Repair Stories

Little Girl Sends Robot Dog to the Electric Vet

Katie, owner of Zoomer robot dog with broken USB port

By Julia Bluff

This is Katie. She’s 9, and she lives on the East Coast. By all standards, Katie is an exceptionally cool kid. In case you’re wondering why she’s smiling in this photo, it’s because that bottle of Coca Cola in her hands is supposed to be shared with an Andrew. It just so happened that Katie knows an Andrew. You see, Katie’s cousin is our very own Andrew “Optimus” Goldberg—lead teardown engineer and owner of the disembodied hands that you see in most of our teardowns. Andrew and Katie are also pen pals.

Andrew as a teardown engineer, fixing the robot dog
This is Andrew. Well, that is Andrew’s arm. Which is pretty much all you see of Andrew on iFixit. I assure you, though, Andrew actually has legs, a body, and a very capable head on his shoulders.

Zoomer wasn’t charging anymore. Katie’s little pet dog was broken.

Zoomer the robot dog
This is Zoomer. Right now, Zoomer isn’t doing so hot. In fact, Zoomer’s not doing anything, because Zoomer can’t turn on. And that makes Katie sad.

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.

Fixing the USB port on Zoomer the robot dog
The offending charging port. Bad, charging port! Bad!

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.

Zoomer the robot dog with a repaired USB port
It’s alivveeee! Zoomer says hi—because now he actually can.

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.

Zoomer the robot dog with a repaired USB port
You can tell Zoomer is also happy in this picture because he’s wiggling around. Hence the motion-blur.

* 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.