When looking at the specifications of smartphones that have been released over the past years, it’s remarkable to see how aspects like CPU cores, clockspeeds and GPU performance have improved during this time, with even new budget smartphones offering a lot of computing power, as well as a smattering of sensors. Perhaps even more remarkable is that of the approximately 1.5 billion smartphones sold each year, many will be discarded again after a mere two years of use. This seems rather wasteful, and a recent paper by Jennifer Switzer and colleagues proposes that a so-called Computational Carbon Intensity (CCI) metric should be used to determine when it makes more sense to recycle a device than to keep using it.
What complicates the decision of when it makes more sense to reuse than recycle is that there are many ways to define when a device is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. It could be argued that the average smartphone is still more than good enough after two years to be continued as a smartphone for another few years at least, or at least until the manufacturer stops supplying updates. Beyond the use as a smartphone, they’re still devices with a screen, WiFi connection and a capable processor, which should make it suitable for a myriad of roles.
Unfortunately, as we have seen with the disaster that was Samsung’s ‘upcycling’ concept a few years ago, or Google’s defunct Project Ara, as promising as the whole idea of ‘reuse, upcycle, recycle’ sounds, establishing an industry standard here is frustratingly complicated. Worse, over the years smartphones have become ever more sealed-up, glued-together devices that complicate the ‘reuse’ narrative.
We all have one. Maybe you’re sitting at it now, or just wishing you were — that perfect desk. You know the one — a place for everything and everything in its place, ample acreage, specialized storage, and top-notch looks. Oh, and blinkenlights. Can’t forget those.
It took four months of hard work, but [Build XYZ]’s dream desk has been finely fabricated into fruition. There’s a lot to unpack with this build, which you can appreciate after the break, but it all started with a donated up/down desk from Progressive Desk. After building the base and putting it through its body weight-driven paces, [Build XYZ] set about making the perfect top, which, as you can see, highlights an assortment of PCBs by encasing them for eternity in resin.
But don’t let your admiration stop there, because the woodworking is just as much a part of the show. In addition to the functional blinkenlights that notify [BuildXYZ] when it’s time to stop working for the day or just take a break, there’s a working wireless charger hiding among the FR4. We can’t wait to look back on this desk in 20 years or so and we also can’t wait to see how PCBs will change over the next 20 years.
This tightly-produced video is a fascinating look into the process of forever immortalizing things in resin. So much resin, in fact, that [Build XYZ] came up a gallon short during the pour and had to wait an excruciatingly long time before more resin showed up. Seeing as how you totally can’t tell at all in the final build, we have maximum respect for [Build XYZ]’s inclusion of this part in the first place, which serves as a warning to the rest of us.
Anyone who enjoys opening up consumer electronics knows iFixit to be a valuable resource, full of reference pictures and repair procedures to help revive devices and keep them out of electronic waste. Champions of reparability, they’ve been watching in dismay as the quest for thinner and lighter devices also made them harder to fix. But they wanted to cheer a bright spot in this bleak landscape: increasing use of stretch-release adhesives.
Once upon a time batteries were designed to be user-replaceable. But that required access mechanisms, electrical connectors, and protective shells around fragile battery cells. Eliminating such overhead allowed slimmer devices, but didn’t change the fact that the battery is still likely to need replacement. We thus entered into a dark age where battery pouches were glued into devices and replacement meant fighting clingy blobs and cleaning sticky residue. Something the teardown experts at iFixit are all too familiar with.
This is why they are happy to see pull tabs whenever they peer inside something, for those tabs signify the device was blessed with stretch-release adhesives. All we have to do is apply a firm and steady pull on those tabs to release their hold leaving no residue behind. We get an overview of how this magic works, with the caveat that implementation details are well into the land of patents and trade secrets.
But we do get tips on how to best remove them, and how to reapply new strips, which are important to iFixit’s mission. There’s also a detour into their impact on interior design of the device: the tabs have to be accessible, and they need room to stretch. This isn’t just a concern for design engineers, they also apply to stretch release adhesives sold to consumers. Advertising push by 3M Command and competitors have already begun, reminding people that stretch-release adhesive strips are ideal for temporary holiday decorations. They would also work well to hold batteries in our own projects, even if we aren’t their advertised targets.
Our end-of-year gift-giving traditions will mean a new wave of gadgets. And while not all of them will be easily repairable, we’re happy that this tiny bit of reparability exists. Every bit helps to stem the flow of electronics waste.
Most of us can say that we have taken an obsolete hard drive out of a computer and felt it was a waste to toss it in the e-waste pile. Some of us have children’s drawings hung on the fridge with actuator magnets, or maybe a vast spreadsheet suspended on a steel filing cabinet. Let us not forget that there is also a high-speed, low-noise motor in there. On some models it is separate from the PCB, so grab an Electronic Speed Controller (ESC), your microcontroller of choice, and make yourself a salvaged HDD centrifuge like [Cave Man] has. His build uses the tray as a chassis, but he modeled and printed a new face in the same style as the original.
On top, he has an OLED screen for displaying the requested speed, measured speed, and runtime. Next to the display is a four-button pad with a customized legend for setting parameters. The video after the break shows the machine running through its paces. This version accommodates the tiny capillary tubes, microhematocrit tubes, for processing raw blood. This test can calculate the packed cell volume, which professionals use to determine things from dehydration to anemia.
There are other builds out there where people have modified an old drive into the kind of centrifuge that accepts larger diameter tubes, but this was a shining example of what is possible. One good turn deserves another, so we recommend a desktop bio-lab companion, or enlist some LEGO Mindstorms to help out.
The Internet of Things will revolutionize everything! Manufacturing? Dog walking? Coffee bean refilling? Car driving? Food eating? Put a sensor in it! The marketing makes it pretty clear that there’s no part of our lives which isn’t enhanced with The Internet of Things. Why? Because with a simple sensor and a symphony of corporate hand waving about machine learning an iPhone-style revolution is just around the corner! Enter: Amazon Dash, circa 2014.
The first product in the Dash family was actually a barcode scanning wand which was freely given to Amazon Fresh customers and designed to hang in the kitchen or magnet to the fridge. When the Fresh customer ran out of milk they could scan the carton as it was being thrown away to add it to their cart for reorder. I suspect these devices were fairly expensive, and somewhat too complex to be as frequently used as Amazon wanted (thus the extremely limited launch). Amazon’s goal here was to allow potential customers to order with an absolute minimum of friction so they can buy as much as possible. Remember the “Buy now with 1-Click” button?
That original Dash Wand was eventually upgraded to include a push button activated Alexa (barcode scanner and fridge magnet intact) and is generally available. But Amazon had pinned its hopes on a new beau. Mid 2015 Amazon introduced the Dash Replenishment Service along with a product to be it’s exemplar – the Dash Button. The Dash Button was to be the 1-Click button of the physical world. The barcode-scanning Wands require the user to remember the Wand was nearby, find a barcode, scan it, then remember to go to their cart and order the product. Too many steps, too many places to get off Mr. Bezos’ Wild Ride of Commerce. The Dash Buttons were simple! Press the button, get the labeled product shipped to a preconfigured address. Each button was purchased (for $5, with a $5 coupon) with a particular brand affinity, then configured online to purchase a specific product when pressed. In the marketing materials, happy families put them on washing machines to buy Tide, or in a kitchen cabinet to buy paper towels. Pretty clever, it really is a Buy now with 1-Click button for the physical world.
There were two versions of the Dash button. Both have the same user interface and work in fundamentally the same way. They have a single button (the software can recognize a few click patterns), a single RGB LED (‘natch), and a microphone (no, it didn’t listen to you, but we’ll come back to this). They also had a WiFi radio. Version two (silently released in 2016) added Bluetooth and completely changed the electrical innards, though to no user facing effect.
A couple of plastic bottles lashed together make up the hull of the boat, and [Antonio] has used the internal frame of an old optical drive bent at a 90 degree angle to hold the two small DC motors. In a particularly nice touch, the drive’s rubber anti-vibration bushings are reused as motor mounts, though he does admit it was just dumb luck that the motors were a perfect fit.
For the electronics, [Antonio] has paired a custom motor controller up with the uChip, a diminutive Arduino-compatible microcontroller in a narrow DIP-16 package. Wireless communication is provided by an off-the-shelf cPPM receiver such as you might see used in a small plane or quadcopter.
The whole build is powered by a common 18650 lithium-ion battery, which could also be easy enough to recover from the trash given how common they are in laptop batteries; though if you threw a new cell into this build we wouldn’t hold it against you. Everything is put into a high-tech plastic sandwich bag to provide minimum of waterproofing with the minimum of effort.
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.