The attack of the mutant coffee machines

The other day, a friend told me that he was at work, having a coffee; one of those from the machine that are now standard in most companies, you know, a Nespresso. When he pushed the button something strange happened and the machine got stuck in a loop —they get more and more like computers— and the lights were flashing. He turned it off and then on again (my friend is a computer engineer) and everything worked out fine —just like a computer— and he could satisfy his need for caffeine.

A few minutes later, while enjoying his coffee and a chat (my friend is Spanish), he got a call from someone identifying themselves as a member of the coffee machine’s maintenance service staff asking him if there was any problem with the machine. With the coffee machine? No… well, yes, but how did you know? You have it monitored? It’s sent you a fault message? How did it do that? Ah! 3G… No, I didn’t know. Thanks. Bye.

My friend was somewhat mind-boggled. It hadn’t occurred to him the machine could have a direct line out. Not that it was a bad idea. In fact, it’s an excellent idea for the maintenance service, as they can detect faults, even carry out preventive maintenance and, of course, analyze user consumption patterns: when most coffees are taken, how long the machine is working, whether it usually runs out of water or the user fills it before it empties, whether it overheats. All the necessary information not only to maintain the machine, but to improve design on later versions as well, or even optimize performance by simply updating the software (firmware to be more exact) controlling the device.

[Read more…]