Erik Contreras: Former Futures

Erik Contreras

The designer, Erik Contreras, at his office of hacked objects.

Future Function

Obsolete Tech Extended

Exhibition Overview

As consumer electronic products reach the end of their lifespan (either through obsolescence or disrepair), their benefits, as products, start to become a burden, as waste. For many electronic products, this label as e-waste has them shipped to developing countries where they are burned for valuable raw materials; harming the environment in turn.

To make matters worse, major corporations make it difficult for users to prolong the lifespan of their products by incorporating elements of planned obsolescence (i.e. using proprietary hardware and software, using non-modular design) with the hopes that users will be forced to purchase the newest iteration of their product. This practice has turned into a power struggle between producer and consumer. Many of these major companies (i.e. John Deere, Apple) have been fighting against Right to Repair legislation that would prevent them from incorporating planned obsolescence into their future products.

The following work explores the process of extending the lifespan of obsolete technology by incorporating modern functionality through the use of rapid prototyping (3D printing, laser cutting) and hacking with open source hardware (Arduino Uno, Teensy 2.0 microcontroller boards).

The designer, Erik Contreras, hopes the lessons from this work will be part of a greater product design approach where the users can extend the lifespan of their product through modification based around  future functionality. By helping the user to make these modifications, Erik hopes this would also shift the power dynamic between the producer and consumer.

Each of the prototypes in the collection have been salvaged from local dump sites around Davis, CA and modified based on the design principles previously stated. The modifications range from using adapters, leaving the obsolete tech untouched, to removing the electronics and using the empty enclosure to house modern, open source, technology.


Erik Contreras is a multidisciplinary designer with a background in manufacturing methods and mechanical engineering. His works ask the question “what does it mean to extend the lifespan of technology”?  A lot of his motivation comes from growing up in the Silicon Valley where “disruption” is a key mantra to product development. During his graduate studies at UC Davis, Erik is working towards an MFA in Design and MS in Mechanical Engineering. He hopes to start a career in industrial design and create products that would help facilitate repair and modification for the user.