When it comes to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” equation, we often hear more about the former and the latter options and less about the middle choice. Perhaps it’s more glamorous to recycle your way to better environmental friendliness, but for us gadget geeks there can be various options waiting for us in the re-purposing category.
Maybe there’s too much sentimental value attached to an old laptop to give it away, but there may be life left in it yet beyond gathering dust in a corner. Re-configuring an older piece of equipment for a newfound task is often only a short day or weekend project, we can squeeze some extra utility out of an aging gadget, and has the potential to be a fun do-it-yourself activity to boot.
Read on for some ideas about getting some extra mileage out of that closet full of old gear.
- Turn an Old Computer Into a Home Theater.
Your old machine may not be able to keep up with your daily needs any longer, but may serve just fine as a dedicated video hub. Even a relatively ancient PC may still have a DVD player and can potentially run a web browser for streaming media from sources like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.
We would advise testing out your old PC or Mac in its role to make sure it can handle the type of video playback you need before investing in any other equipment. If it can, you’re likely to need few additional accessories beyond the cables required to hook up the machine to your television (check out this good audio and video connections guide). If not, it may still be worth investing in a few component upgrades to press your old machine into new service — a faster video card and some extra RAM might do the trick, and can be relatively inexpensive.
- Turn an Old Computer Into a Jukebox.
If you already have a home theater setup, or your old machine isn’t powerful enough to handle video playback reliably, it may still serve just fine as a dedicated audio server. This conversion can scale as little or as much as you wish, from a bare bones Pandora listening station to a networked jukebox that can bring together your local music collection as well.
Depending on your aspirations and what you have available, adding a couple of large USB external drives to expand the storage of an old machine can enable local storage and streaming of your collection. Or, you can use the PC or Mac as a satellite station to bring your music across your local network into another room in the house.
- Turn an Old Web Cam Into a Security System.
This section should start with the caveat that a DIY webcam surveillance setup is no substitute for a full security system. All the same, an old collection of webcams can be repurposed to give you some extra peace of mind when away from home. Essentially, any old webcam will do the trick when paired with the proper software, which will depend on your platform and range in cost from free to not-so-free.
Depending on your needs, shelling out a few bucks for software can net some cool features like e-mailing you images when the camera’s motion detection has been triggered, or even a full-fledged web server for checking in on your abode remotely. Here’s a guide to help get started on either the PC or Mac, but with a number of different software options out there, it’s also worth doing your own research to find the sweet spot between functionality and cost.
- Turn an Old Cell Phone Into a Robotics Project.
This one wades into geekier waters, but for the DIY hobbyists, hackers, and robotics enthusiasts in the house, it could be one creative way indeed to find a use for that old cell phone. If said phone is a smartphone, it obviously makes for bigger brains in your new friend: Truckbot is a great example of what’s possible (see the video above).
Still, even a regular old phone can be pressed into service as a robot enabler. Check out TeMo, the tele-operated mobile Internet robot for some ideas on how a relatively basic phone can be of use in a new context.
- Turn an Old Media Player Into a Portable Drive.
Perhaps you’ve replaced that old iPod with a newer generation model or an iPhone, but your old portable jukebox could still come in handy as an extra backup spot or portable drive. For Apple-branded devices, simply connecting the iPod to iTunes and checking the “enable disk use” box will allow you to drag and drop files at will. Use it for another layer of backup redundancy or as an extra portable hard drive.
Many media players from other companies like Archos, Creative, Samsung and more will simply show up as a removable drive when connected to a computer. Most also support the USB Mass Storage protocol, which allows you to simply drag and drop files back and forth to the player as if it were just another external drive. Others can be massaged into file storage service with some extra tweaking — do some searching for your particular player model to find out if someone has discovered a workaround for portable hard drive use.
- Turn an Old PDA Into a Musical Instrument.
Thanks to a project from Eyebeam’s Hans-Christoph Steiner, you can turn an old PDA, Pocket PC, Palm Pilot and the like into a musical device. The Reware Project leverages the power of Linux to give new musical life to a wide array of old handhelds, making a creative and fun project for audiophile gadget geeks.
- Turn an Old Mac Into an Aquarium.
There is a long and venerable tradition surrounding the Macquarium, wherein an old Macintosh computer is repurposed into a high-tech fishbowl. Almost any old machine stretching back to the original Mac 128K has been given the aquatic treatment at this point, with a number of examples and instructions collated at The Apple Collection, and via the previous link.
Keep in mind that dismantling something like a CRT monitor carries some extra safety concerns, so be sure to follow instructions closely and take any precautions necessary.
What if your pets are less fishy and more furry? Perhaps a cat (or small dog) bed will be more your style.
- Turn Almost Anything Into Art.
Looking for an excuse to combine environmentalism with light-hearted play and craftiness? Pretty much any old piece of electronics could become a centerpiece or accessory for a fun art project.
Depending on your level of talent and time, you could make some funky knick-knack gifts or try to top resourceful artists like Miguel Rivera, who sculpts old hard drives into marvelous creations like the robot pictured above. With a bit of skill and some ambition, you could even turn your crafting into a lucrative hobby like many of these enterprising re-purposers have done.