Originally posted by Tom Bristow on www.futerra.co.uk
For years the sustainability community has been looking at ways of moving Christmas away from the annual orgy of consumerism and waste that it currently is. That’s why it’s fun, around this season, to engage in a bit of blue sky thinking about how December might look in a future where families gather round the tree to enjoy not expensive gifts, but something more in line with the needs of the planet. Last Thursday, graduates from Imperial College treated us to a collection of neat ideas for a more sustainable festive season at their 6heads Christmas as Unusual event.
I was part of a Futerra team manning a stall for Sony, crowdsourcing ideas for their FutureScapes campaign to imagine sustainable technologies. A core concept of FutureScapes is called ‘Wandular’ – a communications device that people could keep for life, upgrading it as parts wore out or it needed new functionality. People were enthusiastic about the idea. Key insights were that the best way to make us form an emotional attachment to our tech is to associate the object with a special moment in life. This might be a favourite song from childhood, a special event or even a smell. Someone suggested beef. The future is technology that smells of roast dinner.
Futerra’s stall was next to a table full of what can only be described as ‘frankentoys’. The organiser,Communitoy, is a Brighton based charity that gives kids the opportunity to chop up old cuddly toys and use the limbs to sow together their own creation, just like Toy Story. Afterwards, the kids take them away. Intrigued, I jumped in, viciously depriving a large giraffe of its tail and head, and replacing them with the body of a snake and the head of a stuffed Elmo. The result was a gruesome creation, but one which I feel a certain attachment to, having made it myself.
The idea of Communitoy is that it gives children an opportunity to learn how to make stuff in a fun and easy way. From small beginnings, they might move on to making their own clothes, presents or circuit boards. This is very relevant to FutureScapes – we currently don’t have much control over what our devices look like or do. You can only imagine how much fun people of all ages could have at a technology ‘chop shop’.
There was also a 3D printer built by the Imperial College Department of Robotics, the first I’d seen in the flesh (see the photo of a 3D printed Yoda head above). A helpful undergraduate showed me how it could print off separate mechanical parts, which then fitted together to build a small machine. 3D printers could have the potential to empower anyone to create new technologies from the comfort of their sitting room. All you need is a bit of computer design know-how, and the printer will spit out whatever you want. This might be a new camera, antenna or chip upgrade for your Wandular.
Buying gifts at Christmas might not be going anywhere, but in the future technologies might empower us to make things ourselves, or to up cycle unwanted gifts into something entirely new. I’m not going to throw my Elmo/Giraffe/Snake away any time soon. Hopefully the 6heads will give us the opportunity to make more things in the future.