11 ways Makers are turning trash into treasure with Arduino

  1. reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.

What remains truly fascinating around the Maker Movement is do-it-yourselfers’ abilities to upcycle items that might otherwise be seen as trash, and transform them into fully-functional treasures — a majority of which rely upon an Atmel-based Arduino board for its second lease on life.

Making music with outdated computer parts

A group of Illinois-based Makers hailing from Makerspace Urbana have unveiled a way to take outdated technology and turn them into pieces of musical instruments. The Electric Waste Orchestra project strives to “manipulate the voltage flowing through circuit boards and use those signals to make music” out of components that would’ve otherwise ended up at the dump. As seen below, the Makers recently transformed an old keyboard number pad, six hard-drives, an Arduino and some software into a fully-functioning guitar jamming along with a modular synthesizer.


Turning trash into treasure with 3D printer built from e-waste 

Afate Gnikou led a team of West African Makers who developed a fully-functional 3D printer, the W. Afate. The printer removes spare electronic parts from dumps and transforms them into something useable. Gnikou uses the scraps from scanners, computers and printers and assembles them into the frame of a Prusa style RepRap printer that can then be hooked up to an Arduino board.


Transforming a broken umbrella into a stylish bag

Maker Agy had a broken umbrella that she was looking to repurpose. She used the waterproof material from the umbrella and an Arduino LilyPad (ATmega328V) to create a fashionable yet functional tote bag. With some smart sewing techniques, she was able to install a sensor on the outside of the bag that would power a bright LED in dark situations.


Making poetry from e-mail spam

This project steers away from the environmental world and takes the digital realm into account. The SpamPoetry machine was created by Varvara Guljajva and Mar Canet Sola to transform SPAM e-mail messages into snarky poetry. They used an Arduino aided sewing machine to run an algorithm that would turn unwanted e-mail waste into amusing poetry.


Upcycling broken wheelchairs into a $40 robot


A Maker by the name of Dark Light used three broken down wheelchairs to develop one fully-functional, remote-controlled robot. With an Arduino Mega 2560 (ATmega2560) hacking the chair’s controls, the robot unit can be manipulated at will and the forward facing camera provides location details. Along with Wi-Fi connectivity, the creation features six ultrasonic sensors that allow for basic obstacle avoidance. This is one smart robot!

Converting an old hard drive into a binary desk clock 


Maker named x2Jiggy had an extra hard drive enclosure taking up space on his desk and he decided to turn it into something of value! He took a few ATmega328 chips and mocked up a clock design to match his brand new binary watch. The microcontrollers receive the time from a RTC module, which supposedly has a battery that will last ten years. Talk about sustainability!

Bringing that old ride into the modern day


Take a drive through any neighborhood; you will probably see a few yards littered with sedentary cars that the owner plans to “fix up one day.” A DIYer by the name of MiDri has found the motivation to bring his beat up Nissan 280z back to life. Using an Arduino Duemilanove (ATmega168) board to control the sports car’s brain, MiDri has adapted much of the old-school analog controls to be governed by an Android tablet.

Cutting vinyl with an obsolete printer

Vinyl cutters are typically used to make stickers, signs and graphics. In short, they are quite handy for Makers to have around, which is why a Maker by the name of LiquidHandWash decided to upcycle an old printer by transforming it into a DIY vinyl cutter using an Arduino Uno (ATmega328).


Designing a coffee roaster from an old popcorn machine


Brenn10 modified an ordinary air popcorn popper by transforming the device into a slick Arduino-based controllable coffee roaster.

Turning an IBM Selectric into a printer


One Maker wanted his own typewriter terminal, so he took apart an IBM Selectric II and got to work. Instead of an electronic keyboard, the IBM Selectric II uses and electromechanical keyboard to tilt and rotate the Selectric’s typeball. In normal operation, a series of shafts underneath the keyboard are engaged. As Hackaday explains, the Maker added parts of an erector set to those levers and tied each one to one of 16 solenoids. With a set of solenoids able to print any key with the help of an Arduino, he had a fully automated typewriter from the early 1970s.

Making a robotic arm from recycled bike parts

Recently published on MAKE MagazineArt-Bot is a robotic arm controlled by arcade machine-like buttons whose components were all salvaged from old bicycle parts. For the controlling part of the arm, Maker Morgan Rauscher used an Atmel-based Arduino, servos and actuators so that Art-Bot could maneuver without any trouble.


If you know of any other useful projects that apply Arduino to the art of upcycling, share with us below. We’ll be happy to blog about it!

2 thoughts on “11 ways Makers are turning trash into treasure with Arduino

  1. Pingback: Creating an interactive pad with Arduino Lilypad | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

  2. Pingback: Reading punch cards with an Arduino interface | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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