Welcome To The Future, Where Your Microwave Thinks It’s A Steam Oven

It’s fair to say that many of us will have at some time inadvertently bricked a device by applying the wrong firmware by mistake. If we’re lucky then firing up some low-level reflashing tools can save the day and return the item in question to health, but we’re guessing that among you will be plenty of people who’ve had to discard a PCB or replace an inaccessible microcontroller chip as a result.

Spare a thought then for the consumer appliance manufacturer Electrolux, whose AEG subsidiary has bricked combi microwave ovens acrosss a swathe of Western Europe (Dutch, Google Translate link). They managed this improbable feat by distributing an over-the-air update that contains the firmware for a steam oven instead. Worse still, the update has disabled over-the-air updates, meaning that any fix requires physical access to the oven.

We can’t help sympathising with whichever poor AEG engineer has had the ultimate in bad days at work, but at the same time we should perhaps consider the difference between a computer and an appliance, and whether there should be a need for an oven to phone home in the first place. Sure, such devices have been computer-controlled for decades, but should a microcontroller doing a control task need constant updates?

We’re guessing this oven has some kind of cloud aspect to it which allows AEG to slurp customer data the user to control it via their app, but even so it should serve as a warning to anyone tempted by an internet-connected kitchen appliance. If the internet isn’t necessary for the food to be cooked, don’t connect it.

We feel sorry for anyone who might have put a pizza in the oven just before it was bricked, and watched in disappointment as their tasty meal remained uncooked.

39 thoughts on “Welcome To The Future, Where Your Microwave Thinks It’s A Steam Oven

  1. OTA firmware updates, hmmm… the greedy MBA thinks. So if it’s out of warranty brick it, then charge ’em an arm and a leg to “fix” it. Icing on the cake is shifting the blame over to the engineers.

    1. To be fair, though, there was that bad practice to make existing software releases bad before the release of a new release. So if people used v1.0 ans v2.0 was on the horizon, a free update to v1.0.1 was provided. That update had little functionality, but introduced certain negative aspects. It was slower, more buggy or removed certain features. It’s while purpose was to make the previously excellent v1.0 look bad in comparison to v2.0. That’s capitalism at its finest, imho.

      1. I don’t think people understand what “capitalism” means anymore. “Capitalism” just means (essentially) that people are allowed to own businesses privately, as opposed to being owned by the government.

        “That’s greed at it’s finest”, would be a more accurate sentence, and anyone who thinks that the government would be *less* greedy or incompetent needs only to be reminded that greedy people are at the heart of both.

          1. Not really the same sort of greedy bullshit happened in the communist nations too – those in power ensuring those at the top got to live in luxury and sod the little people… Pure greed from the folks with the ability to make good on it can and based on history WILL always happen…

        1. Well, yes and no. In GDR (ex soviet union), for example, the people simply stole what they needed. From work, from the public. They took the “we can still get out more of the establishments” line literal (that phrase was meant to motivate working even more at the workplace). They didn’t think of money so much. I mean, the kind of did think of money, too. But not that much. There wasn’t making profit involved. Even with money in the hands, there wasn’t much to buy in GDR officially, anyway.

          “Capitalism” just means (essentially) that people are allowed to own businesses privately, as opposed to being owned by the government.”

          Yeah. Thanks for the lesson. This often IS a bad thing in practice, though, no matter what. Imagine the waterworks of a city being in the hands of private businesses. Horrible. Private bussineses will always think of money first, they have no moral. Even if individual employees have, they cannot hold into it. Regulations will be watered down quickly (pun intended). Water will end up being of low quality. No, seriously. Government regulated infrastructure would be much better here. Because the government must serve the community. People working for a government institution will always get their money also. And they will do their job without thinking of the government making profit or the fear of being fired for doing their job properly. They simply can work dutifully and blame the rules for anything they waste (time, ressources). Whenever private businesses are involved, though, things go down hill for the people and workers.

          In my little country (Germany), it happened again and again. The postal agency, the train agency.. Just to name two that come to mind. They all were converted from government agencies to private companies (the government holds a few percent). Compared to back then, quality, professionalism and reliability decreased.

  2. Oh well. At least bricked it´s now safer than ever. I would be more worried about an erratic behaviour like turning on full power while I´m gone, and burning down the house.

  3. I’m really struggling to comprehend why I might want an internet connected microwave.
    Remote control via an app? A microwave’s key selling point is that it cooks stuff so fast. What am I going to do, put food in it and turn it on from the bedroom so it’s cooked by the time I get down the stairs?!

    1. Defrost and heat a 1-person-meal takes almost 20 minutes. So I’d be doing something different by the time it is done.

      There are people to whom “it’s hot when you get down the stairs” is a key selling point. Prepare a coffee the night before, and hit “go” before you head down the stairs.

      1. Although you would always know it was set for twenty minutes. Timers don’t require a network connection.

        And I believe “put food in it” (order of phrasing implying while in bed) is the absurd disbelief portion of that statement.

    2. I have an internet enabled oven that has to be initiated to function. The only upside is that I COULD check it’s current condition if I am slowcooking in the oven and I forgot to turn it on. That is highly unlikely, but changing the routers password solved all those issues because now it wont connect

    3. I have a lot of kitchen appliances “connected”, It is not AEG and I don’t have auto-updates turned on.

      My main reason for connectivity is to have the state of the devices available so I can run automations through HomeAssistant.
      Turn on the hob or cookerhood, then my ventilation system will adapt, Get anouncements when something is ready, Have something start when I’m almost home, etc…

      The updates itself also are not limited to firmware, but there are also “recipes”, allowing you to automate some cooking/baking that is more complex. (Making bread, etc…)

      1. That’s the same reason I want connected devices.

        I get frustrated by all the people who ask “why would you need/want/build…?” There are a lot of answers:

        0. As William Gibson wrote, “the street finds its own uses for things.”

        1. Just because my limited imagination doesn’t come up with a reason doesn’t invalidate someone who could.

        2. People who have accessibility or usability issues, especially vulnerable people, seek utility where I don’t need it. It’s a form of bias called ableism. We can’t know all of the problems other people may have.

        3. This is Hackaday. Someone did it. That’s enough reason right there.

        4. Finally, yes, it might be a pure gimmick to inflate the price. That stops being a valid argument as soon as the first real use for it is discovered.

  4. I use long wave energy to cook my food,derived from the sustained oxidation of carbon containing solids ,liquids, and gases,and I often get bored waiting,so reading on the internet to update my information about people who are locked out of there
    own cooking equipment is an amusing way to pass the time.

  5. Unfortunately, it is probably “We can’t help sympathising with whichever poor ex-AEG engineer…”, even if it was a case of “I don’t care if you haven’t finished testing the update, I told management we would ship it today”

  6. As for the article’s comment: “We can’t help sympathising with whichever poor AEG engineer has had the ultimate in bad days at work..” Well, ANY company that rubber stamps one person’s effort to release something (anything) into the “wild” deserves to pay dearly for not having checks and balances in place to prevent the mistake of one person from creating this. It may not even be the engineering “in charge”, I might be the “test build” person or one of the other personnel down the line that touch the product build chain. We all make mistakes, but doing so for a critical release can be a crime (e.g. cars loaded with uCs). Big lesson: it can never be just one person that’s responsible for ANYTHING.

  7. Sure hope that uW oven has protection against possibility of being unloaded (no food in oven), when blindly turned on remotely. That energy has to go somewhere… if not into food, back to the Magnetron which can then fail.

    1. My LG “smart” microwave oven that came with the house had a two failsafe contact switches for the door that disconnected the 110v input for the HV transformer and disconnected the 110v supply to the main board.

      I know because I tore that stupid thing apart trying to figure out why it stopped heating my food. Never did figure it out, transformer was ok, capacitor ok, magnetron ok afaict. Rather than throwing parts at it totaling the cost of a new one, or paying a repairman more than it was worth… I begrudgingly bought a new non-smart one from a different brand for less than the cost of repair.

  8. Can this oven communicate over 5.8 GHz as well as 2.4? Does it need to communicate while operating? Since it can generate 1000W internally anywhere in the 2.4GHz WiFi (and ISM) band, it would seem challenging to communicate with a distant 200 mW WiFi access point at the same time.

  9. “Hello Electrolux, my microwave just stopped working, what’s up?”
    “Oh, we sent your microwave a steam oven update by mistake.”
    “So if I turn my microwave on steam will come out?”
    “No, fire.”

  10. That image… Plastics in microwave ovens. Carcinogens here we come. When plastics like BPAs break down they become carcinogenic. This breakdown is accelerated by heat and agressive chemicals like cleaning fluids. Others, like cling wrap reduce to esters, estrogen like compounds that your body mistakes for estrogen. These could affect female fertility, but more worryingly could badly affect men. Their bodies are just not designed to deal with estrogen.

    Genneral rule: Plastics, heat and food just don’t go together. In our house we try to simplify that to plastics and food don’t go together.

  11. There’s a world of difference between “connected technology that reports status and gives LIMITED operational controls” and “connected technology that updates and changes your devices.”

    Our TVs do the latter. Some things do the former. Nothing that can burn down the house should do the latter!!!

    It’s a microwave. How much better will the update make the popcorn setting??

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