In the movies, everything is modular. Some big gun fell off the spaceship when it crashed? Good thing you can just pick it up and fire it as-is (looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy 2). Hyperdrive dead? No problem, because in the Star Wars universe you can just drop a new one in and be on your way.
Of course, things just aren’t that simple in the real world. Most systems, be they spaceships or cell phones, are enormously complicated and contain hundreds or thousands of interconnected parts. If the camera in my Samsung phone breaks, I can’t exactly steal the one from my girlfriend’s iPhone. They’re simply not interchangeable because the systems were designed differently. Even if we had the same phone and the cameras were interchangeable, they wouldn’t be easy to swap. We’d have to crack open the phones and carefully perform the switch. Speaking of switches, the Nintendo Switch is a good counterexample here. Joycon break? Just buy a new one and pop it on.
What if more products were like the Nintendo Switch? Is its modularity just the tip of the iceberg?
Modular synthesizers, with their profusion of knobs and switches and their seemingly insatiable appetite for patch cables, are wonderful examples of over-complexity — the best kind of complexity, in our view. Play with a synthesizer long enough and you start thinking that any kind of sound is possible, limited only by your imagination in hooking up the various oscillators, filters, and envelope generators. And the aforementioned patch cables, of course, which are always in short supply.
Luckily, though, patch cables and the modules they connect can be virtualized, and in his 2020 Remoticon workshop, Jonathan Foote showed us all the ways VCV Rack can emulate modular synthesizers right on your computer’s desktop. The workshop focused on VCV Rack, where Eurorack-style synthesizer modules are graphically presented in a configurable rack and patched together just like physical synth modules would be.
While it does use the same M12 batteries, this impeccably engineered work light isn’t an official Milwaukee product. It’s the latest creation from [Chris Chimienti], who’s spent enough time in the garage and under the hood to know a thing or two about what makes a good work light. The modular design not only allows you to add or subtract LED panels as needed, but each section is able to rotate independently so it points exactly where you need it.
Magnets embedded in the 3D printed parts mean the light modules not only firmly attach to one another, but can be stuck to whatever you’re working on. Or you could just stack all the lights up vertically and use the rocket-inspired “landing legs” of the base module keep it vertical. Even if the light gets knocked around, the tension provided by rubber bands attached to each fold-out leg means it will resist falling over. In the video after the break [Chris] says the little nosecone on top is just for fun and you don’t have to print it, but we don’t see how you can possibly resist.
Of course, 3D printed parts and magnets don’t self-illuminate. The LED panels and switches are salvaged from cheap lights that [Chris] found locally for a few bucks, and a common voltage regulator board is used to step the 12 volts coming from the Milwaukee battery down to something the LEDs can use. He’s designed a very slick reversible PCB that’s used on either end of each light module to transfer power between them courtesy of semi-circular traces on one side and and matching pogo pins on the other.
As we saw in his recent Dremel 3D20 rebuild, [Chris] isn’t afraid to go all in during the design phase. The amount of CAD work that went into this project is astounding, and serves as fantastic example of the benefits to be had by designing the whole assembly at once rather than doing it piecemeal. It might take longer early on, but the final results really speak for themselves.
Less than a decade ago, building a completely custom portable computer was more or less out of the question. Sure you could have cobbled something together with a Gumstix board and the dinky NTSC/PAL screen pulled from a portable DVD player, but it wouldn’t exactly have been a daily driver. But now we have cheap high definition LCD panels, desktop 3D printers, and of course, the Raspberry Pi.
We’ve seen these elements combined into bespoke personal computing devices too many times to count now, but very few of them can compare to the incredible YARH.IO. It’s been designed from the ground up for easy assembly and customization; you don’t have to worry about getting custom PCBs made or tracking down some piece of unobtanium hardware. Everything inside of the 3D printed enclosure is an off-the-shelf module, needing little more than the occasional scrap of protoboard to tie them all together.
One glance at the rugged design of the YARH.IO, and it’s clear this device wasn’t meant to live on a shelf. Whether it’s getting tossed around the workbench or thrown into a bag on the way to a hacker con, the militarized design of this portable is ready for action. Using appropriately strong materials such as PETG and ABS, we have no doubt the enclosure will survive whatever the on-the-go hacker can throw at it.
But what’s arguably the best feature of the YARH.IO also happens to be the least obvious: the modular design of the enclosure allows you to remove the lower keyboard section and use it as a battery powered Linux tablet (albeit a rather chunky one). Whether the keyboard is attached or not, you still have access to the Pi’s expansion header thanks to a clever pass-through.
Like with the Mil-Plastic that [Jay Doscher] released recently, we know these 3D printed kits will never be as strong as the real military gear they’re emulating. But let’s be realistic, none of us keyboard warriors will be taking them into an actual battlefield anytime soon. What’s more important is that their modular construction allows them to be easily modified for whatever the user’s needs might be. With as far as the state-of-the-art in DIY bespoke computing as come in the last decade, we can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Tablets, slates, phones, and fablets, there are no shortage of electronics that take the Star-Trek-ish form factor of a handheld rectangle of glass that connects you to everything. This is the world we live in, but unfortunately it’s not currently a world with many Linux options, and certainly not one that includes modular design concepts. This is what motivated [Timon] to design the Damn Linux Table one, a “Proper Linux Tablet” built around the Nvidia Jetson Nano board.
[Timon] is realistic about the limits of modular design. He readily admits you’re not going to upgrade a graphics card on a mobile device, but when it comes to the peripherals, why not? You might want to choose between micro-USB, USB-C, barrel-jack, or do something completely custom. One hacker’s NFC equipment might be replaced by another’s SDR or LoRa. This tablet design sees a world where connecting PCIe components to your mobile devices is completely doable. The point is to make a base model that works great, but has the potential to be what each different user wants their device to be.
Not only do console gamers complain about the use of a mouse, but PC users themselves often don’t have kind words to say even about some of the higher-end options. Granted, their gripes aren’t about game experience or balance, they’re usually about comfort, features, or longevity of the mice themselves. So far we haven’t seen many people try to solve these problems, but [benw] recently stepped on the scene with a modular mouse that can fit virtually any need.
Called the RX-Modulus, this mouse has been designed from the ground up to be completely open source from hardware to software. Most of the components can be 3D printed to suit an individual’s particular grip style by making adjustments. The electronics can be custom fitted as well. Users can swap out mouse buttons and wheels in any number of positions, and replace them when they wear out. To that end, one of the goals of this project is also to avoid any planned obsolescence that typically goes along with any current consumer-level product.
While [benw] currently only has a few prototypes under his belt, he’s far enough along with the project that he’s willing to show it off to the community. His hopes are that there are others that see a need for this type of mouse and can contribute to the final design. After all, there are all kinds of other custom mice out there that would have been much easier builds with [benw]’s designs at hand.
Not everybody has $6500 to toss into a Tesla Powerwall (and that’s a low estimate), but if you want the benefits of battery storage for your house, [Matt]’s modular “microbattery” storage system might be right up your alley. With a build-as-you-go model, virtually any battery can be placed on the grid in order to start storing power from a small solar installation or other power source.
The system works how any other battery installation would work. When demand is high, a series of microinverters turn on and deliver power to the grid. When demand is low, the batteries get charged. The major difference between this setup and a consumer-grade system is that this system is highly modular and each module is networked together to improve the efficiency of the overall system. Its all tied together with a Raspberry Pi that manages the entire setup.
While all of the software is available to set this up, it should go without saying that working with mains power is dangerous, besides the fact that you’ll need inverters capable of matching phase angle with the grid, a meter that handles reverse power flow, a power company that is willing to take the power, and a number of building code statutes to appease. If you don’t have all that together, you might want to go off-grid instead.