Ask Hackaday: Can we do better than Phonebloks?


Our tips line is on fire with suggestions for us to cover the modular cell phone concept named Phonebloks. The phone’s designer states the problem as follows:

A phone only lasts a couple of years before it breaks or becomes obsolete. Although it’s often just one part which killed it we throw everything away since it’s almost impossible to repair or upgrade.

His solution is the above pictured phone, with modular components for each feature: wifi, camera, battery, etc. Rather than upgrade your entire phone, upgrade just the parts you need. A wave of followers have thrown their support behind this concept, and perhaps their hearts are in the right place hoping to reduce waste and cost. Behind the scenes here at Hackaday, however, the response has been a unanimous facepalm. The primary objection (other than design implausibilities) should be obvious: dividing the phone into exchangeable bits does not inherently reduce waste. Those bits have to go somewhere.

Now, don’t rush to the comments section to identify additional problems; there’s a juicy Reddit thread for that. Instead, we want to take the high road: Can we do better? Can we make a phone for the future that is less wasteful to produce, more easily recycled, and possibly upgradable? What would be included in its features, and how would we do it? Check out a video of the concept phone and tell us your alternatives after the break.

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Importing PCB layout into Google Sketchup

If you’ve been spending hours with the digital calipers while designing enclosures for your circuit boards there may be a better way. [Phil] tipped us off about a new software package that will let you import PCB layout files into Google Sketchup. This way you can start working on the enclosure in CAD before you’ve populated your first board. Of course this adds to the pain of realizing there’s an error in your layout, but what are you going to do?

The free software was developed by RS Components, a European component distributor. It takes IDF files, which can be exported from most PCB design software, and converts them to a format compatible with Sketchup, Google’s 3D design software. For those who enjoy a very dry demonstration video you won’t want to skip seeing what we’ve embedded after the jump.

We’re kind of surprised that this hasn’t already been done. If it has, leave a link in the comments.

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Celebrating the design principles behind cellphones

Want to improve the finished look of your projects? There’s a lot you can learn by looking at the choices made in consumer electronics. [Bill Hammack] explores what is perhaps the most refined electronic device out there, the cell phone. Specifically, he discusses the seven design constraints that face every cellphone maker. They are: compactness versus usability, consumer preference, availability of energy, economic resources and available infrastructure, knowledge of materials, societal needs, and cultural constraints.

Anyone who’s whipped out their hacked-together project in a public space understands cultural constraints. Especially when forgetting your backpack in a public place can put the bomb squad of full alert these days. But aside from the anecdotal issues, [Bill's] look at now-and-then cellphones really shows off the smart design that we enjoy thanks to the evolutionary process that went into what has become the wristwatch of the 21st century. See what he has to say in the video after the break.

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A Briefing on Integrated Circuits

Although technology is constantly racing to faster / smaller / more, so many of the fundamentals of how it is made remains similar, if not the same. This interesting 30 minute video clip [thanks to The Computer History Museum] was made in 1967 by Fairchild Semiconductor as a briefing on integrated circuits, and shows the different steps to produce ICs including:

Design, making the photo masks, manufacturing the silicon ingots, preparing the wafers, building of the circuit and its components (like transistors, resistors, and capacitors), testing, and final packaging. Add in some other cool items of interest such as a 1960′s pick n place machine, wave soldering, an automatic wirewrap machine, and toss in some retro computer action and it’s surely a video worth watching, with something for everyone.

So join us after the break, kick back and enjoy the show!

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Renesas RX Design Contest: $110K+ of Cash and Prizes

It seems that we have caught Design Contest Fever here at Hackaday. After covering some other design contests, and asking readers to send in more, we heard from a couple tippers about Renesas’ challenge. Like many of the other contests, entrants can submit their ideas, and possibly receive a free development board to get them started. Unlike the other contests though, Renesas board (possibly) free development board is everything but the kitchen sink. Designed with RTOS’s in mind, rather than the normal microcontroller tasks, this board has an astounding number of capabilities.

On top of the excellent development kit, the contest is also offering books, software, and cash prizes to the winners. So get out there, design something amazing, and make Hackaday proud.

Win Big: American Design Style

Last week we announced a Germany based design contest only accepting applicants from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Unfortunately, this left out one of the larger segments of our readers. After doing some scrounging around (and a helpful tip from [Flash Gordon]), we managed to find a similar contest run by STMicroelectronics, the makers of the Discovery board. This contest sounds familiar, with free Discovery Board for all approved applicants, and prizes for the most interesting and creative projects. Right now the official rules page seems to be missing, so you technically legally should probably wait to enter, but we can’t stop you. It looks like the official rules page is located here. Thanks to [Andee] for pointing that out. Also, it looks like if you live in Puerto Rico or Quebec, you are also out of this contest as well.

If you are from the EMEA area and missed the last contest, be sure to go back and check it out for your chance to win! Also, we love covering contests (especially ones that give out free kits to all contestants), are there any readers out there that know of a developer other than STM that is offering this kind of deal? We would love to hear from you!

PCB trace antenna

If you’re working on a device that includes RF wireless, [Colin's] Guide to PCB Trace Antenna Design might clear some headaches when sending off for PCBs. While it is directed at devices transmitting at 2.4GHz, the techniques and recommended equipment (read: espresso smith charts and network analyzers) should work for almost any frequency. While trace antennas aren’t as easy to implement as a measured wire, the space benefits make up for the difficulty. Unless you don’t mind how larger your project is, did someone say cantenna?