A Website for Finding and Proposing Technical Projects; An Analysis of Repair in the Consumer Laptop Market

Noe, Edward, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Graham, Daniel, Computer Science, University of Virginia
Vrugtman, Rosanne, Computer Science, University of Virginia

My capstone project and STS research are loosely connected through the idea of freedom. My capstone project, a website for finding and proposing technical projects, aims in part to encourage the development of open-source projects. Open source freedoms vary by project but typically provide users the freedom to use, modify, and re-work a project. These conditions are often expressed legally through open source licenses, such as the MIT license or the GNU General Public License (GPL). My STS research involves the right to repair movement, which advocates for the freedom to modify and repair electronic devices. This freedom is limited today, largely because of the actions of manufacturers, which frequently put restrictions on repair. While focused on very different areas, both my capstone project and STS research involve the freedom of end-users.

For my capstone project, I worked with a fellow University of Virginia student to build We built the website both to improve our own technical skills and to provide a platform for other students and learners to find technical projects. The site allows users to upload ideas for software projects or join teams building an idea suggested by another user. Given the value software engineering projects can have on a resume, part of our aim in building the site was to create an easy-to-use place to find such projects. My capstone report describes the motivation behind building the site in more detail as well as how the site operates.

In my STS research paper, I explored the laptop repair market. I attempted to find an explanation for the relatively high cost of laptop repair, as cost is a major factor in the decision of consumers to repair or replace their devices. I found that manufacturer decisions made with the intention of limiting repair are frequently the root cause of expensive or impossible repairs. These decisions can involve warranty conditions, limiting access to parts and tools, and decisions made at the design stage that make or break the repairability of a device. However, I also considered the effect of constraints in laptop design that affect the repairability and upgradability of devices. With these factors in mind, I analyzed manufacturer power over consumers in the laptop repair market through an STS lens. In particular, I considered Langdon Winner’s idea of politics inherent to the design of a device to analyze laptops, the design of which involves countless decisions by the manufacturer, each with its own impact on the end-user of the device. Lastly, I connected this power dynamic with the right to repair movement, which in many ways is a rejection of the power manufacturers hold over consumers in numerous industries, laptops included.

While aimed to promote freedom-based open-source software, my STS research project aimed to explore freedom in the context of the right to repair movement. These two projects in conjunction suggest that enhancing user freedom can come both from new resources, like, or from advocacy and consumer action, as in the right to repair movement.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
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