Redesigning the inkjet printer – work in progress

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This week we participated in the first of three workshops organised by the People’s Design Lab. It was an opportunity to learn from others with a background in design about their frustrations with printing. Interestingly, initial conversations revolved around a deeper question: why should we print at all? Why is it that certain airlines and railway companies do not allow for simpler e-ticketing practices? Why do we need to pay a premium at times for an sms-based ticket, which would save ink, paper, paper recycling, etc etc?

When we started to look at options for improving inkjet printers, a key element was participants’ frustration with wasteful ink cartridges: expensive, containing very little ink, too often hard to refill and therefore simply “recycled”. We want to see much more interoperability among cartridges: less wasteful design, less unnecessary chips embedded in cartridges and the adoption of systems such as continuous ink supply in standard consumer printers.

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Let’s rethink and Restart the inkjet printer

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This inkjet printer is still functional, but was open by our volunteers Jack and Ben and is part of the Open Institute’s exhibit The Future of Open in London until July 3

Inkjet printers have been very common at our Restart Parties, since the very beginning. In many occasions, the meticulous work of our wonderful Restarters has helped to clean, repair, defeat planned obsolescence and give a second life to printers that were just about ready to be taken to a recycling centre.

However, we know that fixing broken printers is not enough. This week we are exhibiting a “transparent” open printer as part of the The Future of Open‘s exhibition in London, to help visualise how printers work.

Next week we begin working on rethinking future inkjet printers, particularly how they could be made better, with better durability, ease of maintenance and less wasteful operation.

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Repair Rickshaw Concept

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Photo remixed from Flickr user sarahandiain on CC license

Since we got started, we have been interested in bringing repair back into public spaces and getting people engaged in a hands-on way. This post is about how we arrived at one of our most exciting concepts.

Last year, we participated in OpenIDEO’s E-Waste Challenge which asked the question: How can we manage e-waste & discarded electronics to safeguard human health & protect our environment?

We had experimented with OpenIDEO earlier but really felt the creative and collaborative power of its global, online collaboration with this challenge. We were interacting with professionals from a number of different fields, and from around the world, on the issue of preventing electronic waste. Now in 2013, we plan to take some of the best ideas from the challenge and prototype them, including mashing two of our favourite concepts together. Continue reading

Participatory repair as an alternative to the throw-away society

The past couple of weeks have been really busy for us: we took part, presented and/or repaired things at a lot of inspiring events, such as the monthly ICT4D London Group, the Cause Meets Tech, the launch of The Great Recovery, Good for Nothing‘s social, the Transition Belsize Green Fair, the Repair Café at Goodlife Centre and the Transition Brixton monthly skill-sharing evening.

It’s been exciting and very powerful to learn more about people’s perceptions about repair and their frustrations when the products they own break. But perhaps the most interesting insight is that so many people actually care. So many people want to take part in Restart and to learn together how to make a difference. When we started this journey, we thought that repair was out of fashion. We couldn’t have predicted that so many people are actually interested in self-repair, in learning how to become a bit more independent and taking direct action. Instead, what we see more and more is real citizens desiring to regain control of the things they own, whether by learning how to manage their laptop better, so that it doesn’t become slow and unresponsive, or by learning how to keep their printers clean and make them last longer.

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Behaviour change and electronics

What if we could hypnotise you into using your e-stuff longer? That would mission accomplished! Loooook into my eyes. Well when we mention “behaviour change” perhaps it sounds like we want to control your thoughts and actions.

But what we are most interested in is how to inspire mindfulness and give positive options to people.

All we really need to do is hint at the ills caused by over-consumption of electronics, both to others (at mining, assembly and disposal) and ourselves and our wallets.

And for us, it is not enough to prevent e-waste.

Instead we are keen to reinforce a sense of ownership, attachment (a positive one, Buddhists!) to the things we buy. We feel that Restart Parties – where people diagnose problems together and participate in the repair of their stuff – are just one way of reinforcing this empowered ownership of electronics. Continue reading

What we are throwing away

Our e-stuff is a goldmine. Recently the United Nations University and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) estimated that electronic waste now contains precious metal “deposits” 40 to 50 times richer than ores mined from the ground. Annually $16 billion in gold is built into our electronics and at least 85% is not recovered – lost forever.

WRAP estimates that in the UK, between now and 2020, 3 million tonnes of IT equipment, consumer electronics and display screens will be disposed.

This is roughly the weight of 30,000 Routemaster buses EACH YEAR.

According to WRAP, at least 25% of this waste could be reused.

But statistics are often abstractions. What actually happens on the ground? What does this look like? We visited Camden’s waste disposal and recycling site at Regis Road earlier this month.

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A repair ecosystem

We’re currently doing some research to test some of ideas about fostering economies of repair, and we thought why not share some of what we found.

In this south London neighbourhood, like many, there are a number of mobile unlocking/repair/accessory places. Laptop repair is advertised in a couple of unexpected market stalls, storefronts or cyber cafés.

We talked to a handful of these, and all said they get business from passers-by and from word of mouth referrals – they said their clientele was diverse, all ages, all races, and interest in technology. We noticed that the more visible places had more customers and a diverse group at that.

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