Several concomitant cultural trends are setting up the basis for the rise of IoT retrofitting business: how to give a second life to “dumb -but fancy- objects”.
The industrial retrofitting is already being introduced, and will probably be reinforced by the Covid-19 crisis which forces the relocation of specific productions and factories. Yet, another retrofitting movement is on the verge to be democratised. Reusing the body and other functional parts of old electronic devices.
Instead of putting it into trash, anyone can transform a nice old 70’s radio into a Bluetooth speaker having no background in engineering. You just need 5$ for a Bluetooth amplifier chip, a Youtube tutorial (like this one), and a basic DYI tool set.
Re-use made simple with IoT
IoT makes the re-use of old electronics devices not only simple but extremely relevant. There is no significant difference between a portable radio from the 70’s and a Bluetooth speaker of today’s: speakers, battery, body. Add a small Bluetooth chip to replace the old enormous circuit (recyclable) and a rechargeable battery to get the same product.
For nearly a decade now, RaspberryPi and Arduino have allowed, by the tiny size of their computers, to transform anything into a smart thing.
- an old LCD monitor becomes a smart mirror
- an old boombox becomes an audio streaming station
- any old computer becomes a NAS
The miniaturization of micro-electronics enables us to fit huge power, modern features into old devices.
Knowledge at hand
By simply following step-by-step a Youtube tutorial, anyone can install a connected chip into an old device. Finding all the resources needed on the internet with the process carefully documented and even video-recorded.
So you don’t need to understand the entire functioning of an electronic device, you just need a basic understanding of where to connect the power supply and the speaker. Such Youtube channels can reach millions of subscribers, one of the most popular being DYI Perks.
Giving a second life to things
Since the creation of eBay, local and worldwide platforms have boomed. So, anywhere in the world, you can access very well maintained dated electronic devices. When it comes to their components, they are in fact not any worse from the brand new ones, sometimes even better and more durable.
Some startups have already invested in this field, the most successful being dedicated to the smartphone repairs. A new battery, new screen and you’ve got a revived iPhone, like new. Since Apple lost its lawsuit, or Sonos got its communication backfire on it, we can expect that the tech giants will need to release a new software taking old devices into account.
In search of uniqueness
When traveling across Europe, I tend to find exactly the same shops, in malls or city centres of Paris, Rome or Warsaw. From luxury to cheap brands, the same goods are sold everywhere. Gen Z is getting more and more reluctant towards this trend. They are starting to build their personal brands that reflect in vintage and unique articles (clothing, bikes and tech).
Re-use is not considered as a cheap alternative option anymore, it’s the first choice. It is positioning you as a pathfinder, pioneer, with a can-do attitude.
We could also mention a number of movies in post-apocalyptic / steam-punk atmosphere which popularise retrofitting designs (e.g.: Mortal engines).
Environmentally positive balance
A simple calculation makes the retrofitted product superior to a new one when it comes to environmental issues:
- no transport costs: the product is already there (in your basement, your district or your country)
- no plastic waste: you reuse the old body
- life extension: the carbon balance of your retrofitted product is sustained for another several years or even decades
You’ll rarely end up having just one retrofitted product, because you’ll have adopted a different mindset and think before your next buy, “Do I really need to buy a new Bluetooth speaker for my shed while I’ve got an old radio in the basement?” So, the biggest gain — ecologically speaking — is about developing a new mindset spread in society by this attitude.
Way of distribution
Since each retrofitting process is unique, it makes it difficult to be scaled. I doubt that we will see a retrofitting shop in every city like in the case of thrift stores. My guess would be that the most natural starting point is Fablab. This is where you find the most passionate people (Makers), the tools and expertise. They have gained their reputation during the Covid-19 crisis by finding the solutions to medical supply shortages, and they are not considered to be just the gadget enthusiasts any longer.
Nevertheless, let’s look at two cases when retrofitting becomes scalable.
Firstly, in the case of a widespread product, like Gameboy. The number of Gameboys remaining in circulation makes it profitable to produce specific accessories to re-use the device for retrofitted gaming.
Secondly, when it comes to a common technology, like intercom. The smart home company Nuki has developed a specific product to convert the existing intercom into a smart door opener. They also made a list of the convertible intercom models on the market, so you can know whether your old intercom is compatible.
The fertile ground for a rise of the re-usable devices powered by IoT is here and accelerating.
One of the main obstacles is the spread of input sources: you can find single old electronic devices everywhere, but you can’t find a stock of several thousand pieces at a time. Collect these items and stock them with painstaking attention.
The entrepreneurs who will find their way to make the B2C retrofitting business scalable and profitable will become rich, in addition to being next trendsetters.
About me // French Marketer who specialises in B2B tech and IoT. With the background of lobbying and over 10 years experience as creative director, I help IoT start-ups achieving stable growth, meaningful branding and long-lasting demand generation. More on www.dxm-agency.com