Doom on a Deere: a Repair Story
The demonstration last week at the DEF CON hacking conference of the Doom video game running on a touch screen monitor manufactured by John Deere set off a flurry of media coverage, with publications ranging from Wired and Vice to Jalopnik with a healthy smattering of gaming websites in between.
The presentation, by the independent security researcher Sick Codes, was a sure bet to go viral. First, it took place at one of the most prominent hacking conferences on the planet—a venue that has seen everything from demonstrations of “Jackpotted” ATMs barfing out currency to remote, software-based attacks that took control of a Jeep Cherokee. Doom on a Deere slotted right into a long, proud tradition of DEF CON “mic drop” demonstrations.
Then there’s the “Doom” bit. Sick Codes’s choice of that classic, 90s-era game—which created the “first person shooter” genre—was no accident. “But will it run Doom?” is simultaneously a throw down to the technically adept, an Internet subculture of hardware hackers, and a long-running meme, with its own subreddit devoted to celebrating the exploits of folks who get the Doom FPS to run on all manner of odd devices: Nook e-readers, Canon EOS SLR cameras, retail store price scanners, and more. Running Doom on a Deere was a technical feat and message to the broader hardware hacking community that, at the end of the day, the six- and seven-figure agricultural hardware manufactured by Deere was just hardware running software (Wind River Linux 8, to be precise). And, as such, it is open for exploration, modding, and tinkering.
It’s that last bit that’s the most important. Whatever else he accomplished, Sick Codes used his DEF CON presentation to underscore a critical point: that farming equipment is just another piece of hardware that farmers own—like their laptop computer or the washing machine that washes their clothes. And, as property owners, it ultimately falls to the farmers to use and maintain it as they choose. If that means running John Deere software and connected services like MyJohnDeere.com, JDLink, CombineAdvisor, and more (surrendering your proprietary farm data to the company in the process), so be it. But farmers need not be constrained to one choice or one ecosystem. Why shouldn’t a farmer be able to take their new Deere S780 Combine home from the dealership and flash a new operating system and applications onto it? Why not an open source combine OS that, while it may lack some of the bells and whistles that John Deere’s official wares provide, gives the farmer greater choice of software and apps, while freeing them from Deere’s expensive and exclusive licensing agreement whereby simple software updates cost hundreds of dollars a pop and a (costly) visit from a John Deere authorized service provider is required for even basic maintenance and repair?
As radical as that sounds, isn’t that what we’ve been doing with PCs and laptops for decades? I might buy a Dell Latitude laptop with Microsoft Windows installed on it, but nothing prevents me from wiping Windows away and installing Ubuntu Linux, Chromium, or some other operating system of my choice. Why should tractors, harvesters, or planters be any different? The short answer is: “it shouldn’t.” Put aside all the memes and DEF CON chest thumping, and that’s the real message of Sick Codes’s presentation. Mind you, running Doom on a Deere 4240 monitor is a long way from flashing an open source operating system on an S780 combine and watching it putter off into the field. As the folks at Hackaday noted, Sick Codes’s work was performed on console modules separated from the hardware and run in the lab—not in the field on a real piece of Deere hardware. Significant and complex work needs to be done before we will see the latter. By comparison, the celebrated 2015 remote takeover of the Jeep Cherokee by researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek was the culmination of more than a year of intensive research and testing on an actual Jeep Cherokee. All that just to bypass internal security features, not develop an entirely new, bespoke software to run the vehicle.
But the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, as the saying goes. And that’s what Sick Codes has accomplished: taking that momentous first step down a very long road that will end with farms and farmers liberated from an exploitive and Orwellian system of corporate surveillance and control. For that, he deserves our thanks and gratitude.
Harley-Davidson is facing a pair of Federal lawsuits following a Federal Trade Commission vote that upheld owners’ “right to repair” in June.
According to Reuters and other news outlets, the lawsuits do not allege that Harley-Davidson broke any specific laws as much as that they may have limited owners’ choices on repair options and also allegedly threatened to void warranties over the installation of aftermarket parts. At the time, Westinghouse was also singled out for their warranty and repair policies. Allegedly, Harley told owners that the bikes had to be repaired at Harley-run service facilities and factory parts had to be used to repair the bikes. Those actions allegedly run afoul of anti-competitiveness laws in California as well as antitrust provisions in Wisconsin, thus the latest legal action.
Amazon Vacuums up Roomba-Maker iRobot (American Economics Liberties Project)
Would you give Amazon the layout to your home? Well, you soon may not have a choice, if you’re a Roomba customer.
iRobot Roomba 960 Battery Replacement
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In a statement released on Friday, the e-commerce giant announced it was acquiring iRobot, the company best known as the maker of the popular vacuuming robot, Roomba. Amazon will purchase the consumer robot company in an all-cash deal for around $1.7 billion. The deal, however, still needs to be approved by regulators. (American Economics Liberties Project)
Independent Maine Auto Repair Shops Pursuing Right-to-repair Referendum (Pressherald.com)
A group of independent Maine auto repair shop owners, their employees, and supporters filed an application for a citizen initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office announcing their intentions to seek a statewide referendum vote in 2023 that would protect their right to repair new cars and trucks.
The Right to Repair campaign contends that more than 90 percent of new cars are equipped to transmit real-time diagnostic and repair information wirelessly only to vehicle manufacturers, a tactic Right to Repair advocates says threatens the rights of consumers to choose to get the cars they own fixed at an independent repair shop or to even do the work themselves.
The Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that supporters of the Right to Repair initiative filed paperwork, including proposed legislation, on Wednesday.
Samsung Galaxy Fold Teardown
Teardown Update: After Samsung tried to make…
The good news is that even if the advancements of these new devices don’t make your Galaxy Z Fold 4 or Z Flip 4 the ideal diving companion or rugged workhorse, if you do manage to bork the display, Samsung’s fix could be cheaper than ever this time around. With a Samsung Care Plus plan, the deductible for a damaged screen is now just a paltry $29—as much as an ordinary glass-sandwich smartphone (via The Verge).
Contrast that with a screen repair on the Flip 3 or Fold 3, which even with Care Plus would run you $249. Out-of-warranty repairs without a Care Plus subscription could climb to $480. We’re not sure quite how much out-of-warranty replacements will run on the new Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4, so you might want to keep those phones as protected as possible.
As more people purchase fold-ables and the hardware’s reliability grows on consumers, smartphones with a hinge should keep getting cheaper—both to buy and repair. In fact, Samsung is confident of this eventuality where foldable smartphones will sell more than the Galaxy S series.
Where the Right-to-Repair Movement Falls Short (The McGill International Review)
With most of the world lacking right-to-repair legislation, consumers are left with fewer options than ever in choosing how to repair their devices. Without access to the same parts as manufacturers, independent repair shops are at an immediate disadvantage. Even if parts were to be made available, they have proven difficult to get ahold of. Altogether, this creates little choice for consumers looking for a quick and reliable repair. The experience just isn’t the same at a third-party shop, especially when it comes to automotive repairs, with long wait times for parts being the norm.
On another hand, the burden of carbon reduction has been laid on consumers for decades. Recycling is not what it was promised to be, and most of what is put out to recycle has been found in landfills mixed in with trash. Reducing one’s own carbon footprint is to first reduce consumption. Enacting right-to-repair legislation will be the first step to reduce personal consumption with regard to e-waste. With e-waste rapidly becoming one of the world’s largest waste streams, right-to-repair legislation has the potential to save 6.9 million tons and 40 million USD annually in New York state alone. The overall benefits worldwide would be even larger. With some governments hesitant and most not even pursuing uniform right-to-repair laws, these benefits will likely never be realized.
The right-to-repair movement is slowly gaining ground, but it is fractured. Only parts of the movement’s goals are being implemented, with these applying only to a select few industries. With no comprehensive and cohesive legislature, the movement will only ever achieve a fraction of its full potential. Governments around the world need to open their eyes and work together to create greener, more repairable electronics for everyone.
Why the Indian Government Is Pushing For Common Chargers Across All Portable Electronic Devices (OutlookIndia.com)
The government has cited consumer protection and reducing e-waste to be major reasons for the intent of introducing common chargers across all devices. The government feels that a common charger for all portable devices will lessen the burden on consumers to carry multiple chargers, as well as it will help reduce original equipment manufacturers charging heavy amounts for different chargers.
Nidhi Khare, Chief Commissioner, Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) told Business Standard earlier, “We will be presenting the problem of many consumers that even if they have different devices of the same brand, they need to buy separate chargers. Similarly, if they are using multiple mobiles of different brands, they still have to get separate chargers. This has become a cause of harassment to the consumers.”
Turns Out, You Own Nothing (Wired—Paywall)
Heated seats put me to sleep, quite literally. But it was impossible to sleep on the news a few weeks ago that BMW had started rolling out subscriptions for seat heating in some vehicles in South Korea. It’s not clear when exactly BMW started offering this, or in which countries outside of South Korea this $18-per-month service would be available, but the article in The Verge rightly noted that the “auto industry is racing towards a future of microtransactions.” Shortly after, Tesla said that new Tesla orders would require a subscription for navigation services.
So, what do we actually own when we buy a new car these days? Or, any piece of hardware for that matter? It’s a question I posed to law professor Aaron Perzanowski, who has written two books on this very topic: The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy, with Jason Schultz, and The Right to Repair: Reclaiming The Things We Own. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.