all its forms, especially DRM and phoning home.


Voting with your money is only effective when lots of people do it. If this product is sold in a supermarket, 99.999% of people will have no idea how to even parse this article, so everyone's decision in this thread has absolutely no measureable effect on profit, certainly not enough to make a decision to remove DRM.


But good reverse engineering (as has been done to the iPhone or Keurig) is consumable by the masses in a way that can be communicated back to the manufacturer.

Too often, it's miscommunicated as "criminals keep breaking our monetization scheme" but it's a lot more effective than shaking your fist at the sky.


Good point, in this case I didn't realise that the device had any DRM until after my first cleaning cartridge ran out. Even during initial set it up I thought that the device would simply beep and let me know it was empty while continuing being useful.


> However, knowingly buying hardware with DRM of this nature only signals the acceptability of this utter garbage to the marketplace. The best way to "hack" them is by not buying it at all, or disassembly if given.

Frequently the cost of the item is offset by the expected gains from the DRMed consumable; enough people buying the litter box but not their soap would cause the company to lose money—a net negative.


A net positive if it makes companies stop distorting prices with such bullshit. Selling hardware below design/manufacturing costs and recouping losses via consumables/subscription should be considered antisocial business practice, as it not only is user-hostile itself, but also forces everyone on the market to follow suit.


I meant, a net negative in money.


I have a DRM 3D printer (XYZ DaVinci), and I would buy another. I've never had to do anything to it except level the bed, feed it STL files, and clean/glue stick the bed. I have had hundreds of successful prints, indeed my first print (an angled foregrip for an AR15 rifle) is still in service.

I never wanted a 3D printing hobby, all I wanted was a tool (like a hammer or soldering iron) that I could use to further my actual hobbies. XYZ gave me exactly that. For me at least, I find the descriptions 'scam' and 'garbage' to be nothing more than emotive angst.


So, pedantic question: isn't repair implicit in reduce and reuse?


I would sure hope so, since the idea is that they're in order of best-to-worst for the environment.

Reduce: don't buy water bottles in the first place, as they're one of the biggest pollutants.

Reuse: If you're gonna buy water bottles, reuse them for other liquids when you're done instead of buying a separate vessel for them.

Recycle: When that fails (i.e., when you've got water bottles that you can't really reuse, or whatever…) have that plastic recycled to make, well, more water bottles.

--

If "repair" is the "fourth R" in "reduce, reuse, and recycle" that would imply it's less environmentally efficient to repair something than to simply toss it into the recycling bin.


I wasn't going by any sort of order. Repair seems to have been left out on the 3 R's.

I remember opening up equipment from before 1980, and you were greeted with circuit schematics, diagrams, and replacement part numbers. Replacement of a single component was usually simple, and very cost effective. For some, it may take a few weeks to get the thing, but arrive it did.

Now, people throw out wide screen TVs and all sorts of electronics. Why? A cap popped, or a resistor burned out. Someone spend $399, and it was foiled by a $.05 component. But what about swapping the board responsible? Nope, it's all "non-user-servicable" aka buy more crap you lazyass consumer.

And what this cat litter cleaner ultimately is; it's a device that does a thing as long as you keep feeding money in it from the approved source. It's not like a pillow, or a chair, or a tv. It would be more like those, if it weren't for the fact that built in is a device that obeys its owner - and you aren't that owner; you're the owned.


This is just the same "cartridge with EEPROM" technique that's been prevalent in consumer printers for literally decades, so it's not surprising it was applied to a totally different product.

It's an ongoing cat-and-mouse(!) game. It used to be a simple counter like this, but now the printer manufacturers are starting to use (mild) crypto.


It's an ongoing cat-and-mouse(!) game

Yeah, except it could be argued that I need to print things, and might be willing to put up with print cartridge bullshit. [0] In this case, when the mouse goes, "I'm over here!", the cat is going to say "I've lost interest in the game" and scoop the cat shit by hand. A robotic cat box is a luxury, not a necessity, and when it fails on the "luxury" part (in that my life has been made easier and better), well, what the hell are they selling?

[0] Though in my particular case, the inkjet makers finally drove me to a B&W laser printer. Lost that one, too, mice.


> A robotic cat box is a luxury, not a necessity, and when it fails on the "luxury" part

It doesn't really fail on "luxury" part, it simply exploits the fact that if you can afford a luxury cat shit robot, you can also afford buying expensive, DRMed consumables on a regular schedule. Uncharitably, it's parting fools from their money. Charitably, it's making money on your opportunity cost.


I recommend the LitterRobot. Life changing.


Agreed. While its probably one of the more expensive ones, I really like how you don't have to buy anything from the manufacturer besides the device itself. The consumables are not proprietary, and are just off-the-shelf litter and garbage bags. I only wish the gears were a little less noisy, and that it took up a little less space.


Hey lets add a compactor to the bottom and create and patent a competitor!


Would echo that. Life changing indeed. Had an issue within the warranty period, and the service was amazing.


sitting on the cold bathroom floor the CatGenie serinaded me with angry beeps every few seconds.

I'm a little fuzzy on this whole 'angry beep' thing. But I'm delighted that you taught the little robot a lesson it won't forget.

(I just hosed out a catbox, in the process of replacing the extremely low-odor FelinePine litter. No affiliation, just a satisfied customer.)


The unit beeps incessantly unless it thinks there is a cartridge inserted.


The ability to modify and reverse engineer a purchased good should be legal and supported by the manufacturer after they have declared end of life so that the user can turn to open source for continued support


Litter Robot is by far the best automatic literbox ive used.


  "carterage"
Is that supposed to be cartridge?


I actually have this litter box and never noticed I was being blocked by DRM. I just use the official cleaner and move on with my day.


Personally I have a plastic box with an elasticated bag of litter in it, and I change it by hand and move on with my day... But that's not the point of the article, the point seems to be that the author wanted to work out a way to not need to use a proprietary cleaning agent - which I think is fair enough tbh.


Warning: Author appears to be Canadian. Don't try this in the United States unless you want a five-year prison sentence and a felony record.


Reverse engineering is legal in the US and no circumvention of copyright protection is taking place. This battle has already been fought with ink cartridges.


Reverse engineering for the sake of interoperability is protected under the DMCA.


I mean, it's not like this is Geohot-level reverse engineering.




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