Zoomer wasn’t charging anymore. Katie’s little pet dog was broken.
This isn’t a new problem. A lack of repair information and a dearth of spare parts has doomed many a machine before its time. It’s happened to other robot dogs, too. Earlier this year, the New York Times documented the surprisingly touching plight of Aibo owners. Aibos are interactive robotic pets. They were first released 16 years ago, and Sony sold hundreds of thousands of them. In 2014, the company dropped support and repair programs for Aibos. And because Sony stopped production in 2006, the supply of spare parts for Aibos went dry pretty quickly. Aibos that broke stayed broken.
Hoping to save Zoomer from a similar fate, Katie’s mom sent the little dog to Andrew—who just happens to be a repair specialist. Andrew took Zoomer apart* and found the problem: the USB port was completely broken off the board. It looked like a manufacturing defect; the solder joints connecting the port to the board were pretty shoddy. When the port came off, it took a few traces with it, which damaged the board. Andrew tried to solder the port back on, but no luck—even with a microscope.
Luckily, Zoomer’s USB port lives on a small, modular board that connects to the main board with a cable. Andrew found a badly-broken Zoomer with a working USB board on eBay—which he dubbed Zombie Zoomer. Pulling the board from the donor dog and popping it into Katie’s robot dog should do the trick. After the swap, Andrew crossed his fingers and plugged little Zoomer in.
A couple days later, Andrew mailed a fully-charged, raring-to-go Zoomer back to its home. Man and man’s best robotic friend were reunited. And Katie was all-smiles again. Here’s proof.
* No Zoomers were harmed during disassembly.
Update Dec. 28, 2020: We republished this story, originally published Nov. 10, 2015 and written by Julia Bluff, because we love it and wanted to share it again during a quiet holiday week. We also restored a paragraph that went missing from the original. It was a lot easier than soldering a USB port, but still a satisfying fix.