The Woeful World Of Worldwide E-Waste

How large is the cache of discarded electronics in your home? They were once expensive and cherished items, but now they’re a question-mark for responsible disposal. I’m going to dig into this problem — which goes far beyond your collection of dead smartphones — as well as the issues of where this stuff ends up versus where it should end up. I’m even going to demystify the WEEE mark (that crossed out trashcan icon you’ve been noticing on your gadgets), talk about how much jumbo jets weigh, and touch on circular economies, in the pursuit of better understanding of the waste streams modern gadgets generate.

Our lives are encountering an increasing number of “how do I dispose of this [X]” moments, where X is piles of old batteries, LCDs, desktop towers, etc. This leads to relationship-testing piles of garbage potential in a garage or the bottom of a closet. Sometimes that old gear gets sold or donated. Sometimes there’s a handy e-waste campaign that swings through the neighborhood to scoop that pile up, and sometimes it eventually ends up in the trash wrapped in that dirty feeling that we did something wrong. We’ve all been there; it’s easy to discover that responsible disposal of our old electronics can be hard.

Fun fact: the average person who lives in the US generates 20 kg of e-waste annually (or about 44 freedom pounds). That’s not unique, in the UK it’s about 23 kg (that’s 23 in common kilograms), 24 kg for Denmark, and on and on. That’s quite a lot for an individual human, right? What makes up that much waste for one person? For that matter, what sorts of waste is tracked in the bogus sounding e-waste statistics you see bleated out in pleading Facebook posts? Unsurprisingly there are some common definitions. And the Very Serious People people at the World Economic Forum who bring you the definitions have some solutions to consider too.

We spend a lot of time figuring out how to build this stuff. Are we spending enough time planning for what to do with the gear once it falls out of favor? Let’s get to the bottom of this rubbish.
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Custom Firmware For Cheap Fitness Trackers

The concept of wearable hardware is an enticing one, but it can be difficult to tackle for the first-time maker. While many of us are experienced at designing PCBs and soldering up arcane gadgets, interfacing with the soft and fleshy human form can present unforeseen difficulties. There’s a way around that, of course – leveraging an existing platform where someone else has already done the work. That’s precisely what [Aaron Christophel] has done, by reverse engineering and developing custom firmware for cheap fitness trackers (Google Translate).

The first part of [Aaron]’s work consisted of research and disassembly. After purchasing a wide variety of fitness trackers online, he eventually came across his favored unit, the Tracker I6HRC by IWOWNFIT. This features an NRF52832 microcontroller, as well as an IPS display, some Flash storage, and a vibration motor. Connectivity is handled over Bluetooth Low Energy. [Aaron] particularly rates it for the well-made case that can be disassembled without damage, and the spare USB 2.0 pads on the board which can be used to program the device over the SWD interface.

[Aaron] has developed an Arduino-compatible firmware which is discussed further in a forum post.  Most of the peripherals on board have been explored, and reducing power consumption is a current area of active development.

Firmware hacks are always fun – have you considered giving your TV a custom boot screen? Have a FitBit original instead of the clone? There’s a hack for that too.

[Thanks to Jim for the tip!]

Casio Watch Gets A MEMS Oscillator Upgrade

We’ve got to admit to being a bit of a Casio G-Shock watch geek. The big, chunky watches were every day carry items that survived everything we dished out, right up until the smartphone made wearing one seem redundant. But others continue to use and abuse G-Shocks, and some brave souls even hack them.

Replacing the standard quartz crystal with a temperature-compensated MEMS oscillator is one hack that [Alex] tried, and it appears to have worked out well. His project write-up doesn’t specify which MEMS oscillator was used, but we suspect it’s the SiT1552 TCXO. With its extremely small size, stability over a wide range of temperatures, and ultra-low power requirements, the chip is a natural choice to upgrade the stock 32.768-kHz quartz crystal of the watch. Trouble is, the tiny 1.5 mm x 0.8 mm chip-scale package (CSP) device presented some handling problems. After overcooking a few chips in the reflow oven, [Alex] was able to get one mounted to a tiny breakout board, which went into the space formerly occupied by the watch’s quartz crystal. He stole power for the TCXO from a decoupling capacitor, sealed the watch back up, and it’s back in service with better stability and longer battery life to boot. The video below shows the TCXO undergoing tests alongside the original quartz crystal and a comparatively huge DS3231 RTC module, just for fun.

[Alex]’s MEMS transplant seems a long way to go and a lot of fussy work for marginal gains, but who are we to judge? And it does make the watch susceptible to punking with a little helium, which might make things interesting.

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