Connected products are increasingly becoming the default, with non-connected versions of common hardware (e.g., TVs and printers) harder to find. Alongside this adoption surge, lack of support, outdated security, and planned obsolescence present concerning sustainability issues, contribute to eWaste growth and widen digital divides globally. This workshop aims to present and discuss legal, social, technical, and design aspects of sustainability practices, engaging the Ubicomp community by exploring challenges and opportunities for more sustainable IoT devices. The workshop seeks to establish a concise, holistic, and inclusive agenda for this research domain’s future. Participants will explore key research questions and sustainability challenges to support the movement towards more repairable technology.

Motivation for the workshop

As wireless connectivity and automation integrate into household items, IoT products increasingly become the norm. It is now harder to find non-IoT alternatives for devices like smart TVs and printers. Known IoT brands often offer lower prices to encourage adoption, such as Amazon Echo. Additionally, cheaper IoT brands can be found online, but their security and hardware quality may be questionable. While IoT adoption is currently a consumer choice, its rapid growth may lead to citizens having it imposed, like local governments monitoring homes. Alongside this rise in IoT usage, sustainability concerns grow as well. IoT devices become unreliable when they are damaged, malfunction, or lose support and security. These devices often have planned obsolescence and lack proper management throughout their lifespan. The consequences of this redundancy are not evenly distributed in society. Individuals without the means to repair or replace their IoT devices may be excluded from the digital world.

For instance, a broken phone screen could result in the inability to use a track-and-trace app, affecting mobility and ultimately limiting societal participation. This issue also contributes to global divisions, as broken devices turn into eWaste shipped overseas, harming communities in the Global South. The UN e-waste monitor reported that only 17% of the 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste in 2019 was recycled. With e-waste increasing yearly, urgently addressing this problem is vital. Failing to resolve simple household issues like fixing a smart thermostat could, on a larger scale, contribute to a global crisis if not managed carefully. Repair and reuse of technology are essential response measures here. Solutions involving repair span various societal levels, including legal actions like the Right to Repair or France’s repairability scores on products, economic theories and methodologies within the Circular Economy, academic discussions, and the growing presence of repair cafes worldwide.

IoT researchers and designers play a crucial role in these initiatives. They can support the Right to Repair through practical design recommendations for IoT devices (e.g., the Nokia G22 with a repair kit); connect academic insights on the Circular Economy (and repair) to functional design solutions for current and future IoT devices; and assist community initiatives like Repair Cafes by providing design guidelines and guides for repairers and customers in their everyday repair experiences. However, formal investigations into these possibilities have yet to be conducted. It is crucial to identify the key challenges, opportunities, and expectations of IoT researchers and designers regarding device repair, as it presents global technological, social, and environmental challenges. Ubicomp, with its diverse history of engaging with embedded and ubiquitous technologies such as IoT and smart devices, serves as an ideal platform to initiate this effort. By gathering IoT enthusiasts with various skill sets and from different contexts, who share an interest in the repair and sustainability of smart devices, we can address these challenges more effectively.

The goal of this workshop is to start discussions about repair by examining current methods, obstacles, and support in IoT design, research, and practice. We will also explore future expectations and opportunities while relating it to the broader Ubicomp, HCI, and Sustainability zeitgeist. This will be a key step in moving the focus of IoT towards a more repair-focused, sustainable, and inclusive one.