Today’s inventors are not tinkering alone in their basements or garages. The DIY maker movement is a thoroughly networked phenomenon. Makers all over world share their inventions on the Internet, encouraging others to reproduce or modify their creations. Recently, we helped initiate the Green Electronics Challenge, an online competition organized by partners in the United States and China. The competition invited the maker community to address the problem of electronic waste, a challenge faced by both the U.S. and China. We asked people to redefine the idea of “waste” by taking the old electronics cluttering their homes and using them to create something new.
The Green Electronics Challenge was launched by Future Tense (a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University), China's Tsinghua University, and other partners, and was hosted on Instructables.com. Submissions were divided into Chinese-language and English-language categories. Entries were judged by a panel of experts, including former Wired Editor Chris Anderson, MIT Media Lab’s Joi Ito, Seeed Studio’s Eric Pan, and Tsinghua University’s Sun Hongbin. Winners receive a variety of prizes, plus shout-outs here on Slate.
In the Chinese-language category, the grand-prize winner went to a low-cost, atomic-force microscope. Ordinarily an atomic-force microscope, which can see at the nano scale (1/1,000,000th millimeter), can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This DIY microscope, constructed in part from watch and DVD-player components, costs less than $1,000 to make. The judges’ prize in the Chinese-language category went to a laser-engraving machine made almost entirely from waste materials like discarded printers and CD drives.
First-prize Chinese-language winners used discarded electronic components to create a magnetic stirring machine, an eight-device charger, a rechargeable wireless mouse, an urban mushroom farm, and a small, air-conditioned room for pets. (The original, Chinese-language versions can be found here.)
One Chinese-language entry that didn’t win, but deserves special mention for being cool, revitalized lathes that were burned in a fire.
In the English-language category, the grand prize went to a giant touchscreen tablet (or a Cintiq) made from a Dell 21-inch monitor and a Wacom Intuos3 XL. The finished tablet was then integrated into a custom-made, digital drafting table. The judges’ prize winner demonstrated how to repurpose an old Wi-Fi router to do tasks like watering a garden, reading a sensor, or lighting LEDs, while a first-prize winner described how to etch your own circuit board by using materials from your kitchen. Another first-prize winner attracted the attention of Bill Gates with a malaria-fighting device that prevents mosquitos from laying eggs. Other first-prize winners included a vinyl cutter made out of an old printer, an arduino thermostat, and an electric go-cart.
These maker projects will hopefully inspire more people to think twice before discarding old electronics. Yesterday’s electronics can become tomorrow’s inventions.