The Pluto Switch: Mystery Google Device Appears in Small-Town Iowa
2013-01-04 0:00

By Cade Metz |

Photos of the mystery computing device appeared on the web in late February. Taken with a smartphone, they were a bit washed out and a little blurry in places, but you could easily read the name printed on the long, thin piece of hardware. “Pluto Switch,” the label said.

The images were posted by two men who said the device had unexpectedly turned up at a branch office in the tiny farmland town of Shelby, Iowa — population: 641 — and they were hoping someone could tell them what it was.

A closeup of the “Pluto Switch,” a mystery hardware device that landed on the edge of Iowa this past winter.

Clearly, these two men were familiar with the ins and outs of computer networking, and clearly, this was a networking switch, a way of shuttling data between machines. But they’d never heard of the Pluto Switch, and it was littered with networking ports they’d never seen before. “Any ideas?” they asked. “The writing on the back is Finnish.”

According to posts they made to an obscure web discussion forum dedicated to networking hardware — — they couldn’t actually get the thing to work. But they turned up a few clues indicating who the device belonged to, and eventually, after putting two and two together, they said they’d located the owner and sent the switch back.

It belonged, they said, to Google.

At first, Google didn’t respond to their phone calls, the men said, and when it did, it wouldn’t explain the switch. But apparently, the company offered a reward for its return. “Finally got a hold of a Google network engineer, so the switches are heading home. He wouldn’t tell me what the connector type was so that’s still a mystery,” one of the men told the forum. “The engineer was cool and is going to send us some shirts the public can’t buy.”


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