DRM, Or How To Turn Your Cat's Litter Box Into An Inkjet Printer

from the please-insert-$20-to-continue dept

For those of you who have wondered whether a cat litter box could achieve the same functionality as an inkjet printer, CatGenie has the answer for you. Jorge Lopez covered his experience with his brand-new purchase at Medium, swiftly discovering the downside of the litter box that cleans itself. While it does take care of most of the nasty business (disposing of feces — although occasionally leaving one behind to be baked into “poop jerky” by the heated cleaning cycle), it only does so if properly loaded with specific products made and sold by CatGenie.

The CatGenie is not without it’s consumables. It requires these theCatGenie Washable Granules, which are little pieces of hard plastic designed to be washed and not taken up by the cleaning mechanism. There’s also the SaniSolution SmartCartridge, which is a cartridge of fresh smelling cleaning solution needed to wash the granules.

Contained within the SmartCartridge is an RFID chip that tracks fluid levels and turns the automatic litter box into a useless stinkhole once the fluid runs out. It can’t be tricked into believing you’ve refilled it. It can only be replaced with a new one. Like any number of printers that won’t let you print/scan/copy without replacing an ink cartridge, the wonderful, self-cleaning litter box refuses to do anything but collect cat excrement until new cartridges are installed.

That’s a $200+ litter box that becomes indiscernible from the $6.99 non-auto version once the proprietary cleaning fluid runs out. You’ll need a $20+ cartridge to get up and running again. While Jorge Lopez likes the self-cleaning aspects of the litter box, he’s less than thrilled to be in possession of a bricked shithouse.

This made me realize that I don’t actually own a CatGenie, I’m renting it. Though I paid for it, I have to pay per use yet I’m still responsible for all repairs until it craps out and I have to get another one. A tad disheartening.

Fortunately, there are workarounds. CatGenie users who are irritated by both the inkjet-style “DRM” and other issues with cleaning cycles have compiled their own custom firmware to override the negative aspects of CatGenie’s pay toilet.

“CatGenie can’t run without SaniSolution, like a car can’t run without petrol.” is often heard. But that’s a flawed analogy and an insult to most people’s intellect because it’s the laws of physics that prevent a car from running without petrol, but it’s a flaky business model that prevents CatGenie from running without SaniSolution. When this project first started, early 2010, I didn’t know what cleaning agent to use, so I decided to postpone this selection procedure. But after running without any cleaning agent for over a year, my test box was no dirtier (or cleaner) than my standard box, proving that the box can run without cleaning agent very well.

Not that CatGenie is very happy with having its flaky business model circumvented. While the two fixes posted by Jorge Lopez are still live, rooting around the internet a bit shows the company has issued cease-and-desist orders in the past, targeting third-party products that turn the litter box into an owned product, rather than an eternally-rented service.

The damage hasn’t been too widespread, however. For one, a $200-$300 litter box is a niche product, something owned by far fewer people than, say, Keurig’s DRM-laden coffee maker. For another, the workarounds aren’t nearly as simple as taping a label to a scanner, requiring far more investment in skill, time and money than most people are willing to part with to truly take ownership of their CatGenie.

That being said, the underlying concept is severely flawed. Tying people into lifelong purchases is every manufacturer’s dream, but it’s nearly every consumer’s nightmare. Hobbling a purchased product just to harness an additional revenue stream is no way to run a business. And, of course, when put in the position of defending its DRMed cat box, PetNovations (CatGenie’s manufacturer) — like Keurigclaims it’s all about safety.

While I cannot say we support what you are doing, I can say that while cartridge sales are a part of our business model, they are also important to the safe function of the CatGenie. We have already had people try to refill and ruin their floors, gummed up the inside of their unit etc. That is why we sell a cartridge that is sealed with a safe but effective cleaning solution that has been tested to ensure that is not just safe for people, but just as safe for our target user your cat.

But that’s just a dodge. The company could easily provide information on safe refilling, as well as license third-party vendors to produce cheaper and/or refillable cartridges. But rather than work within the confines of its high-end litter box market, it has also chosen to lock up the technology that would make the product more convenient and more affordable. By doing so, it has ensured it will never reach its stated goal of being the litter box “for everyone.” There are plenty of ways to effectively monetize cartridges without turning CatGenie owners into mere renters, but PetNovations has chosen to do things the Lexmark way — remove functionality until “rent” is collected.

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Comments on “DRM, Or How To Turn Your Cat's Litter Box Into An Inkjet Printer”

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63 Comments
Violynne (profile) says:

Welcome to the business model of Corporate America. Everything is turning into this.

Hell, you can’t even seem to buy a new home without an HOA holding out its hand for an exorbitant fee while threatening foreclosure should those fees not be paid.

It’s stupid, but I can’t complain about it. As long as consumers buy this pile of shit, Corporate America will continue to make it.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I do live in a neighborhood governed by an HOA and I don’t know of any neighborhood anywhere nearby that isn’t.

I would love to live without that burden, but I’m not sure how our neighborhood would resolve certain issues without one. For example, the streets in our development are not state maintained. Meaning, at a minimum we need some kind of community fund/organization to plan for and pay for street snow clearing and street repair/replacement. We also have playgrounds and tennis courts that have to be maintained.

I would also add that many condos and apartments have HOA-like restrictions/costs associated with them as well.

Lord_Unseen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you feel like you need playgrounds and tennis courts for your community in particular, then an HOA is probably the only solution.

In regard to the streets, do you live in the city limits of any town? If so, what the hell does your city actually do if they’re not maintaining your streets? Around here, even the small towns maintain their own streets, neighborhoods don’t have to do it for them.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Many people bristle at HOA fees, without realizing that these same people often don’t pay a corresponding city tax.

All that work has to be done by somebody for the common good, doesn’t it?

I mean, sure, you get the HOAs where some old person has nothing better to do than to nitpick everyone to death, but they can just do what one guy did: go door to door, get enough proxy votes and win the election.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, the thing that usually gets ignored in the general hatred of HOAs is that they do have a reason for existing other than to take your money and make you miserable. Specifically, in more rural areas they’re taking on several functions that would normally be served by a city government.

The problems with the system just magnify when you move it in to density and population levels of suburban housing developments. Among other things, the odds rise that people with nothing better to do than be obsessed with minor violations of rules intended for significantly greater problems will get control. At which point the benefits tend to start getting outweighed by the aggravation. Especially if some of the benefits end up being the county’s responsibility after a time.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

BAD HOAs are poison. Just like “lawyers are poison”. Except there are more good HOAs than good lawyers.

I had an HOA where they charged $150 a month and that included cable, community pools and jacuzzis, landscaping, street sweeping, slurry sealing, exterior painting and even a new deck topping and a new roof!

That was worth every penny and they never bothered us once.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes, you’re right. I’ve simply never heard of a good HOA until your comment. Certainly, the vast majority of the ones around me are bad for everyone except the HOA itself. They reduce property values and make it more difficult to sell your house, in addition to being a serious pain in the ass if you’re unlucky enough to own an HOA-controlled house.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“exterior painting and even a new deck topping and a new roof!”

This astonishes me. I’ve never before heard of an HOA that will pay for your house to be painted, decked, or roofed! All I’ve ever heard of in connected to these activities is that the HOA will dictate what color you will paint your house and what style your deck and roofing will be.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

This astonishes me. I’ve never before heard of an HOA that will pay for your house to be painted, decked, or roofed! All I’ve ever heard of in connected to these activities is that the HOA will dictate what color you will paint your house and what style your deck and roofing will be.

All the ones I know are the same as what you’ve seen. The ones in my city even dictate that you have to have clean, well-kept lawns (we live in a desert,) using the particular type of lawn they require (tall-fescue) and all of this is your responsibility to pay for including the tons of water required to keep tall-fescue alive during mandatory water restrictions. They outlawed zero-scape, and have threatened to take houses away from folks who have zero-scaped. I know of no HOA in my area that paints your house or even maintains the roads (the city is responsible for that.)

I live in a non-HOA community, and am very happy that I can put in a yard that looks nice and doesn’t require water, but as a result, there are houses on the street which don’t look the same as other houses and we do have houses that look like parking lots and trash-heaps (though the city does enforce vehicle and trash abatement codes.)

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

That’s “xeriscape”.

Only if you use water. If you don’t use water, it is zero-scape. I don’t use any water (though, at some point I might put in cactus and may need some water to get them established.)

A concrete slab (or crushed rock, which is what I use,) with no plants and thus no water requirements.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Pretty sure it’s still xeriscaping. Search for “zero-scape” and you get nothing but results for xeriscaping.

“Xeriscaping (often incorrectly called zero-scaping or xeroscaping) is landscaping and gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation.”

Emphasis mine.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xeriscaping

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

This astonishes me. I’ve never before heard of an HOA that will pay for your house to be painted, decked, or roofed! All I’ve ever heard of in connected to these activities is that the HOA will dictate what color you will paint your house and what style your deck and roofing will be.

In my area, we have HOAs and we also have Condo Associations. The HOAs are similar to what you are talking about. The Condo Associations are used in condominium complexes where you don’t own the exterior of your building or the property on which it sits. Maybe that is what PRMan was referring to. Those associations are responsible for all the yard maintenance, snow plowing, shrubbery, etc. and anything on the exterior of the building like decks, roofing and painting.

Ninja (profile) says:

I believe this (calling companies for their shenanigans with articles and public exposure) is the thing we need to do. DRM is already toxic enough when people find out they can’t do what they want with stuff they purchased. We just need some awareness to make these companies go die at best. At worst this will be an isolated practice and honestly if there are some people that are willing to throw their money at pseudo-fnctional products even knowing the downsides I’m ok with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Personally I’d recommend a disposable litter box like my parents recently switched to. Fairly cheap (depending on size and brand, you can get 2 or 3 for under 10 dollars), works pretty good on the odor control, lasts 3-4 week, then you throw the whole thing out when it’s time to completely change the litter and start fresh. Naturally you still have to scoop and add litter as needed in the interim, but overall it’s a lot less of a hassle.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

um, cat door ?
obviously, prob not suitable for a lot of apartments, and you have to have a cat that won’t run off, etc…

both SWMBO and i go to work in the day, so the doggie door we got is a HUGE piece of mind to us… locking the dogs inside all day ALWAYS made me feel bad (although, what the hell, they sleep inside all day, or they sleep outside all day, whats the diff), and somewhat anxious about ever having a fire/etc and they could not get out…
with doggie door in place, ALL is good, AND don’t have to get up to let them in/out anymore ! yeah, i’m lovin’ the doggie door…

Max (profile) says:

NEXT UP: 3D printers...

Oh, just wait until commercial 3D printer manufacturers jump on the bandwagon and start locking their printers to their own filament spools! To quote the datasheet of the latest and greatest Marvell chip, especially designed for 3D printers:

“Ensures authentic materials with connectors for up to four 88PA800 security chips”

Yeah, brave new world indeed…

DB (profile) says:

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Soda Stream.

You can buy these carbonators in many stores, just like any other product. Pay your money anonymously, no sign-up, just like a gallon of milk. They include a cylinder containing liquid carbon dioxide.

But if you read the instructions, they claim that you haven’t bought the product. You have licensed the gas cylinder, which remains their property. You aren’t permitted to refill it, only exchange it for a full one.

It’s not like there is any innovation here. Carbonators have been around for well over a century. Carbon dioxide is a standard product. Gas cylinder refilling has long been widespread.

I view the “you haven’t bought this cylinder, only licensed it” as a fraudulent claim. There is no element of leasing the cylinder beyond the naked assertion on the paper. I bought the product outright. I was charged sales tax on the entire purchase price. There was no indication on the receipt or elsewhere that any part was a deposit. I didn’t sign an agreement. I didn’t provide my name, address, identifying information or anything else customary with a lease. In short, they are pretending that there is law support and enforcing the restrictions that help their business model.

Anonymous Coward says:

So we’re heading into a world where our homes are filled with appliances fitted with DRM “restraining bolts” to ensure our safety… Has anyone poked around in the firmware to see if there’s a “global override” command? Anyone checked to see if there’s a chip manufacturer operating under the name “Megatron Inc.”?

Anonymous Coward says:

DRM is still DRM, whatever form it takes, and it’s always bad. Always. End of story.
We already have other laws in place to deal with misuse of products causing public damage as well as illegal access to property.
As for what one does with a plastic box one bought on his/her own property, well, as long as there’s no public harm nobody should care.

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