Help us make the case for user-replaceable batteries with BattCat

We’ve probably all seen devices break because something went wrong with the battery. In fact, batteries are such a common problem that we’ve now got data on 1000 devices brought to repair events that stopped working because the battery failed and couldn’t be fixed at the time.

As it happens, the EU is currently working on new rules that could ensure that new products come with user-replaceable batteries, which would be fantastic for repair! So we want to use the data we’ve all collected to really push for this and to counter the bogus arguments from big tech lobbyists (more on this below).

But first, we need your help to learn more: what exactly went wrong with all these batteries?

Introducing BattCat

BattCat is our latest people-powered investigation into why devices break. This time, we’re looking into how batteries cause devices to fail.

Like our previous quest, TabiCat, we’re using data from our own Fixometer combined with data from our partners in the Open Repair Alliance. Together, we’ve collected information on 1000 broken devices that couldn’t be fixed at repair events (not including the 971 devices that were fixed successfully :tada: ). We need your help to categorise what went wrong with each of them.

Go to BattCat

:translate: BattCat: auf Deutsch | en español | en français | in italiano | in het Nederlands

How does BattCat work?

  1. Go to BattCat and choose your preferred language from the menu at the bottom right. You will see some information about a device that was brought to a real-life repair event, that couldn’t be fixed on the day. If it’s in a different language, click the translate button to read it in your preferred language.

  2. Select the type of problem that best describes the problem or what needs to happen next to fix that device. Once you’ve pressed an option, confirm your choice by pressing the “Go with…” button that appears at the top of the list. If the data provided is too poor quality to make a judgement, select the ‘Poor data’ button. And if you’re not sure, just select ‘I don’t know’ at the bottom.

That’s it!

Once you’ve confirmed an option, you’ll see another device. The more faults you can categorise, the more we learn! And don’t worry if you’re not 100% sure about your answer: BattCat shows each device to two or three people to help confirm the right category.

If you try a few devices, you’ll probably notice that the options you can choose change sometimes. This is because some devices were marked as ‘end of life’ (i.e. unrepairable) and others were marked as ‘repairable’.

  • If the device you see was ‘end of life’, you will see red buttons containing possible reasons that device couldn’t be fixed. This looks like the screenshots above.
  • If the device you see was ‘repairable’, you will see orange buttons containing possible next steps to fixing the device. This looks like the screenshot below:

Go to BattCat

:translate: BattCat: auf Deutsch | en español | en français | in italiano | in het Nederlands

Why batteries, and why now?

The European Commission is currently investigating new legislation aiming to improve the environmental performance of batteries and products containing batteries. One aspect being considered is a removability and replaceability clause: ensuring that all products come with a removable and user-replaceable battery.

We think this is important from the perspective of repairing products.

Very little data exists about repairs of small electrical and electronic products made difficult or impossible by problems related to their batteries. In some cases difficult to remove batteries might mean products become waste simply because the battery health is reduced.

So what can we do?

We want to use the results of BattCat to give further evidence in support of the push for user-replaceable batteries in all future products :muscle:

This is why we need your help now!

Go to BattCat

Once you’ve helped with BattCat and if you’re curious about more of our work in this area, you can still help us complete our work on printers with PrintCat :paw_prints: and tablets with TabiCat :paw_prints:

Questions? Comments? Feedback?

Just post below and let’s chat :slight_smile:


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We are hugely grateful to to The ACTION (Participatory science toolkit against pollution) project for funding this work and for their support.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 824603. This post reflects the author’s views. The European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

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I keep getting entries where the description is the user description of a problem eg “doesn’t charge” but it seems to me that I can’t suggest a next “repair” step because there are further diagnosis steps needed. Is this normal? I am selecting “poor data” for these, is that appropriate? I’ve given some examples of ones I was unsure of below, can you calibrate me please :slight_smile:

“toy”
Description “mystery battery problem”.
Status: repairable.

I assume the problem was a battery replacement was needed? I put that.

problem: “not recharging”

Another one where, for me, it would be critical to perform further diagnosis as this could be a range of problems (cable/charger/BMS/battery). I put “poor data”

Device: Tablet
Brand: Amazon / Apple
Status: Repairable
Description of problem:
tablet and ipod ~ Won’t turn on / won’t charge

Poor data? Not enough info about diagnosis I think?

Problem: Recharge Tool Set Recharge Battery Not Working

Does this mean they aren’t able to recharge the battery? I put “poor data”.

Description of problem:
Battery needs replacing.
Status: End of life

Device: Laptop
Status: End of life
Description of problem: The battery isn’t working.

Device: Misc
Status: End of life
Description of problem:
battery dead

I guess these are incorrectly categorised as EOL? I am putting them as “poor data”.


Also FWIW from a UX perspective, I would prefer to have “I don’t know” at the top and “Go with [selected option]” pop up at the bottom after selecting. I guess it’s probably not possible to change this though, and a minor point.

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Hi @Guy, thanks for giving it a go. Totally take your point about the quality of some of the data. Thanks to @Monique, we did remove some of the poorest quality data, but we kind of have to work with what we have :slightly_smiling_face:

‘Poor data’ is certainly the best option where there simply isn’t enough information to choose any of the other options. So in that first example you gave, I’d agree that ‘poor data’ is the best option, for example.

For the end of life devices that needed a new battery, they may well be classified correctly; it could be that the batteries in those devices weren’t replaceable, perhaps because the device was impossible to open non-destructively, no replacement batteries were available etc. For those, ‘poor data’ (or ‘I don’t know’) is again probably the best option given we don’t have all the info.

Thanks for the UX feedback too! We’ve been back and forth on a few things, including the position of the ‘go with’ button. In the end, we kept it at the top to make it more obvious on mobile (even if it feels slightly off on desktop). The idea behind putting the ‘I don’t know’ button at the bottom was to encourage people to read through the other options first. But can appreciate that after a few records, that’s perhaps less important

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Thanks for the quick response. That makes sense, I just wasn’t sure if there was something I might be missing, or if a field was not showing. I will keep using “poor data” where appropriate.

Thinking more, a lot of the End of life options don’t have enough data to properly categorise why there is a problem with the battery, but they are specific that the battery is the problem. So maybe “other” is better than “poor data”? Perhaps the “other” category could be renamed “other/unspecified battery problem”?

Device: Tablet
Brand: Apple
Status: End of life
Description of problem:
Battery Not Charging; Needs Replacement

What do you think about adding an option for “more diagnosis (information) needed”? It seems like a lot would fall into this category and it might help you understand why the remaining “poor data” entries are is poor, if that would ever be valuable.

There are even enough entries that just say “not charging” that “Not charging: reason not specified” could be a sizeable category of its own!

That makes sense about the position of the “go with” button. I am indeed on Desktop. I’ll get used to it.

One other thought: would it be worth excluding items from the category “battery/charger/adaptor”? Almost all of these are chargers or adaptors, and clearly if the charger itself is broken then it’s not a battery problem.

One other UX suggestion: would it be possible to select a single category to work in? It would be faster to cruise through the items if my brain didn’t have to think about how the problem description related to a different category of device every time. If I could work through 50 “tablets” in a row then it would require less complex thought and I could really blitz through them :thinking:

Even better would be to be able to sort entries by a search term. For example, we could clear all the ones that literally just say “won’t charge” and “don’t charge” (and nothing else) very rapidly.

Anyway, I’ve done a good 4% and written these posts, it took about an hour. So if there’s 20 human-hours of work we should be able to slowly clear this :slight_smile:

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Thanks Guy! This is great stuff. For BattCat, we’re a little past the point of being able to make significant changes, as our development time has moved on to the next bit of work. But this is really valuable feedback and something we can definitely take into account for next time.

For now, I can offer some context around why we made the choices we did.

For the ‘poor data’ vs ‘other’ question…
The theory is that ‘other’ should be used when the problem or next step can be identified, but we don’t have an option for it. This will allow us to go in manually at the end, look at ‘other’ devices and pull out any battery issues we missed when designing the quest.

On the other hand, we know from previous quests that much of the data recorded lacks the detail needed to classify it properly. It’s a fairly well documented problem at this point, so our focus here is very much on battery issues as supposed to data issues. We also wanted to make the task as simple as possible, as feedback from those previous quests suggests that they’ve sometimes been too confusing in the past.

Of course, we’d love to help repair groups record more info for each repair at events to minimise this problem in future :slight_smile:


Being able to select device categories is a really interesting suggestion. For power-questers, such as yourself :wink: , I can see how that could be useful. We can certainly keep that in our back pocket for any future quests we build.

Funny you should mention the search feature. We did go through a similar process when putting the quest together, e.g. getting rid of all the devices with one-word descriptions and various other common, but unhelpful, phrases. Perhaps we should have excluded the ‘won’t/doesn’t charge’ entries too. Good lesson for us :+1:

Thanks again Guy, and if you’d like to dive in again, I’m running an online social event where we’ll all have a go together. It would be great to have someone who already knows the drill there!

Hi, I’ve joined following a post on the Reddit r/fixit group, to which I was the only person to reply before it was removed by the mod. I’m not sure whether my replies there made it back here, so thought I’d give you the link with the comments, which you should be able to read even though it has been deleted - if not, I can copy / paste it as I still have access.

This group seems really enthusiastic and is such a good idea, but it was such a deflating experience trying to help that I hoped if you could read my comments you could consider addressing them.

I’ve been very blunt in my replies, but no offence was meant, so please don’t take it that way - it was simply frustration.

A group like r/fixit could perhaps be a huge resource for you, but the approach needs better planning and implementation imho, including involving the mod with a clear description of your aims.

Hi @Jonathan, and welcome to the community! Thanks for going to the effort of setting up an account here to pass on your feedback, it’s appreciated :slight_smile: If you’re interested in sticking around, feel free to introduce yourself!

I’ve had a read of the feedback you gave on the deleted post (although the content of original post seems to have gone).

First of all, it’s great to hear you like the idea behind the task. But I’m really sorry that it was a deflating experience for you.

You’re absolutely right that the quality of much of the data is not great and I totally take on board your feedback about this being frustrating. It’s probably fair to say that we can sometimes get wrapped up in our own world and not work hard enough to provide the proper context for where this data comes from. So I think it might be helpful to provide this now (bear with me!).

The information about each device was written down (usually on a piece of paper or a flipchart) by a volunteer at a community repair event, such as a Restart Party or a Repair Café (we filmed a short primer about these a while back if you’re interested). These events serve a number of purposes: as social events to build community, opportunities to learn or share repair skills and so on. They’re good fun. But data collection is often a secondary priority, which means that when things are busy, the detail of each repair might not get recorded. That’s why you’re seeing descriptions like “battery fault”. It’s also worth knowing that the data comes from hundreds of different community groups from around the world, which is another reason the quality can differ so much from record to record. (For example, many of the groups in Germany do provide excellent data - try refreshing BattCat in German a few times to see what I mean. - click here to return to English)

As a loose network of communities, we’re always trying find ways to improve the quality of data we record at repair events, but it’s very much an ongoing process and can be tricky given how decentralised we all are.

In the meantime, poor data is obviously not ideal, and while we did our best to remove as much of it as we could from BattCat, I can fully appreciate that having to hit that ‘poor data’ button so often is frustrating.

Ultimately, the aim is to classify as much of the useful data as we can in order to tease out any trends or patterns. We’ve already identified that most of these devices had a battery issue, but we’re keen to better understand what these issues were and what the fix would be. For example, in a similar quest we ran previously, we looked at the main reasons smartphones break and were able to produce some useful data, which has come in handy when engaging with policy discussions.

That said, I’m sure there’s more we could do next time to filter out the poor data in advance to make it a more satisfying task :+1:

Do you think that would go some way to improving your experience? Or does that not quite address what you meant?

In your feedback, you also wondered whether we were building a database of fixes. The answer is yes, we’re doing that too! You can view our full dataset in the Fixometer section of this site. We’ve also combined our dataset with similar datasets from our partners in the Open Repair Alliance (ORA), a network of organisations, who—like us—support community groups to run local repair events. You’re welcome to download the full ORA dataset (you can also download the datasets from each individual partner, including us). The idea behind BattCat is to analyse part of this database to help us draw meaningful conclusions.

I’ll stop typing now, but I hope that’s useful. We’ll certainly take your feedback on board and aim to filter out more of the poor data next time :slight_smile:


P.s. I’m not sure who posted it on r/fixit - was that you @Guy? Didn’t know you were a redditor :wink:
(That’s actually a new subreddit for me - it looks brilliant - thanks for flagging it Jonathan!)

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This is a terrific little tool!

I found myself a little stumped at first about what I was supposed to click on after selecting a diagnosis. I eventually figured it out, but maybe adding some sort of arrow icon would help communicate that the top and bottom buttons advance you to the next task:

Current

Proposed

Cheers!

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Thanks @todrobbins, that’s really useful feedback - adding an arrow icon does make it look clearer, thanks! It may be too late to add this now, but we’ll look into it and certainly bear it in mind for next time :slight_smile:

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@todrobbins, we liked your suggestion so much, that we’ve just added in your arrows, thanks again! :+1:

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Ha! Thanks :fist:t2::heartpulse:

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One more observation after completing lots of tasks: My brain kept expecting the confirmation buttons to be under the options like so instead of having them split between top and bottom:

I realize that having them side-by-side can get a bit busy, but this seems a lot more natural to me. Thoughts?

Hi Tod, thanks for this additional feedback! This is also something that @Guy raised and I think it does make sense, at least on desktop.

The reason we decided to put the ‘Go with…’ button at the top is because it’s much more obvious when on mobile. In an early prototype, we found that the ‘go with’ button ended up getting lost at the bottom quite a lot on a smartphone screen. Having it at the top is a slightly awkward compromise, but the best we could do with the time we had. It’s certainly a question we’ll revisit when designing future quests. :slight_smile:

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Is there a way we can filter to see English-only? I’ve just come to do a run but I’ve had 10 in a row that are in Dutch

Once a record has 3 opinions it is “complete”, I just checked and there are no more English ones left to do. Only 156 Dutch, 60 German and a half dozen Spanish, Italian, French, to go.

Thank you for your contributions, we’ll get some European friends to pitch in for the rest. Unless you feel like using the Translate button (which gets a bit tedious, unless you’re keen to learn Dutch!)

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Thanks for the help @Guy! The quest we still need some help on in English is TabiCat :cat2:

More info here:

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