In a previous post, I promoted a webinar hosted by Net Impact in which the winners of the Smartphone Encore Challenge would be announced, along with an overview of closed-loop strategies at Sprint. You can watch the archived webinar at https://netimpact.org/webinars/the-circular-economy-is-calling-closing-the-loop-in-the-smartphone-industry. (Note that the quality of the video for the winning concept was poor during the webinar; you can view the video separately at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjYyW4i7OS8.) The Challenge was sponsored by Sprint, HOBI International, Brightstar, and Net Impact, and asked students to find profitable and innovative ways to repurpose old smartphones or their components. Participation was limited to the first 25 teams to register. Read more about the Challenge at https://netimpact.org/impact-programs/smartphone-encore-challenge.
I’m pleased that a concept submitted by UIUC students, NEO, was a runner up in the competition. NEO involves the reuse of smartphones as low-cost computers for teaching programming to kids, thus addressing e-waste, digital divide, and education issues simultaneously. This innovative idea was created by Elizabeth Reuter, Kevin Lehtiniitty, and Biplab Deka.
The students came up with this concept for their final project in ENG/TE 498 “Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations,” which I taught in collaboration with Dr. Brian Lilly and Kirsten Walker in spring 2014. For their final class project, students could either prepare a repair guide for iFixit.com, or create a mock entry for the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, a global student competition administered by SEI which ended in 2013. The video below was prepared as part of that class project.
The winning concept from students at UC Berkeley, TouchCart, involves using old cellphones to make finding items easier in grocery stores while also allowing scanning of items during shopping. It also allows connection to customer service, and quick check out. The other runners up, StreetSmart from Ohio State University, involves used cellphones as in-car technology to help track driving habits. This would allow insurance companies to more easily reward safe drivers with lower rates. The winning team received $5,000, which can be used toward attending a Startup Weekend to help take their business idea to the next level. And they’ll also receive strategic guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar, and HOBI to strengthen the team’s business model.
Despite not winning this particular competition, Team NEO is participating in other student competitions to raise funds to bring this worthy concept to reality. Join me in wishing them all the best in these pursuits, and congratulations for their achievements thus far.