The phone-in-the-closet phenomenon has become a hidden store of e-waste; a two-year-old phone still has value and is still a powerful device. And so it’s great news that Samsung is starting a new “Upcycling” initiative that is designed to turn old smartphones and turn them into something brand new.Behold, for example, this bitcoin mining rig, made out of 40 old Galaxy S5 devices, which runs on a new operating system Samsung has developed for its upcycling initiative.
The team hooked 40 old Galaxy S5’s together to make a bitcoin mining rig, repurposed an old Galaxy tablet into a ubuntu-powered laptop, used a Galaxy S3 to monitor a fishtank, and programed an old phone with facial recognition software to guard the entrance of a house in the form of an owl.
It’s all very cool and Samsung plans to release both the software it used to unlock the phones as well as the various plans for the projects online for free.
Upcycling is a great way to keep old devices alive and it can’t easily happen without the original manufacturer’s support. “The challenge with keeping old electronics running a long time is software,” Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, told me over the phone. “With phones in particular, the old software is insecure and doesn’t run the new apps.
Samsung’s upcycling project has a placeholder github with a video explaining its process. “They’re setting up a maker magazine style portfolio of projects,” Wiens explained. The site will work by allowing users to download software that removes Android and opens the devices up to other forms of software. From there, users can browse a wide variety of homebrew software and projects.
The platform will be open, so users can make and upload their own projects and software once it launches. In an example from a Samsung promotional video, a user downloaded fish monitoring software to an old Galaxy S3 and ordered the sensors for the water right from the website. After it’s all set up, the user has a device that monitors the PH balance and heat of the fish tank. It even allows the pet owner to snap pics of their swimmers or turn the lights on and off.
Robust support for repurposing devices like this is unheard of in the tech industry. Companies such as Apple have made it hard for users to fix their own broken devices. In most cases, manufacturers would rather people just buy new devices than fix their old ones. It’s a philosophy that’s good for the company, but bad for the environment and bad for the customer.
Well done Samsung!
The upcycling website is https://galaxyupcycling.github.io/