June 11-15


Open Source, Circular Economy and Shenzhen

We will investigate the creation, production, reuse and recycle of Internet of Things in relationship to Shenzhen and its electronics production base. We have invited officials from the cities, developers of smart devices and scholars to panels and workshops on how Shenzhen use open source to promote global circular economy of Internet of Things.

Date: June 11

Venue: Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab

Address: 531, Building B4, Sino-Finnish Design Park, Fortune Plaza, Fantasia, Shihua Road, Futian Bonded Area, Futian District, Shenzhen



51533a1119280838872715Shenzhen is one of the fastest growing cities in the world going from a small fishing village with population 300,000 to China’s richest megacity by per capita GDP with 14 millions residents. As the first special economic zone established in 1980, Shenzhen has attracted the world’s major electronics manufacturers including Foxconn and turned Pearl Delta to the center of global production of electronics devices.

huaqiang-bei-iphone-01On the back of the strong electronics manufacturer, Shanzhai mobile phones emerged in the early 2000s and has developed into an alternative open innovation ecosystem that powering the creation and spread of information devices all around the world as recently noted by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen’s new book “The New Digital Age”

And the developing world will not be left out of the advances in gadgetry and other high-tech machinery. Even if the prices for sophisticated smart phones and robots to perform household tasks like vacuuming remain high, illicit markets like China’s expansive “shanzhai” network for knock-off consumer electronics will produce and distribute imitations that bridge the gap. And technologies that emerged in first-world contexts will find renewed purpose in developing countries.

Shanzhai ecosystem composed of over 30,000 companies works collaboratively on an ac hoc “open source” system called Gongban and Gongmo.

E-waste and Internet of Things

As Gartner projects the following:

  • 50% of IoT solutions will emerge in new startups
  • 4.9 Billion Connected “Things” Will Be in Use in 2015
  • In 2020, 25 Billion Connected “Things” Will Be in Use

These predictions cause concerns with the amount of e-waste that will be created especially when most of the devices are equipped with sophisticated chips that are itself energy and resources intensive to fabricated in the first place.

The most efficient way to recycle electronics todays is actually the dirty way. Manually unplug the chips of the boards to be reused but they lead to the visual in the following like with mountains of PCB and blackwater stream. The components recycled this way take less energy and bigger reuse value and build the backbone of lowering the cost of electronics products for developing markets.

The “clean” way is extracting precious metals from the components by melting them down. The process sounds but its also energy intensive and deliver very low recycle and reuse value.

Open Source to the IoT’s E-waste Problem

We are proposing the third recycle/reuse by promoting the use of open source hardware in electronics. The whole board can be recycle and reused. This reflect the highest value of recycle and reuse of electronics. It’s relatively clean to extract boards from the devices. As open source, they can be easily reprogrammed and repurposed. This will also encourage companies to pay attention to their industrial design for easy extraction of the circuit boards.