Upcycling

Is Technology Eating My Brain? the machines

Several works were developed for the  Is Technology Eating My Brain? exhibition:

Geranium Survival Unit

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Pedal-powered automated watering and lighting system for a geranium
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techEatBrain Litany

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Endless computer speech declining public opinions on technology
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Big E-Waste Tech Head

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Participatory sculpture made of upcycled e-waste
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Slicing Photo-Booth

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Self-portrait machine with random slice-mixing function

 

Is Technology Eating My Brain?

Is Technology Eating My Brain? poster

My residency-exhibition Is Technology Eating My Brain? at Watermans Arts Centre Brentford West London is going well. The project is based on my Wrekshop idea. The principle consists of installing an e-waste upcycling unit in a gallery space, opening it to voluntary participants and build exhibits over the period.

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The residency part of Is Technology Eating My Brain? at Watermans Arts Centre has concluded with a launch on 15th May. Visitors had a chance to mingle among a Geranium Survival Unit, a Slicing Photo-Booth, eat French style radish snacks (raw with a chunk of butter and some salt), play tunes on a pedal-powered sound system provided by Pedal PA.

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Other works include the techeatbrain Litany, a growing list of “Technology is…” statements read by a speech synthesizer running on an old PC retrofitted with Linux Crunchbang and espeak. Visitors can enter statements to the list which was started by myself and participant Toby Lynch. The soundscape is completed by an audio mix of atmos sounds I recorded in Australia and Japan.

Participants Jason Scording and Bobby Neighbour contributed greatly to the Big E-Waste Helmet of Tomorrow, a bulky just-about-wearable headset featuring mobile photographic eyes made of hacked 2 megapixel vintage-ish cameras. The Slicing Photo-Booth was programmed on Raspberry Pi by Vagmakr. Eugenie Smit put together a delicate assembly of small devices triggering one another (see below).

The exhibition runs until June 3rd

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Recycling plastic for 3D printing

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I have been using basic 3d printers since 2011, starting with a Thing-o-matic  by Makerbot, then a couple of UP3D machines. They use plastic filament, mostly made of Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), the same material used to make Lego bricks, or polylactic acid (PLA), a plastic derived from corn starch or other renewable bio-materials. The filament is generally made from virgin plastic (ie: not recycled), purchased ready-spooled and in various colours.

The frequent use of a 3D printer has a common side-effect: the production of a significant amount of faulty parts and temporary support structures, without even counting in the endless tat spewed out by the little machines in the guise of Yoda heads, clumsy plastic jewellery, door knobs that don’t quite work…

Additionally ABS plastic perfectly suitable for printing can be found in the casings of many consumer electronic items, car bumpers, fridge door compartments, lego bricks, luggage etc… The problem is how to turn this abundant source of potentially upcyclable material into suitable filament. The most spectacular and impressively robust use of recycled ABS in a 3D printer is Endless, a project by Dutch designer Dirk van der Kooij based on a modified robotic arm.

The search for an environmentally friendly solution to the needs of desktop 3D printers is underway. The Filabot was probably the first attempt for an open-source solution allowing both the re-use of discarded prints and of recycled plastics. Filabot is now providing a commercially available grinder, the Reclaimer, as well as different models of filament extruders.

 

Other commercial designs include and the Strudittle and the Filastruder. Open source designs can be found on the Recyclebot website. Joshua Pearce from Michichan Technological University made the news in 2013 for his recycling of milk jugs using a Recyclebot v2.2, design available on Thingiverse. Beyond the fact that high-density polyethylene, or HDPE (the plastic milk jugs are made of) retracts dimensionally while cooling, the recycling of plastics presents the inconvenient that polymer chains do break down in smaller chains each time the plastic is melted, thus weakening the material and limiting the amount of useable cycles.

Filastruder recommends a pellet size of no more than 5mm width in any dimension for use with their machine. I experimented briefly with an office paper shredder and some of my discarded prints. The coarse plastic fragments I collected are not suitable for a small extruder, and the shredder struggled to cut anything thicker than 2mm.

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In November 2013 the UK based techfortrade charity launched the Ethical Filament Foundation, an initiative aiming to reduce plastic waste in developing countries while providing income to deprived populations. Their vision: ” We believe that there is an opportunity to create an environmentally friendly and ethically produced filament alternative to meet the needs of the rapidly growing 3D Printing market. We also believe that by doing this we could potentially open up a new market for value added products that can be produced by waste picker groups in low income countries.The foundation is working on a manufacturing and quality standard “.

 

Visit to Access Space Sheffield

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I visited Access Space in Sheffield, where I enjoyed a two days crash training in using the command line and shell scripts in Linux. Initiated by James Wallbank and the Redundant Technology Initiative group in 2000, Access Space is arguably the first open source/community computing creative technology labs in the UK. The space is open several days per week, with two main areas: the Media Lab where visitors can access a Linux workstation for web access, design, programming, etc. A code-protected door opens on the Refab Space which hosts the digital fabrication machines (laser cutter, CNC router, several rep rap 3D printers), a lot of recycled computing gear and several solid workbenches.
During my stay I saw lots of activity in both areas, including a Sheffield Hardware Hackers meeting (every monday 6pm), and the laser cutter was pretty much always busy.

James is a great host, busy with many projects including his latest business adventure Infinite Crypt. He is always keen to share on topics of technological accessibility, community development and techno-social trends. I recorded an audio interview where he gives us his insight on Access Space and thoughts on the opportunities offered by digital fabrication technologies.

Interview with James Wallbank in Access Space Sheffield, 26th February 2014

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