Industrial retrofitting is being introduced, and will probably be reinforced by the COVID-19 crisis, forcing the relocation of specific productions and factories. Yet another retrofitting movement is on the verge of democratization: reusing the body and other functional parts of old electronic devices.
Instead of putting devices into the trash, anyone can transform an old 70’s radio into a Bluetooth speaker having no background in engineering. All you need is 5$ for a Bluetooth amplifier chip, a Youtube tutorial (like this one), and a basic DYI toolset. The number of outdated electronics that can be retrofitted and reused is vast. This article will discuss how consumer devices can and have been retrofitted.
Reuse Made Simple
IoT makes the reuse of old electronics devices not only simple but extremely relevant. There is no significant difference between a portable radio from the ’70s and a Bluetooth speaker from 2020: speakers, battery and a body are all that’s necessary. Add a small Bluetooth chip to replace the old enormous circuit (recyclable) and a rechargeable battery to receive the same product.
For nearly a decade now, RaspberryPi and Arduino have allowed, by the tiny size of their computers, to transform any single thing into a smart device.
- an old LCD monitor becomes a smart mirror
- an old boombox becomes an audio streaming station
- any old computer becomes a NAS
The miniaturization of micro-electronics enables us to fit huge power, modern features into old devices.
Knowledge At Hand
By simply following a step-by-step Youtube tutorial, anyone can install a connected chip into an old device. It’s easy to find the resources needed on the internet with the process carefully documented and even video-recorded.
It’s not necessary to understand the entire functioning of an electronic device, you simply need a basic understanding of where to connect the power supply and the speaker. Such Youtube channels can reach millions of subscribers, one of the most popular being DYI Perks.
Since the creation of eBay, local and worldwide platforms have boomed. So, anywhere in the world, you can access very well maintained dated electronic devices. When it comes to their components, they are in fact not any worse from the brand new ones, sometimes even better and more durable.
Some startups have already invested in this field, the most successful being dedicated to smartphone repairs. All that’s needed is a new battery and a new screen, and you’ve got a revived iPhone. Since Apple lost its lawsuit and Sonos received backfire, we can expect tech giants will need to release new software taking old devices into account.
Environmentally Positive Balance
Retrofitted products are far superior to any new ones when it comes to environmental issues including:
- No transport costs: the product is already there (in your basement, your district or your country)
- No plastic waste: you reuse the old body
- Life extension: the carbon balance of your retrofitted product is sustained for several more years
It’s rare that you’ll end up having just one retrofitted product once you begin the process because you’ll have adopted a different mindset. It won’t be uncommon to ask yourself: “do I really need to buy a new Bluetooth speaker for my shed while I’ve got an old radio in the basement?” Here, the biggest gain — ecologically speaking — will be around education and a new mindset spread around reuse and recycling of outdated electronics.
Since each retrofitting process is unique, scalability is difficult. It’s unlikely that we will see a retrofitting shop in every city the same way we do thrift stores. The distribution of retrofitted products could benefit companies by starting at Fablab. This is where the most passionate people (Makers) best tools and expertise can be found. Fablab has gained a reputation during the COVID-19 crisis by finding solutions to medical supply shortages.
Two cases where retrofitting has become scalable include with Gameboy and intercoms. The number of Gameboys remaining in circulation makes it profitable for third-party companies to produce specific accessories that are reusable for retrofitted gaming.
The smart home company Nuki has also retrofitted out of date electronics. They developed a specific product to convert existing intercom systems into smart door openers. They also made a list of the convertible intercom models on the market, so you can know whether your old intercom is compatible or not.
The fertile ground for the rise of reusable devices powered by IoT is here and accelerating. Entrepreneurs who find a way to retrofit consumer devices in a scalable way are likely to see high profits.