Teardown: Quirky Egg Minder

Many of the biggest stars are hesitant to do sequels, believing that the magic captured the first time around is hard to reproduce in subsequent productions. As I’m known (at least around the former closet that now serves as my home office) as the “Meryl Streep of Teardowns”, I try to follow her example when it comes to repeat performances. But if they could get her to come back for another Mamma Mia film, I suppose I can take a look at a second Quirky product.

An elderly egg calls to inquire about euthanasia services.

This time around we’ll be looking at the Quirky Egg Minder, a smart device advertised as being able to tell you when your eggs are getting old. Apparently, this is a problem some people have. A problem that of course is best solved via the Internet of Things, because who wouldn’t pay $80 USD for a battery-powered WiFi device that lives in their refrigerator and communicates vital egg statistics to an online service?

As it turns out, the answer to that question is “most people”. The Egg Minder, like most of its Quirky peers, quickly became a seemingly permanent fixture of retailer’s clearance shelves. This particular unit, which I was able to pick up new from Amazon, only cost me $9.99. This is still more than I would have paid under normal circumstances, but such sacrifices are part and parcel with making sure the readers of Hackaday get their regular dose of unusual gadgetry.

You may recall that our last Quirky device, the “Refuel” propane tank monitor, ended up being a fantastically engineered and built piece of hardware. The actual utility of the product was far from certain, but nobody could deny that the money had been spent in all the right places.

What will the internals of the Egg Minder reveal? Will it have the same level of glorious over-engineering that took us by surprise with the Refuel? Will that zest for form over function ultimately become the legacy of these Quirky devices, or was it just a fluke? Let’s crack this egg and find out.

Separating the Yolk

The Egg Minder is held together with seven unnecessarily large screws, each hidden behind a rubber plug that blends in with the case so well that at first I thought they were potted in with some kind of epoxy. Curiously one of the screws had a T15 head, which I would normally attribute to some attempt at “security”, but it seems odd that Quirky would be worried about anyone taking a peek inside their electronic egg carton. There’s also a thick rubber gasket keeping the two halves of the plastic casing sealed, and a boot around the power switch. So far, that Quirky attention to detail is in full effect.

With the enclosure opened, we can see the bottom half is empty except for the battery compartment. I was actually a bit surprised they didn’t add some chunks of metal in there to give the device a bit more heft. The thing is responsible for holding your eggs after all, and keeping it more firmly planted to the shelf in the fridge seems like it would be worth the few cents to throw some ballast in there.

The top half was also a surprise: it’s not every day that you see the back of a single-sided PCB like this. Questions such as “Why?” and “How?” immediately came to mind.

Sunny Side Up

Flipping the PCB over, we can immediately see how they pulled it off. The board uses an incredible number of zero value resistors to “jump” over traces, allowing the entire circuit to be contained on the same side of the board. Rather than using a via to bring a trace to the other side whenever things got a little cramped, one of these resistors was used to physically lift the trace over its peers.

So now we know how they managed to contain such a complex SMD design on just one side of the board, but we still don’t know why. This is the part where we get to speculate a bit. The board has what is presumably a waterproof coating, but rather than being sprayed uniformly over the entire surface, it’s been carefully applied so as not to cover up any of the (numerous) surface mount LEDs.

If we imagine that a worker had to manually brush this coating onto the board, it makes sense that they’d want to keep everything on the same surface. Not only would it be faster for the worker, but it would allow the boards to be placed on their backs to dry rather than having to hang them and risk the coating running where it didn’t belong. But again, that’s just speculation. If somebody has a better theory, I’d love to hear it.

A Smart Egg

You may have noticed that, up until this point, I haven’t addressed how the Egg Minder actually works. That’s because, frankly, it doesn’t. Granted that might sound a little harsh, but the fact of the matter is that this device doesn’t actually tell you how old an egg is.

The optical sensor under each egg.

There’s no high-tech spectroscopy going on that can peer through the shell or anything like that. It simply keeps track of how many eggs are currently sitting in the fourteen openings on the top; it’s up to the user to accurately enter the date they were purchased into the smartphone application.

Accordingly, some of the reviews I saw online assumed that the Egg Minder was simply using pressure sensors to detect how many eggs were onboard. Which is certainly a logical enough conclusion. An array of microswitches that engage under the weight of the eggs is probably the most straightforward way to approach this problem, and is certainly how I would have tackled it if asked to come up with my own homebrew version.

But that’s not how Quirky did it. Their solution uses fourteen pairs of infrared emitters and sensors, complete with optics at the bottom of each egg cup, to detect the reflection off of the egg’s shell. At first glance it seems like overkill, but in all fairness, this method does allow detecting the eggs regardless of their weight. It could be that physical detection was found to be unreliable with eggs of various sizes, where as this optical method should work no matter how small the egg is.

Of course, there’s more to the Egg Minder than a bunch of IR sensors. At the heart of the device is an Electric Imp module, the same as we previously saw in the Refuel. Clearly Quirky was a fan of these modules, and at this point, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that all of their Internet-connected devices from this era are probably packing this same board. In a pre-ESP8266 world, the Electric Imp was a compelling way to jump on the IoT bandwagon without having to reinvent the wheel.

Hard Boiled

I couldn’t end this teardown without pointing out what’s easily my favorite aspect of the Egg Minder, and a perfect example of the sort of fanatical attention to detail that Quirky engineers had. Along the side of the device there’s a light sensor, which as far as I can tell, is there to determine when the plastic lid has been closed over the eggs. Though it may also be used to determine when the lights are off in the refrigerator, as presumably the Electric Imp will limit its attempts to communicate with the outside world once the refrigerator door is closed and it’s essentially locked inside of a Faraday cage.

In any event, the designers were apparently concerned that light emanating from inside the Egg Minder could interfere with the operation of this sensor. Considering each egg has not only an IR emitter under it, but LEDs indicate its relative age, it wasn’t an unwarranted concern. To prevent this they painted the area behind the sensor black and covered it with a piece of fabric, just to be extra sure that no light could bounce around and compromise their electronic egg counting device. Oh Quirky, we don’t deserve you.

Coming Full Circle (No Egg Pun)

In doing some research for this teardown, I found that this actually isn’t the first time the Quirky Egg Minder has graced the pages of Hackaday. Back in 2013, we wrote up a post about the then in-development Egg Minder, and asked readers to theorize how it might work and how they could build their own version.

With the final production hardware laid bare before us, it’s pretty interesting to go back and read those comments six years later. A number of folks guessed the device would be using an Electric Imp, and one commenter even correctly predicted it would come packed with lithium batteries due to the low temperatures it would need to operate in. A Quirky engineer even chimed in to say he was excited to see a project he was working on get picked up by Hackaday. Here’s hoping you’re still reading, Josh. You did us proud.

59 thoughts on “Teardown: Quirky Egg Minder

  1. (co-founder of electric imp here)

    Worth noting that though Wink no longer allow new egg minder devices to be on-boarded, existing egg minders are still supported by Wink, and as they run on the imp platform, they’re not “abandonware IoT” – despite the fact that there’s nobody at Quirky to update the application code any more.

    Since the product launched, impOS updates have added things like TLS1.2 with forward secrecy (from TLS1.0 when the product launched), fixes for all the various WiFi vulns that have appeared over the years, power improvements, etc. All this without disturbing the operation of the application, due the huge number of automated tests that the platform is subject to.

    A fridge is also absolutely not a faraday cage; the rubber seals give plenty of opportunity for decent connectivity. Some of our other customers make fridge-dwelling devices (eg the Smarter FridgeCam).

    1. >A fridge is also absolutely not a faraday cage; the rubber seals give plenty of opportunity for decent connectivity.

      Damn, pesky facts getting under the feet of HaD authors again.

    2. Being a faraday cage or not is a moot point, since eggs aren’t going to walk away with the door closed. Makes better sense to sleep the entire time it’s dark, and report changes when the door is open, right as the eggs are leaving.

  2. I use to have one of these in my fridge with data flowing into smartthings. It’s still in there, holding eggs but I had long since stopped keeping it up to date.

    It’s not mentioned here but I’d like to point out how device setup works with the minder, since I both enjoyed and disliked it.
    To get WiFi credentials to this weird tray with no physical sensors (eggs aside) it uses that light sensor. You place your phone’s screen against the light sensor and the app strobes the credentials to the tray. I had to go into my bathroom with the lights off and door shut to eventually get it to work; took several tries. It’s such a lofi approach to me that I love it….but it very much nearly had me throw the thing out in my first hour of ownership.

    RIP Quirky.

    P.S. The tray holds 14 eggs. I don’t think I ever saw an explanation of why this was (granted I certainly didn’t look hard). Was the idea that you re-fil with 2 eggs left? Some sort of eggy kanban?

    1. Bear in mind that a team of three engineers there were responsible for hardware, firmware, and mass production for all FIVE of their launch products… and only had three months to do it. Those were very crazy months.

      There was a certain lack of polish on the early Quirky IoT products… one of the things that didn’t get done was tuning of blinkup sensitivity, and that plus long-since fixed weaknesses in the Android version of blinkup did get in the way of setup for some customers. If you tried it again now you’d find it easier (but I don’t recommend you do, simply because you don’t want to reset a working device as Wink prevent you from re-provisioning these days!).

      (remember back in 2013, BLE wasn’t a generally available commodity on most phones – doing it with light is cheap and works with sealed devices too)

      1. Oh I can’t imagine the scramble (…eggs…) that went into such a push. I feel like the Quirky products really embodied the name. And while it may be asked now “who needed this?”, I found the device portfolio inspirational in a way. If it can be done cleverly, make it generate data first and ask questions later.

        (My household was actually a good use-case for the egg tray since grocery shopping was often sporadic and egg consumption unpredictable. I did find myself standing in front of dozens of dozens and thinking ‘Should I buy eggs’. Quirky answered that)

        I was sad to see things parted off and bankruptcy filed. Though I see now that things have changed? I will have to pay attention to Quirky again.

    2. That’s quite arbitrarily.You can also buy a 15 pack when you want to eat an egg and store the remaining 14. Although here the most common packs are 6 or 10 eggs. And the tray in my fridge holds 11 (3rows, 4,3,4) eggs.

    1. Zero Ohm resistors are one of my favorite things to explain to friends. They always ask “but how is that different from a wire?” It’s funny to think now about how weird electronics designs look without any knowledge of manufacturing and BOM concerns.

  3. Your egg is old as soon as it’s put in the egg rack. Fresh from the coop is the only way.
    Re. the use of IR sensors – I suspect the thinking was that mechanical switches simply wouldn’t survive in an environment that requires the use of conformal coating.
    The zero ohm trick is clever, never occurred to me before. Definitely one to file for future use.

    1. At my parents, we regularly had eggs feom their chickens stored for 4 months – unrefrigerated.
      It is the origin of eating eggs with easter – those are the old eggs that you eat because the hens are finally laying again.

      I was always taught to not refrigerate eggs (i.e. keep them at basement temperature which is about 15°C year-round. The only reason I do refrigerate them now is that my cats will go after them otherwise.

      1. “commercial American eggs are federally required to be washed and sanitized”
        “In Europe, it’s illegal to wash eggs and instead, farms vaccinate chickens against salmonella”

          1. Egg shell are protected naturally, washing them remove this protection and increase the risk of infection.

            So either you have clean eggs that are not washed and risk samonella on them (there is no such thing as a samonella vaccine..), or you chlorinate them and wash them and have very limited shelf life due contamination barrier being off.

      2. I once got explained the origin of easter eggs different: During the fasting time (40 days) chicken lay eggs, but you were not allowed to eat them. To avoid wasting them (let them spoil) they were boiled and to differentiate them from raw eggs they were dyed.

    2. My hunch is that it allows the casing to be totally sealed. The article mentions a clear plastic at the base of the egg and rubber seals. I’ll wager it might even be IP55 or higher. Certainly it needs the ability to be wiped down potentially with light bleach and remove smashed egg residue.
      You wouldn’t want a rubber boot protecting a mech switch and ending up habouring bacteria, that would certainly be no yolk !

    3. My mum would be annoyed if I ate the eggs that were laid today, when there’s probably half a dozen left over from previous days that haven’t been eaten yet. start with the oldest first. She just uses a pencil to mark the dates on, and then the eggs just sit in the utility until they’re bought or eaten.

  4. “Worth noting that though Wink no longer allow new egg minder devices to be on-boarded, existing egg minders are still supported by Wink, and as they run on the imp platform, they’re not “abandonware IoT””

    If you prevent new devices from being registered despite them still being sold in the marketplace (Amazon is currently selling them) you have abandoned the product.

    If you prevent owners of existing devices from selling the devices to others, you have abandoned the product. This is the number one problem with all the IoT companies your platform uses: whatever widget you have becomes completely useless

    If you remove the app that supports your device from the Apple and Play Stores, you have abandoned the product.

    If you no longer release software updates and have removed all mention of the device from your website – go on, try to find *any* information published by Quirky or GE about the device – you have abandoned the product.

    What a bunch of apologist nonsense.

    Also: regardless of whether a fridge is a faraday cage, from the Amazon reviews, this thing was a piece of garbage that doesn’t work in the real world. That other pieces of garbage exist that use your platform does not invalidate the claim that putting wifi devices with low-powered embedded radios in a fridge doesn’t work.

    1. What bothers me the most about these overnight IoT startups is that they have proprietary communications on top of a standard radio medium. You want to stay alive despite your internet device being bizarre impulse buys? Open up the API. Give developers an easy method of integrating your device into open source home automation platforms like Home Assistant or OpenHab. You will get a lot more support if you let *us* control the security of our own devices. We don’t need your cloud crap or hand holding. Home automation has always been a niche market, Google and Amazon didn’t invent it. They should be selling tools that extend your current home automation, not try to control it. We deserve an option to opt out in favor of open source solutions that have been tried and tested to hold up. Some rather blunt chinese IoT device manufacturers even went so far as to lock out or prevent alternative firmware being uploaded to their obvious knockoff devices. Why? Who knows, maybe they have a contract to sell data to someone in advertising. Sonoff has gotten the message and they are making it easy for hackers to upload open source firmware now. We need the big players to listen to what people want, not try to sell them what they think we want.

      1. Flame me from orbit for this but isn’t this open approach what has essentially killed any chance of docker doing an IPO ?
        After open sourcing the entire platform the software they would have charged for it to manage the containers is now replaced by a free alternative which is also better and did I mention free.
        So their IPO and thus any profit is now DOA.

        You do not make money from hardware any more unless it’s amazing or you have brainwashed religious followers like apple. Open sourcing your software is dangerous to profit and why most devices lock you into their eco system.

        The only company off the top of my head I can think is doing ok at this is sonoff as you mention. They want you to use their eco system but a huge contingent is reflashing. Using off the shelf parts and not locking them probably contributes to their bottom line more than if they had tried lock in.
        My sonoffs run tasmota. My collegues is running stock firmware and he has them linked to Alexa. It seems to suit everyone !

    2. It’s all complicated, because Quirky went out of business, but not before spinning off Wink, who still update the app (and it targets many more devices than the original Quirky ones). So no, the app is still in the store and it still works, it’s just not from the people who made the hardware.

      The people who bought the egg trays back when Quirky was in business are still using them, and they’re still supported. After Quirky went out of business, I’m guessing there was still stock in the channel – so you could say it’s “abandoned”, but the company going out of business is kinda unintentional abandonment? This is not the “we are bored with this product” nonsense.

      The Quirky name got bought by someone else and is now used to sell various housewares which is why there’s no mention of the old products on there – it’s a totally different enterprise just using the same name.

      Given I actually *have experience* of putting many devices in fridges and connectivity being just fine, I think I’m in a much better position than you to comment on whether it works. Personally, I don’t think the egg tray was a good example of IoT, but I can absolutely tell you that WiFi signal strength wasn’t an issue.

      1. “so you could say it’s “abandoned”, but the company going out of business is kinda unintentional abandonment?”
        It was intentional abandonment. If you develop your system to only operate as long as you’re in business you can’t justifiably say anything else. I’m sure they didn’t “intend” to go out of business, but they’d already made the decision to abandon the product long long before that moment.

    1. While true, a close look at the pictures here shows that the coating has been applied in a significantly…biological way. It’s certainly not impossible that it was done with some kind of machine, but it definitely LOOKS like somebody just took a brush and put it on in a hurry.

      Would be interesting to see the inside of another one of these Egg Minders and compare.

  5. The business model here seems to be (seems to have been) that weird, overpriced, essentially useless stuff will sell big. I see the appeal (but I am nobody to judge the market by) — but an 80 dollar price tag would definitely spell the end of my interest.

        1. What probably only very few of us have. I am not sure how they would interact with my cats. And contrary to cats, I think hens in apartment would be quite difficult.
          So I am glad, that some people bring the eggs into the supermarket and mark them with a best before date.

  6. I’d love to buy one of these and get it working with an ESP32, communicating over the MQTT protocol, so I could control it with node-red. It’d be nice to be able to tap into the connection between the sensors/LEDs and the microcontroller — is there an additional microcontroller in addition to the one on the Electric Imp?

    It’d be awfully nice if more data on how this device worked was out there.

    1. No, the imp is the MCU in that product. We’d love to unlock these imps – which would allow you to create a developer account and write your own code for it – but contracts are complex even if the original parties aren’t in existence.

      We’ve tried contacting people who used to work at Quirky about this (other developers have requested unlocking other Wink products) but the bottom line is that the products aren’t ours to unlock :(

      1. Even if Quirky can’t release IMP code and information, information on the communications (i2c? a bunch of analog or digital lines?) that’s provided to the IMP from the egg minder could be very useful for those of us thinking of dropping our own microcontrollers into the device.

        1. The device ID is locked to a certain account/product group server side. It’s an entry in a database.

          As noted, releasing the device from this is easy were it not for the contractual complications.

          Changing the device ID isn’t really possible either as the STM32 is in RDP2. People have taken unlocked imp002 modules and swapped them onto quirky boards, but that’s a bit too much effort really…

      2. Contractually the ownership of the Electric Imp related IP went with the rump Quirky operation in the Quirky/Wink breakup, but before that, I can confirm that some devices were unlocked on request of very determined developers.

  7. In southeast asia, we eat a lot of eggs. We have 3 expiry dates on the package — stored refrigerated, air conditioned, and at 30 degrees centigrade.

    You buy eggs when you need them in any amount: just one, or a bag filled with a random amount of eggs. Many eggs never see a refrigerator and are consumed relatively fresh. They do come in packs of 4, 6, 8 and 12 at the supermarket, but usually we buy eggs from street vendors as we need them. There are also eggs from at least 7 different birds (of which 3 are different types of chicken).

    I could totally see this device repurposed to help vendors manage their stock so no one buys bad eggs. If someone gets sick from your produce and word gets out — no one in the neighbourhood will buy from you again. Would need a BOM under 10$ and some re-engineering, but maybe an IoT egg monitor isn’t quite as silly as I thought it would be when I started reading the article.

      1. Sort of an irreversible thermochromic indicator.
        The color of an indicator would give the approximate time to spoilage.
        If it were food-safe, it could be painted directly on the egg.

  8. i have the total opposite problem, i have to yell at people to make sure i have enough eggs to get through the month. as eggs are incredibly easy for the most inept of kitchener to devour in a single sitting. so if they create one of these with a taser turret so that it will zap anyone who takes more than 2 at a time that would be great.

  9. Conformal coating agente usually contain a UV reactive pigment for inspection, try looking at the board under UV light to see if it is coated or not (does not look like it in the images).

  10. I am surprised to see single layer PCBs where cheaper then all those 0ojhms. Pick and place isn’t free either. Though drilling vias cost money too Having all components on one side is sensible of course.

  11. I also find it hard to imagine why they wouldn’t just use a 2-3 layered PCB and save themselves a lot of trouble. Also, eggs are often good 2-3 weeks past their expiration date. The real test is to put them in water. If they float, they are bad. If they sink, they are fine. No need for a tracking system.

    1. >”I also find it hard to imagine why they wouldn’t just use a 2-3 layered PCB and save themselves a lot of trouble.”

      Maybe you should have something manufactured at scale before making such a comment. EVERY layer is considerable additional cost compared to just a single layer. With more than one layer you need to connect the
      additional layers. Through hole plating all those tiny holes is time consuming, as is drilling them. Tiny bits break often, and have to be removed manually. Not sure what the going rate is these days, but I remember it being roughly a penny a hole. Those SMT resistors cost a fraction of a penny at that scale.

      Also, there’s the board material itself. Designed for cost consumer gadgets can use cheaper substrates like FR-2 (phenolic cotton paper), FR-3 (cotton paper and epoxy) which aren’t typically used in dual sided or multilayer boards.

      Paying an engineer a couple extra thousand dollars to wring $.25 out of your BOM for 40 million units (as an example), is a financially prudent move.

  12. That’s correct: Since our (questionable) decision to “Take back control” we’ve been heading in a rather interesting direction, now we no longer have access to affordable technology through the common market.

    I don’t normally buy eggs (Indeed; With the UK economy like it is now, I can’t afford to buy anything!) but I understand current practice is to type the “Best Before” date onto the egg using British made Remington typewriters.
    It took them a while – And a lot of spilled yolk – To get this right, but we now have a well-trained pool of egg typists meeting national demand at the new “Living Wage” of £1,25/hour (About EUR 0,20) whilst shareholders in poultry farms are taking home record profits as always.

    Yes, we’re definitely “Levelling Up”. Just don’t ask any questions about human “rights”… ;-)

  13. As a hen owner can I say that the old school way of checking an egg’s freshness is to put it in water. If it floats it is bad. As some commenters have said the length of time to go bad varies according to storage conditions and for purchased eggs you don’t know the time to market. So age isn’t the best way to check freshness. I am unsure of how you could replicate the “float test” electronically, but if you could that would be the best way of checking an egg is fit to eat.

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