I'm a second year EE major following an elective course on 'making', e.g. 3D printing, lasercutting, vacuum forming etc. and for my assignment I've chosen to design and create an organic phone dock. Think bonsai with USB support.
I've been tasked to keep a log of my process and shenanigans here, and so here we go
Step 1: MoSCoW
The requirements for the course are that the design must have a hinge of sorts, an electrical circuit of sorts, and needs to be created using at least three different machines.
In my particular case a must have is that it needs to be waterproof and able to function without short circuit, since we'll be combining electricity and water (albeit in a relatively safe situation).
The design should be able to hold a variety of different phones, either through micro USB or Apple Lightning, depending on which cable you choose to build it with.
Optionally the design might include one or more LEDs to show the device is charging and/or to add to the aesthetic of the design.
Any integrated switching power regulators or other onboard power systems. It will purely be a USB accessory and provide no means of voltage regulation or short-circuit protection of its own.
Step 2: So What Does a Plant Need?
My first research was about finding out what kind of plants would be suitable for my needs. I wanted something that would really climb into and wrap around the dock structure, would be easy to care for, have small leaves (proportional to the phone size) and ideally could do well in hydroponics, for ease of use and making things a little less messy.
As it turns out, there's a pretty decent selection of plants out there, and hydroponics generally aren't really an option out there. Good candidates like creeping fig and some ivy varients all want soil and a draining pot, so that ended up being an important design consideration.
Step 3: Coming Up With a Layout
So now that I knew what I needed for the plant to do its thing, I could start thinking about a layout for everything.
The design consists of two separate parts, namely the bowl, and a dish for underneath it.
I made the dish a separate part, so that if you end up using a plant that doesn't need a draining pot, you can do without it, so people have the option to use their own dish of choosing, and also generally for ease of use with cleaning etc.
The bowl itself is, well, a bowl, but inside it is a platform for the docking area, attached to the bottom for stability, and to the back side (to the side shown in the picture for clarity) for running the USB cable out.
Protruding from the platform are two lasercut wooden "branches", that serve as a backing to keep the phone upright, and as eventual scaffolding for the plant to climb into. These will be able to be swivel sideways in order to accommodate different phone sizes and models.
Step 4: Branch Managing
I wanted the support rails (for both the phone to lean against and the plant to climb into) to follow the organic theme, so I rigged up a few different branch designs in illustrator and cut them out of 3mm plywood on a laser cutter. I ended up going with the second from the left, because it had a nice amount of detail in it without having any thin parts, and I really liked how the "organic" look of it ended up. I even rigged up a quick 3D version of it, adding a protruding branch on the back using a simple mortise and tenon connection.
I might look into using a sturdier wood type for this, since plywood becomes pretty bendy at such thin pieces.
Step 5: The Bowl
This is currently the topic of some headaches. Ideally I'd print the entire design in one solid go, thereby making sure the entire thing is sturdy and watertight, but the issue with that is that, for one, the print would take an incredible amount of time, which isn't an option given that I'm working with public 3D printers that require me to stay with them for the entire process. On top of that, it seems kind of silly to be 3D printing a regular ol' box, especially considering I've access to a laser cutter as well. So I'll probably just figure out a way to glue the 3D printer docking part into a standard cutout box. I need to figure out a nice material for it, though. I'm thinking some kind of transparent plastic, that I'll then create a second wooden frame around with a pattern cutout, so the dirt and roots within the jar become part of the aesthetic.
Step 6: Optimizationisms
I ended up creating a design for only the internal part, which should cut down on 3D printing time considerably. I ended up making some minor adjustments in size, and most importantly switching out the base for a square one rather than an oval shaped one, since it's going to be covered in ground anyway, and the square shape allows for much easier printing without support structures. I also rotated the design 90 degrees so the majority of the print is in-line with the printing plane. Haven't gotten around to actual printing yet, though.
Step 7: Prototype
I created two different prinouts of the inner docking part, one being a slightly wider model that I'll probably end up going with to accommodate larger phones (I'm rocking an S3 mini myself, but I'm looking to upgrade). Ended up having some issues with the printing pad being set at a much too high temperature which caused some warping in the top parts, especially with the wider model, but that's not too big of an issue for the final print.
For the box I created a quick box out of some 2.5mm diffuse green acrylic, but I'm liking it so much I'll probably use this one for the final version. I put it together with some universal contact glue for the moment, but I'll line the insides with hot glue for the final version to waterproof it. The notches protrude slightly due to me misjudging the material thickness a little bit, but I'm actually kind of enjoying the look of it, so I think I'll call it a feature.
I haven't put holes in the box yet, since I'm still deciding on a final size for the docking piece, but cutting some holes in after the fact shouldn't be much of an issue.
Step 8: Penultimate Assembly
I'm glad I had a legitimate reason to use the world penultimate.
I ended up printing a slightly wider version of the base, and decided on this 3D design for the branches.
I hotglued the inner joints to waterproof them slightly more, and drilled a hole in the case using a combination of a regular drill for the hole, and a dremel to make it flare out toward the center of the box a bit, so the tube coming from the printed base could be wedged in snug.
I didn't have the best screws for the job on hand, but I'm looking to replace the branches anyway, since I didn't account for them to be quite as rigid (they should be leaning back a bit, but are completely perpendicular to the base, making the phone easily tip over and not providing a surface to lean on)
All in all, it's coming together nicely