Saturday, November 2, 2013

Talking Green Tech: Phonebloks, Motorola's Ara Platform, & Sustainable Devices

If you love tech and are concerned about the environment chances are the constant waves of new smartphones and tablet devices spins your head. These “upgrades” (sometimes excellent, more often perfunctory) often relegate previous iterations to the deviceheap of shame. The NYT estimated the total weight of cellphones thrown away in the United States from 2006 through 2010 at approximately 85,000 tons. It has been well documented that a majority of this waste is exported to developing world countries, and the local health fall-out across the lifespan is going to be devastating.

“Upgrade yesterday to this marginally better product today!”

“Upgrade now to this thing that does that one thing at a marginally faster rate than the previous thing.”

One small component burnout or breakdown or crack on your handheld device? Better toss the whole thing then. WTF. Environmental impact be damned. It’s not good enough.

In short, we have to find ways to make smartphones and tablets more environmentally friendly and recyclable. Enter Phoneblok. The idea that device components can be modified, chopped and changed, possibly adding shelf life to devices lessening environmental impact.

I love the idea of mix-and-match and personal-device-modification at fundamental levels, yet it seems there are some significant challenges from idea to application here.

Yet, I am intrigued with Motorola’s new ARA platform. The idea is to “develop a phone platform that is modular, open, customizable, and made for the entire world.” Sustainable, low-cost, longer-lived devices that operate in open spaces.These are goals to care about and work toward.

It is an awesome idea, and whether Ara is technically-plausible and sensible in terms of design to market, it is the larger discussion about green-tech and sustainability that these types of engineering challenges develop in public discourse that is critical here. It helps refocus our attention to “green” considerations.

Open source modifiable Lego-like devices might create a whole new market of small businesses producing various mods-to-order. Custom mods developed for different professional or personal needs. A massive Maker community could develop and mobilize around this idea…maybe.

Nothing is a panacea. Dan Zhang opines on the marketing materials, “It’s important to differentiate marketing spin from specifics. Note how they never mention anything about the components within an SoC or its main memory! My guess is that this SoC (e.g. an NVIDIA Tegra 4) must be upgraded in an all-or-nothing fashion, replacing the Tegra, VRMs, heatsinks, and DRAM within the same module. You can augment the features of the SoC through the application-specific processors and other peripherals.”

Read here for Dan Zhang’s min-technical rundown of the ARA platform.

Motorola blogs about ARA here.

Image Source: (Quora)

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