Showcased at — Made in Brunel 2017
MODUS — MODULARITY IN SMART DEVICES
Inspired by products that present their users with a sense of creative freedom, the project focusses on the creation of a modular mobile device with aims that include the reduction of electronic waste and the promotion of learning about electronics and programming.
By developing the system on an open-source software framework, exhausted or unwanted modules have the potential to be reintroduced into other projects with relative ease, and is something that can be conducted by the individuals themselves - making for a versatile and highly customisable product-user experience.
FORM FACTOR AND ERGONOMIC CONSIDERATIONS
The smartphones in circulation are optimised primarily for media viewing, with the wide aspect ratio offering the best visual experience. There is, however, a compromise for the device’s ergonomics, with the appearance of difficult-to-reach ‘islands’ forming at the extremities of the display. It was discovered that by utilising a square design, not only were the ‘islands’ effectively removed, but the device gained the characteristic of becoming omnidirectional. The compacted form also presented the chance for a new series of UI/UX designs to be explored.
ELECTRONIC DEVELOPMENT PROCESS - STAGE I
Commencing with 'Stage I', the development process explored the use of double-sided circuits featuring through-hole headers to connect the PCB modules to a Distribution Board - effectively using the base PCB as a connection network and physical support structure for added rigidity. Developed alongside the early stages of the ideation and design process (and at the time, used a rectangular frame), the electronics for 'Stage I' were produced to visually demonstrate how a user would interact with a device of this nature.
ELECTRONIC DEVELOPMENT PROCESS - STAGE II
The second key stage for the project's electronics was initiated after the square concept had been selected for further development, with the design of the circuits being tailored specifically to the desired form. 'Stage II' followed the design of the PCBs with only a single side populated, therefore having a 'flat' back to mount the circuits onto the surface and reducing the overall thickness.
Due to the nonexistence of suitable square displays (and budget constraints that prevent the manufacture of a custom product), a 3.5” rectangular screen was used with its viewing area cropped to provide the appropriate square interface.
CASING AND STRUCTURAL FRAME
The casing itself is comprised of two sections: the Internal Structural Frame and the External Casing Frame - the first being a mounting bracket onto which the all the device's hardware components are secured to create the embedded, functional system. The purpose of the External Casing Frame is to simply guard the exposed internal components against dust, moisture and physical damage. Due to the casing's sole objective being to act a protective shell, users are given maximum freedom over the aesthetic finish.
The prototype's Internal Structural and External Casing Frames are both manufactured from Nylon using a SLS 3D Printing process for the best balance between structural reliability and integrity, with the added benefits of cost-efficiency, and minimal post-production work required to achieve a high-quality surface finish. The process of Hydro-Dipping can also be used to apply a custom 'skin' to the surface of the External Casing Frame, providing a truly unique and highly detailed final finish.
FREE TALK AND CLOSING REMARKS
When working on the project, the intention was to design the device in such a way that the target modules were not restricted for use in any single framework or application. This flexibility in the system’s infrastructure allowed for the creation of a concept where a single device not only had multiple configurations in “itself”, but could be stripped apart and reorganised to give life to new products and systems. It would no longer simply be just a “mobile device”, as it possessed the potential to evolve into whatever they wished.