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Important Safety Notice from WakeMate
152 points by tptacek on Dec 31, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 107 comments
From my email just now.

Imporant Safety Notice

Hello WakeMate Customer,

We have just been alerted to a safety issue with our product. The black USB charger bricks that have been included with the product are defective. Do not use them.

The USB chargers were sourced through a Chinese vendor. We paid to have the proper certification and safety tests performed here in the U.S. for the chargers. However, tonight we were informed by a customer of a safety incident with the black USB chargers. Therefore, effective immediately we are recalling ALL USB charger bricks and informing our customers that it is not safe to use these USB chargers to charge your WakeMate.

We will continue to look into the situation but needed to email you immediately to ensure that you stop using and unplug the included Black USB Power Bricks.

We are extremely sorry that we sent a product containing defective components. However, we also want to stress that this issue is with the chargers only, and not with the WakeMate itself. It is still safe to use the included USB cable to charge the WakeMate, and it is safe to wear the WakeMate while sleeping.

I sincerely apologize for this mishap on our part. We are doing everything we can to prevent any further incidents with the USB charger bricks.

"...The USB chargers were sourced through a Chinese vendor. We paid to have the proper certification and safety tests performed here in the U.S. for the chargers. However, tonight we were informed by a customer of a safety incident with the black USB chargers..."

You think it is appropriate to say this in a recall notice...

and this is why you fail.

Sony has problems with their products, so does Apple. Neither of them blame their sourcing in communication to customers. Why? Because your problem is not Chinese manufacturers, or Stateside testing companies, your problem is YOU and YOUR PROCESSES. Take ownership and move forward.

I am reminded of how you handled getting a bad review, here -> http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2029052

I think there is an attitude at your company that is incompatible with the relentless pursuit of perfection that is required to pull off a successful hardware startup. What you guys need is a 'Come To Jesus' talk, not more clumsy attempts at deflecting culpability.

I tried to start a hardware startup last year and actually made it to the interview with PG & co. At the end of the meeting, while the idea was good, it came down to the obvious question of assembling and sourcing the hardware. At that stage, after a lot of research and thinking, I decided to cut my losses and shelf the idea for the time being.

Why? Because hardware is hard. I may be an engineer, but scaling production of a hardware unit from a prototype to shippable products en masse is an extremely hard challenge if you're trying to source your hardware from somewhere like China. Its harder if you're not Apple or HP..or Sony for that matter. I think its unfair to judge wakemate to Sony or Apple standards.

Coincidentally, I met the Wakemate guys when I crashed at the SF hacker house during that time. While they're brilliant and dextrous folks, I certainly felt the vibe that they were finding it extremely challenging to design, produce and ship this thing. The idea of wakemate sounded great, but I wasn't convinced that being non-tech founders, they were entirely aware of the technical and logistical challenges of producing and scaling a hardware unit from scratch to the production line.

I wish them luck though. While they could learn a lesson or two about PR, they've been at it for over an year and have persisted. Customer patience may be running thin after these series of setbacks, but I still believe that they will eventually pull it off.

I started a hardware company at the age of 23 and it was insanely difficult. Everything that could go wrong did.

The challenges of designing production capable hardware and software, manufacturing, testing, packaging, shipping, supporting, handling failures (hardware or software problem? let the fighting commence!), managing inventory and cash flow are immense. So much so that I never want to ship hardware again.

The problem here is they are probably not making any money in the low volumes they are producing this at. Any cash they do have is probably tied up in inventory, and in a startup it's really hard to predict what sales will be 3 months from now. Guess too high and all your cash is tied up in inventory and now your empty for payroll. Guess too low and you might have a 3 month backlog. (sure, that's a 'good' problem to have, but it's not all good in the hardware world because now you need cash to buy the parts to build the hardware. Banks won't talk to you without years of operating experience under your belt, and you had better hope your investors are willing to help finance inventory growth)

My advice: Find a niche market who will appreciate this device and quadruple your price. Perhaps this more expensive version comes with 3 months of a 'sleep expert' (who is an actual person) who analyzes my sleeping patterns and 'customizes' a wakeup/sleep plan just for me (i.e. allow 3rd party experts to improve the experience and thus add value). Or maybe there is margin built in for 'sleep doctors' to sell to their patients/customers.

Could the microphone detect and track severe snoring? Sleep apnea affects 6% of our population.. that's a big number.

The problem here is people's lives are only being marginally improved, and for $60, too low for any profit after you factor in warranty, support and failures, they are expecting something more. These are not good customers for you.

I didn't think they were deflecting or blaming their source. Sounds like they were just saying that they did the proper due diligence, but there is still a problem.

Apple did the same thing when they were giving tours of their radio-frequency test lab. It's a way of saying, "Yes, there's a problem, but it wasn't sheer negligence."

They obviously didn't do the proper due diligence. They did what was legally required, but they did not do what was necessary to avoid to avoid the business nightmare they're in now.

Seriously, how novel is a USB power brick? It's not like the thing was designed from scratch for the first time for them... It looks identical to the one you get with iPhones/iPads.

I would have assumed, as they probably did, that it is a very plain vanilla component and not belabored it. The art of shipping is to know when to take certain risks related to he product.

Overthinking a mass-produced commodity power brick isn't a smart use of time.

I agree with this. The way they single out "Chinese" is very immature. They even said they paid to have proper certification in the U.S., well who did you pay because while your manufacturer may have shipped a bad product, your QC dept clearly failed their job too.

All you needed to say is that they were defective and they needed a recall, no reason to try and blame someone else for your problem.

I bought from you guys to support you, but please take some responsibility.

Perhaps they could take more responsibility, but they certainly aren't worse than Apple. Remember how Apple was very hush-hush about the exploding/fire-catching Macbook batteries? That seems a more apples-to-apples comparison to a product that was sourced upstream. Notice how Apple didn't do a full recall, they just hoped people wouldn't notice. Points to wakemate for a courageous recall on one report!

Somehow, a superheated device velcroed to your arm going off while you sleep in bed seems a little more serious than a phone getting poor reception.

It will be pretty weird to try to sleep with the wake mate plugged in while it was on your arm(and very uncomfortable). Also he is talking about MacBook batteries catching fire, not antennagate, read the comment again.

I feel like your prejudice is coloring your reading of that email. "This is what we did, these are the precautions we took," seems like a perfectly reasonable message. (Admittedly, it may be a cheap tactic, but Chinese manufacturers are the butt of many jokes in the US market, so I suspect most people would just shrug and say, "that sucks, glad they warned me.")

If they fail, it's not because of that messaging... it's because the product works poorly (based on some reviews) and now has defective parts.

It's likely that the chargers that were tested and the chargers that actually ended up shipping are quite different inside.

This seems to be a constant battle when going the Chinese route. You have to cut open a few from every shipment and check to see if inferior components have been subbed in since last time.

At a place I worked a few years ago we had to individually retest every single unit of our products. This involved opening up packaging and repacking and reshrinkwrapping afterwards. In between unpacking and repacking there was testing and finding about 1/3 of them always had problems. Some boards could be fixed by diagnosing to the component level, replacing components and even resoldering incorrectly wired interboard connects. This work was done by asian immigrants of uncertain immigration status. This rework quadrupled the cost of the products but somehow it was still cheaper than just manufacturing locally to begin with, something like the exact same product was costing $20 per unit from asia, but $200 per unit to build in the US. Apparently the big cost difference was due to the effect of environmental laws regarding not being able to dump toxic waste in a river in the US.

This type of testing sounds like a huge pain, but makes a big difference for customer satisfaction to the point where a company can differentiate themselves by doing it.

A company called Yongnuo makes some fantastic speedlights (photographic flashes), which are inexpensive alternatives to the fully-automatic Canon/Nikon standards for strobist photogs. Think $40 instead of $400.

The trade-off is that many of them arrive defective, they are known for not having good QA. There are sellers on ebay who make it a point to test every one before shipping. Guess who I chose to buy mine from? Not a bad way to make a profit and stand out on an otherwise low-margin item.

Yes, if the customers are doing hardware testing it's a disaster for satisfaction, and you also have the cost of repair and shipping and recalls. It's very interesting trade off wise. When I worked in the semiconductor industry, there was a fail rate of something like 35% of chips cut from the wafer. Depending on the complexity and size of the chip relative to the wafer, that rate could go up to 90%, or down to 10%. This is because of things outside of human ability to control, microscopic defects in the substrate for example, or a single dust particle that got into the clean room. These were tested on the full sized wafer and marked with dots and then after cutting the ones with dots are tossed out. Needless to say, it is utterly crucial that significant parts of the chip design must be solely for the purpose of being able to completely test functionality on-chip. This results then in 100% functioning of things that went out the door. I've never even seen a CPU that went to a customer that had a known defect at that stage, so the step of tossing away a large number is just part of manufacturing. However in the case of manufacturing boards overseas, it is definitely possible to increase field significantly. The units were just as testable over there as they are here in the US, without the trouble of unpacking and repacking the retail boxes. But for whatever reason reform of the foreign manufacturing plant simply was not happening and not something they were interested in, and management apparently felt that the trade offs involved made sense, including all the extra rework and testing.

One thought that has occurred to me though is that Apple is using much more poor quality manufacturing than they were years ago, and there is a high failure rate of Apple laptops. However, they have a warranty that covers fixing everything for 1 year and everyone sane knows to buy the extended 3 year since there's something like a 1 in 4 chance you'll need it. So Apple has figured that they save enough making it in China that they can absorb the cost of fixing 25% of the ones where the customer bought AppleCare. These repairs are usually replacing the whole motherboard with spares that they buy in vast quantities for each and every model. This is all done very intentionally for sound economic reasons and customer satisfaction is very high despite the failures.

So you were basically saving $180 in exchange for a more polluted planet. Great exchange if I ever saw one.

Yes, that is basically correct, although the difference in cost wasn't all environmental obviously, there was also the advantage of using a labor pool with few rights compared to the US, poor health care, and other factors.

On top of unit costs there is cost to stock in store, cost of the store's profit, etc. Let me ask you this, would you be willing to pay $10,000 for a computer Made in USA? Is the computer you are working on right now Made in USA, or are some components from China?

That's the answer right there. We can pay $1000 for a Chinese made laptop or $10,000 for an entirely USA made one top to bottom. What market is there for the eco and labor friendly USA one, and what is the chance that a company selling these would stay in business for even 6 months? Is the chance greater than 0%?

I don't think a vendor could convince me they didn't merely mark up a $1000 slave labor computer. In Collapse, Diamond wrote about sham "sustainable forestry" certifications from that self-regulated industry; I can't believe that wouldn't happen here as well. Even with orders of magnitude more money involved, Wall St. couldn't find honest appraisers, so what chance do we have?

It wouldn't be self-regulated; there are already laws about declaration of origin on products. The "Made in China" stickers on devices aren't there because the manufacturer is giving the vendor a discount for advertising the Chinese origin. They're there because customs can seize and destroy mislabeled products.

Yep, I know. I wonder what would the global income equality be like if it cost the same to make a component in China as in the USA? Would it really be 10x the cost?

Realisticlly, if you don't do it then a competitor will and not only will he pollute the planet, but drive you out of business with his cheaper units.

That's a shitty justification for causing irreparable harm simply because you need to make a buck.

That's not (just) for making a buck. You bring value to your customers. In the current system if you are more environmental friendly than your competitors you will go out of business (the comments here talk about 10x the costs). I'm not saying this is ALWAYS true, but as a general rule. The system makes environmental consumer-based businesses non-sustainable. The system causes such businesses to be unsustainable. Now, what is 'The system'?

The easy (but probably wrong) answer would be how western import taxes don't have enough environmental/ethical component in them.

You are correct that the system is not what is best for the world, however we do not have tariff regulations that would temper the effects of exporting pollution and human misery, and corporate interests control legislation to this effect through lobbyists and bribes. Right now, if you work, the company you work for is destroying the environment. Even Greenpeace and PeTA use computer components made in China, and drive cars that use oil paid for with human misery in authoritarian and failed states. To have a job or a computer at all you become part of the system. There is the option of going completely off grid and being self sufficient in an Adobe house in Mexico, or a cabin in Alaska, but few choose this path.

No, it's very reasonable, and it's the reason that these things need govt. regulation. Otherwise, it's just tragedy of the commons all over the place.

This is what regulation and tariffs are for.

Too bad we can't be bothered, since we must protect corporate profits at any cost.

120 bucks, actually.

darn those pesky environmental laws.

edit: oh wait! We'll just dump it in Asia instead! Yay!

Exactly, and then it flows down the rivers into the Pacific ocean and swirls around to the US or sinks and poisons the fish that are caught and sold to US. Hm.

(For those dislike any and all criticism of, well, China, a possible solution would be to require that trade partners implement and enforce similar levels of environmental regulations on manufacturing so that international trade is not just "exporting pollution". This is not simple though because China has a habit of fake-certifying things (for example much Chinese-grown "organic" food is organic in certification alone). So to work in reality and not theory, this would involve non-Chinese inspectors throughout the country with full access to inspect things, which would probably not be acceptable to Chinese State officials. In reality, things will continue as they have been going until the oceans can no longer support life, followed by massive extinctions of other animals such as humans and all other species whose ecochains have links relying on healthy ocean functioning to live.)

> a possible solution would be to require that trade partners implement and enforce similar levels of environmental regulations on manufacturing so that international trade is not just "exporting pollution".

I'd love that, but you do realize that it would stop 'outsourcing' pretty much dead in its tracks. (not a bad thing by itself).

This will also immediately be reflected in the sticker price of the goods.

As someone working on a hardware startup I feel like I can only create a competitive price by sourcing and assembling overseas, and yet it seems like once you do that every turn is fraught with peril and counterfeit.

It would be awesome to hear more advice or stories, if you have them.

You can check out Bunnies blog about the long hike to Chumby for the definitive work in this genre.


As for me, counterfeit capacitors have no doubt shortened my life by a few years. Hardware is stinking hard. I have mad respect for anyone who sets foot in this domain. Here be dragons.

This is par for the course. I have friends who have had to manage manufacturing processes in China. You have to be very specific, to the point of utter paranoia, in the instructions that you provide. Wherever, and I mean absolutely wherever a corner can be cut, it will be cut at this level.

One friend had to get rubber household cleaning gloves made in China. He worked for a retailer and this would be for their store brand. If they specified something to be done, it would be done exactly the way they wanted. If something was unspecified, you could bet that the cheapest, shoddiest, most dangerous materials/processes would be used. For example, he never specified that the rubber used should actually be safe to be worn by humans. Prototypes came back with obscene levels of toxins in a glove that is meant to protect people from getting their hands dirty with household cleaning chemicals. There was just no common sense to fill in the blanks in the instructions here. Once they sorted out this issue, as another commenter mentioned, they would have to check each and every shipment because the manufacturer would try to sneak cheaper variants into the batches. Eventually my friend went and inspected the factory on a business trip only to find so many ethically questionable practices that he eventually decided to switch to another job.

If you choose to go the overseas route, I'd suggest that you find a consultant who has experience here. It will be well worth it. They'll be familiar with all the games that are played and will save you money.

As a westerner enjoying the luxuries of a western lifestyle, obviously I'd urge you to try to source/assemble locally. Cheap labour practices aside (i.e. I understand the argument that folks on that side of the world need work too and are willing to put up with cheap wages and long hours), a lot of the savings come from a complete disregard for the local environment. So these workers might benefit from the wages they earn, but they'll pay for it with their health. You probably wouldn't want heavy metals leeching into your community's drinking water, and you'd cease doing business with a factory doing so in your neck of the woods. But somehow folks seem to think it's acceptable if it's not in their backyard. That's an ethical question you'll have to answer for yourself.

All this said, quite frankly some of the manufacturing expertise simply no longer exists in North America. So your only choice is to get stuff done in China. I know a wealthy flag-waving patriotic ex-military businessman who confided in me as much about why he had to outsource overseas. He said it wasn't so much the cost but that the manufacturers overseas were simply better skilled. We like to think we've got superior technology/processes over here and that the only advantage of overseas manufacturing is the cheap price. But the more that manufacturing is done overseas, the less this will be true.

Great story! Hardware manufacturing in China sounds just like software development in India: if you give very precise specifications - so precise that you may as well have written the code yourself - they will usually be followed. However, if you don't say things like "the software should run without errors" you may well find it crashes on start-up.

"Eventually my friend went and inspected the factory on a business trip only to find so many ethically questionable practices that he eventually decided to switch to another job." Why was that necessary? Has they tried to get them to switch to another source?

Not criticizing WM here, but as a hardware-oriented engineer, I'd love to hear a post-mortem on this issue. Perhaps it's as you say and the promised PSUs are different then the prototypes; but either way, as someone who has a myriad of different design requirements (including electrical safety) I'd love to hear where WM thinks things broke down.

EDIT: The particular reason I'd love to hear a post-mortem on this is because I work for a mega-corp that is supposed to have the process to prevent such a mistake. Although all of our hardware undergoes both design testing and factory acceptance testing, we still manage to miss our share of mistakes. I would love to hear what WM thinks they missed.

> This seems to be a constant battle when going the Chinese route.

is the savings really worth it? and how can one tell that they aren't getting scammed? seems like win-win for chinese companies to cut all possible corners. either they'll save a buck or they'll get caught and just have to get paid to make more.

As they saturate the market, quality pressure will increase.

Several from every shipment. Who knowshowmany is enough. They'll mix different qualities, too, however much they think they can get away with. Ofcourse, there are reputable companies. It's just a lot of work to find them.

I stopped using mine the day I got it because it emitted a annoying loud whiny noise the second I plugged it in. I immediately thought "cheap Chinese manufacturing" and started using my white iPhone charger instead. Glad I did.

What makes this more serious is that the WakeMate seems to be really power hungry and needs almost constant charging - I've noticed that it usually can't go 2 straight nights without a recharge. Since that's the case, I imagine most people just plug it into the defective charger each morning, so it's plugged in for about 16 hours per day. But maybe my battery is also defective ...

Not sure how these two are different technically (both probably have similar accelerometers), but I also have a FitBit that I wear all day long - yet I only need to charge that guy maybe once a week.

Hoping the WakeMate guys get through this, though ...

The fitbit tech is pretty primitive -- it looks like it only has a pedometer inside the device. It's probably why it isn't very accurate at tracking sleep. I've been using my fitbit for a few weeks, but it doesn't seem very accurate at all in general.

According to https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Fitbit uses a 3D accelerometer, so it seems to be more complex than just a pedometer. I've found it to be quite accurate for daytime activity, especially tracking when I'm being really active. But I'm just now starting to use it to measure sleep (and to compare the results to the WakeMate while I'm at it), so can't speak much to its effectiveness yet.

I think your battery might be defective. My WakeMate loses about 19-20% battery life each night. I was using the original black charger... looks like I'll be using the real brick from Apple now.

I was using the original charger as well and I get about 2 nights of sleep on it.

Man these guys can't catch a break. I really want to love WakeMate but they're making it hard.

Well doing a hardware startup is hard and they've had a string of bad luck but at least, in this particular case, they are responsive about it and immediately started a recall instead of trying to hide the issues under the rug...

This is the first issue I've read about. What else happened?

The 14 month shipping delay, delivered in 1-2 week bites: "we'll be ready next week, for real this time!". So, lots of little things which added up to one big thing.

Are you bitter that a technology project was delayed, or that they had your money the whole time?

This is why I don't preorder. Even though I thought the WakeMate was interesting, I didn't have anything personally invested, and could just enjoy the story instead. My advice is to not give random people your money in exchange for promises unless you want to grow to hate them.

I'm not really angry with them so much as disappointed in myself for believing 'one more week' over and over again. I know intellectually that year-long delays happen a week at a time, and that the best indicator of a project being a year over budget is to slip in the first week, but somehow I turned down my doubt because it was YC.

I have a friend with a hardware startup which has pivoted entirely once, and then has had 1-2 years of delays (on an initial "end of year" shipping schedule, still hasn't shipped).

The $5 pre-order amount didn't really bother me. (I actually ended up deciding the Zeo was better for my needs -- it's fundamentally more intrusive but much more featureful and with their API, potentially fun to hack), so I gave my wakemate to a friend of mine.

My main upset over this is that it reinforces "hardware is hard", which is depressing because I have a hardware product I want to manufacture. I'm going to try to manufacture it in the US (or first world), at least for the initial production run. It's kind of back-burner behind the real startup though, more of a hobby thing.

I'm a bit concerned that YC doesn't work particularly well for hardware startups -- it's not enough money, and hardware is a case where you still do actually need money for things other than staff time. I'd love to see a YC-type incubator for hardware projects which provided value-add on the design for volume production side, parts sourcing, and non-equity financing of production, inventory, and distribution.

I was under the impression that they refunded most (all?) pre-order money?

They did. And even before they did, it was just $1 or $5 depending on when you preordered.

Interesting. The bitterness makes no sense to me. Hardware hacking is hard. Hackers are overly optimistic with deadlines. So WakeMate "is late"? So what?

Personally, I'm pretty happy with the Zeo, but I really respect the difficulty of task that the Wakemate folks took on. There is a little more intrinsic difficulty than making a website.

I was a little disappointed about how they strung us along. First the ship date was "Q1 2010". Then in January they said that that wasn't going to happen. A few months later they said that they shipped to super-early preorderers and:

"The next batch of units will ship no later July 30th, 2010. Based on your pre-order date (01/19/2010), you should expect your WakeMate no later than 07/30/2010, but probably significantly sooner."

Coincidentally, that was April 1st.

Then in August they said we'd be getting them in September.

In the end, it took overnight shipping to get them to some people by Christmas.

I understand and accepted that it would be ready when it was ready, but I can definitely see how hearing "Soon" for a year would disappoint people.

They certainly did not refund all preorders -- WakeMate have held onto my $5 and claim to no longer have access to their PayPal account.

What else happened?

For a long time, as far as shipping was concerned, nothing happened.

They also had this little fiasco: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2029052

Not a biggie, but still doesn't work on Android 2.3

It took forever to ship.

For everyone bashing Chinese manufacturers, it's really unfair unless you qualify the statement. All of the big EMS companies have a significant presence in China (Celestica, Jabil, Flextronics, Sanmina-SCI) and Foxconn is part of a Taiwanese holding company. They, and many smaller EMS providers, will build exactly to spec and many of them are happy to do ODM/JDM work, too (ref: Quanta & Compal, the two biggest laptop ODMs and manufacturers in the world).

Where people get burned is when these don't perform a risk analysis while deciding on a hardware partner and end up going with some back room company that probably builds their stuff using components sourced from Shenzhen electronics malls. This isn't necessarily bad, but you get out what you put in, and if you're minimizing the time & money parts of the equation, the quality is likely to suffer.

I know this reply is late, but before I threw away the affected chargers I looked at the incredibly tiny text written on it and noticed a few odd things.

They have the UL logo certification logo. They also say they are manufactured by one of the big vendors you name, I think it was Flextronics. The text is nearly illegible and smudged, leading me to think it is fake.

Dear electronics companies. I am willing to pay more money if you build your products in the US / Europe / Japan and actually do QA.

(Actually, I have nothing against making stuff in China. But it seems that people outsource to China only to save money, and you get what you pay for. In this case, your house nearly burning down because someone wanted to save a fraction of a penny on capacitors, or something.)

Example: I have a Soekris router instead of a random Netgear or Linksys. It cost $300 instead of $25 that a WRT-54G would cost, and it doesn't even have wireless. But, it actually works. The VPN works. The firewall works. It doesn't drop packets. It doesn't overheat. It doesn't burn down my house. Is this worth a 12x price premium? Yes.

"I am willing to pay more money if you build your products in the US / Europe / Japan"

No, you aren't. Well, you might be; I don't know what your means are, but you probably aren't.

Here's the problem: it's not just the extra 20% in cost of the product. Once you raise the product's price, fewer people will buy it. Hardware is a game of economies of scale. When you fall off the volume curve, the price goes up exponentially. Soon enough your 20% additional cost starts looking like 200% additional cost.

Furthermore, there are precious few companies doing high volume electronics manufacturing in the US. There's no guarantee that the quality you get is going to be any better than what you can find for less in China. That's not to say that you can't find something unbelievably crappy in China, but even good services in China cost much less than they do here in the US. It's not like you can buy better capacitors in here than you can in China. The ones you can get in China have the advantage of actually being available too, whereas buying even passives in the US can result in ridiculous lead times of 6 months or more.

Yes, you bought a Soekris router and you're very happy with it. I'm glad for you. It's also a completely different class of product. There's no lesson that can be drawn from the comparison between a Soekris board and a WRT54GL.

I am willing to pay more money if you build your products in the US / Europe / Japan and actually do QA.

Most people won't. I'm not sure I would. I don't inherently see anything wrong with buying goods made in China or Taiwan - there are plenty of companies (eg Apple) who manufacture high quality goods there.

US labor has massive issues too - I wouldn't want to own a car made in the US.

As for your router, my Chinese-made Buffalo does everything yours does (plus wifi and runs dd-WRT) and cost me $30. Your argument would only stand up if everything made in China was poorer quality to US made, and that isn't the case.

> I wouldn't want to own a car made in the US.

You might. A lot of Asian carmakers now have plants in the US.

Looks like Honda has 4, for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Honda_assembly_plants

Only because its cheaper to assemble cars in the US than it is to ship them from China. I don't know how Mexico compares though...

+1 for soekris (I have a 5501 sitting on the counter with me right now, one of 5 that I own [I use them as both VPN endpoints, and firewalls at work]).

I remember when I got my first one and had a problem with it. I literally just called the company and heard "Hello, Soekris engineering...oh, hold on, let me get one of the engineers for you."

Absolutely worth the money. Awesome in every single way (and they look badass too :-D).

wow, I was only half serious when I made this comment a while back: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2030226

That looks like the wristband itself caught fire, not the charger? Perhaps the charger put out too much power, causing the wristband to catch fire?

see my comment above about noisy electrical signal form the USB charger brick.

Wow... Seriously? Is this the issue WakeMate emailed about (I'm guessing it is) or is this another?

I'd worry about this more if my WakeMate would actually arrive... :(

This is pretty sad, though... I've been cheering for WakeMate since the beginning, but it's getting harder and harder... Are they at least sending new charger bricks at some point, perhaps a year or so from now (har har har)?

yes, but we will have to source new bricks first. We went with these black bricks because a) they looked cool, b) we could afford them, and c) samples of the bricks passed electrical surge and signal quality tests we had performed here in Mountain View. Maybe there's a reason Apple charges $29 for theirs...

Most of that $29 is the Apple brand. The circuitry inside one of those USB chargers is very simple.

Are the Apple bricks an acceptable replacement until you guys ship new ones?

USB power is standardized, so anything that plugs into the wall and has a USB port on the back should work fine.

I regularly charge my phone with my Kindle charger and vice versa (and they even both use microUSB, so I can use the same wire too).

This is a real positive. My cell phone, my GPS and my in-car DAB radio all power from USB - I can charge and use them all with just one lead, instead of having a glovebox full of a Spaghetti Junction of different cables and connectors.

It also means that when one charger goes wrong, it's insanely cheap and easy to swap it out for a new one rather than having to look around for often expensive manufacturer-specific accessories.

Though some USB chargers output more than the standard 5V @ 500mA, up to 1500mA in my experience.

Amps is more like a maximum that they can supply kind of thing, not a how much they force out type of thing.

Yes they are! In fact any Mini USB charger is. You can also plug the included cable directly into your computer.

Way to handle this WakeMate. While this may cost a lot in the short term, history has shown that companies can bounce back from costly recalls like this and dominate the market down the road with the increase in credibility and trust they gain:


WakeMate's missing out on a golden marketing opportunity here...


So the logical next question is are the battery paks in the band safe? What sort of safety cert was done on them?

yes the batteries are safe. we believe that the chargers are spitting out a noisy electrical signal, which is causing the battery charger IC on the WakeMate to overheat, thus causing the problem. We have only seen any incidence when the unit is plugged into the black USB charger bricks we shipped with. To date we have logged over 20000 hours of sleep on our system, so we're certain that sleeping with the Wakemate is safe, and that the batteries on the WakeMates are safe as well. This is in addition to the testing and certification we had done on the unit as well before we began shipping units.

I am curious how you were able to assess this situation so quickly.

Thomas posted the original email 11 hours ago and prefaced it with "From my email just now."

Very shortly thereafter (also 11 hours ago as I write this), you commented that

1. WakeMate sent the email within an hour of hearing about the first issue.

2. WakeMate believes they know the cause of the problem (noisy electrical signal from defective chargers)

3. "[WakeMate] have only seen any incidence when the unit is plugged into the black USB charger bricks we shipped with."

So over the course of a couple hours, you (WakeMate) became aware of the _first_ report of overheating (and were previously unaware of this problem), you were able to determine that the cause of the issue is a noisy electrical signal being produced by the charger, and you also indicate that you have now observed additional incidence of overheating.

Do I have that right?

Edit: formatting

I am curious, does your certification and testing involve anything with the FDA?

I worked at one of the big sleep companies before and we always had to adhere to FDA regulations even though we were careful to be 'monitoring' and not 'diagnosis/treatment'. The FDA also occasionally randomly popped in as a part of their standard monitoring process.

I think they are careful to say "this is not a medical device", which exempts them from regulation. They can market it as a fun toy or fashion accessory or whatever, and then it has nothing to do with medicine.

I've been a lurker on WakeMate, thinking I'd like one, but not yet taking the action to buy one.

However, because of their honesty and quick action on this issue, I will buy one now as soon as the charger issue is resolved.

@WakeMate: You will recover fine from this issue ... in fact I think you will end up in a better position because of how you are handling it. Good job!

Man, this is big. What a bummer for Wakemate. I admire your honesty though. Thanks for not keeping quiet.

Thanks for not keeping quiet.

If they kept quiet and someone were injured or killed due to a known defective product wouldn't they be open to lawsuits?

We sent this email tonight within an hour of hearing about the first issue. One of our goals as a company is to increase people's quality of life -- starting with sleep. It was immediately apparent to us we had to tell our customers, especially if their safety was at all at risk.

Isn't this a bit drastic, though? I absolutely commend you for the fast reaction and concern about customer's safety, but do you know the extent of the problem?

I mean, if the problem is limited to a certain batch of power supplies (or just that single faulty one), you've just deprived a large number of customers of the use of product. Certainly if you have no way to segment the people who may be affected, then the safest thing is a total product recall, but that's generally the last resort any business will take in this situation.

In any case, I hope this is just a speedbump for you guys and you continue on successfully.

They're open to lawsuits is any case -- such in the nature of selling products in the US. They likely have product liability insurance.

Not like they really had a choice here. It's spreading like wild on twitter already. If they ignored it, it would have been a huge problem for them.

At least they aren't crazy and are doing the right thing. I'm guessing someone really regrets trying to save a few pennies on the charger.

It's a tough business no doubt. I think they'll make it through just fine though.

Does anyone else feel like a complete fool for having thought these guys were capable of pulling this off?

You shouldn't. Although I'm in software now, I've done enough hardware design to know that sometimes shit just happens no matter how well you jump through all the hoops.

It's a pity that it happened so soon after the product was released, but things like this are not at all unusual. In fact, they're lucky that they found out about it right away. I've known of suppliers changing the component they sell you without informing anyone or changing the part number, causing problems that go undetected for years.

Like an earlier poster said: hardware is hard.

Honestly though, can you imagine recovering from a video of your product smoldering and smoking, a product that people attach to their arms while sleeping?

After having seen that video that's all I'm ever going to think about when someone mentions the product. And can you imagine recommending it now to anyone? How do you think WakeMate has spread? Probably word of mouth, which if that channel hasn't closed forever will now come with a big bold asterisk.

I wish you guys the best. It's going to be hard work to not only improve your product, deal with the financials but recover consumer trust. A good idea might be some new awesome, but some what gimmicky feature, that will wow everyone.

Right downvote me for speaking the cold hard truth.

I could actually hear my charger audibly buzzing when I plugged it in for the first time today. Glad to hear it will be replaced!

I love my WakeMate and the Wakelytics web app. It's super cool.

My only complaint is that it seems the wristband can be a bit tight, but I suppose this is necessary to provide accurate movement calculations.

Good job WakeMate team. I know it's been tough, but I'm proud of you! Thank you for handling this situation in such an appropriate manner.

What exactly is the safety issue?

Does this also explain the problems Engadget had with the battery life?

Doubtful. WakeMate is just incredibly buggy, in general. I've gotten it to work exactly once since I got it (on the supposedly better supported iPhone). Otherwise, it seems to need constant rebooting.

They've said that they're working on fixing battery life issues (at least as reported by Engadget).

The defective charger is a separate issue entirely.

Can we ask what the safety issue is? I don't have a wakemate, and I understand if there is a legal reason not too, but I am curious. Is it bursting into flames...?

clewiston answered it here:


That was a big vague. He said "causing the problem" but didn't go into specifics about what that problem might be. Seems a bit too much like PR speak to me. Let's get it on the table: are these chargers a fire hazard?

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