DIY is the New Black

By Kaih Mitchell, 2019 Alumni.

What is slim, beautiful and incredibly desirable?

You’d be forgiven for answering “fashion model,” but with attitude shifts in the garment industry, the answer today is more likely “the latest technology.” Like catwalk models of the past, for gadgets to achieve increasingly unrealistic ideals, certain sacrifices have to be made. To fit maximum tech into to the minimum package there is no room for practicalities like access to the internal workings of a device. Want to repair your iPhone? Good luck! If your phone breaks, buy a new one. That’s what tech companies are telling us. But maybe it’s time for us to challenge perceptions of beauty in the electronics industry too.

This Winter’s Hottest Look

The latest fashion in the technology market is literally fashion: wearable tech. In 2019, Science Gallery Melbourne bucked the trend of sleek commercially produced wearables with their P@tch art project. P@tch is an emissions tracker that can be sewn into a garment and worn by participants in the project to raise awareness of our own personal environmental impact. Climate change aside, the artistic medium itself raises other questions about the interaction of technology with society. You might be surprised to know all participants wearing a P@tch built the device themselves.

Science Gallery Melbourne’s P@tch project uses DIY electronics to track the wearer’s carbon emissions. Image courtesy of the artist, Janna Ahrndt

P@tch artist Janna Ahrndt says the project is inspired by punk culture, and I can see how. The alternative fashion gadget is a subversive statement, embracing the DIY ethic and rejecting consumerism.

The device at the heart of the P@tch is what makes it possible for anyone to build, program and wear a gizmo that allows them to track their personal contribution to climate change. Called the Adafruit Gemma, this is one of countless examples of accessible and affordable programmable electronic devices that have been making waves in the DIY community.

The Gemma piggybacks on the success of the Arduino. Originally designed as a tool for teaching electronics, the various forms of Arduino have reached widespread use among hobbyists. Arduinos have even found uses in research labs due to their sheer versatility. The easy-to-use system gives you the ability to program a number of inputs and outputs that can be connected to lights, sensors, displays, motors or almost any electronic device. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

The versatile Arduino is gaining popularity thanks to its incredible potential for making useful DIY projects. Image by Snootlab via Flickr

The maker movement is gaining momentum, with more and more people rejecting the idea that technology must be sealed in an impenetrable shiny case. Devices like the Gemma and Arduino mean that anyone can be involved in creating their own technology.

A Tasty Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a single board computer that packs all the computing power of a modest laptop onto a board the size of a credit card. The difference is that if your laptop was a car, the Raspberry Pi would be an engine. The exposed circuit board might be intimidating at first but this is actually fundamental to the Pi’s success. Compared to a laptop that only does what it was designed to do, the Raspberry Pi has boundless potential for diverse applications. You could add a keyboard, mouse and display and get a cheap but fully functioning computer. Or you could let your imagination run wild and build a fingerprint garage door opener, remote pet food dispenser or custom home security system. The sky is the limit! Home automation devices are beginning to flood into the market, but why pay a premium for off-the-shelf products when you can do it yourself?

The Raspberry Pi computer may not look like much, but its potential is limited only by your imagination. Image by Laserlicht via Wikimedia Commons.

You Can Do It!

Platforms like Raspberry Pi and Arduino have built up thriving communities of like-minded individuals. From experts to newcomers and even children, the DIY electronics community is welcoming and has a huge online knowledge base to get you started.

The ability to customise technology and tailor it to the needs of the individual user is a huge advantage to DIY electronics. Repairing and upgrading devices on your own terms means greater flexibility and longer product lifetimes, thwarting planned obsolescence. The environmental impact of society’s obsession with shiny new gizmos is massive and we need to drastically rethink our relationship with electronics.

So rather than blindly following the latest technology trends, why not try something you made yourself? DIY is the new black. It suits you.

DIY electronics is for everyone! Even these kids can make their own robots. Image by Fabrice Florin via Flickr

Kaih also features on Radio Sci-Lens, a University of Melbourne Radio Fodder show all about science. Radio Sci-Lens will be back in Semester 2!