New Year, New Box, New You!

“Radically better”

As we move into 2020 we want to take a moment to talk about the latest version of the Box, version 1.3. We’ve dedicated much of the last year to developing it, and we LOVE it!

Our new v1.3 Box design
Behold version 1.3! Think it doesn’t look much different? Think again and look under the hood…

At the beginning of 2019 we sent 40 boxes around the world in our pilot. Following the feedback from that, and coupled with a wish list we had already built up, we identified a number of ways we could improve the Box.

At the same time we set ourselves the ambitious goal to build 1000 boxes by the end of the year. Building large numbers of the previous design wasn’t ever going to be practical, it was made up of a tangle of wires that we had to hand-wire ourselves and it relied on a variety of components ordered online from a multitude of suppliers. The Boxes were also subject to the occasional injury when transported around the world, so it’s suffice to say we had our work cut out!

Some of the ways we sought to improve the design included:

  • Better audio – louder and clearer!
  • Faster assembly time
  • Fewer parts
  • More durable design
  • Logging boops offline

And so we started work in the spring; Adrian worked on designing the PCB as a neat home for all the components that were previously crammed into the box, George developed the awesome instructional graphics on the board and worked on software improvements, and Charlie designed a new acrylic ‘skull’ and mapped out the positions for the electronics and how they would be mounted inside the Box. So here it is…

The new PCB…

We LOVE the new PCB and it has a few important features worth talking about. Importantly there’s no wires. Previous Boxes included a large micro-USB extension cable, aux jack, and loads of wires which got in the way. Now the jacks are tiny components that sit at the back of the board and are devoid of the tangled wires that criss crossed older versions. This means we no longer have to hand solder anything (Yay!) and the boxes will be far more durable, reliable, consistent.

The ‘Brain’ of the Box is now a neat stack of three separate boards: A Raspberry Pi 3A+ sits at the bottom, then there’s our main custom board and progress LED board (affectionately known as ‘Blinky Lights’) which slots in a right-angle socket; and finally we have a stacking header and plastic standoffs which raises the reader high above the main PCB just underneath the surface of the box. Primed and ready for Booping!

Our beautiful board (note the handy prompts to help you understand what’s what!)

There’s now a REAL-TIME CLOCK (RTC) too. Previously if a Box wasn’t on WiFi we had no way of logging when a Boop had happened because the Pi doesn’t keep track of time when it’s not online. So this new RTC allows us to timestamp a Boop and log it next time the Box is connected to a WiFi network.

Testing the board and speakers for the first time

Then there’s the DIGITAL-TO-ANALOG CONVERTER (D.A.C.). As the board says the D.A.C. ‘converts digital audio into analog sound for the amp’. This along with our super swanky and loud speakers make for waaaay better audio, that is free of static and incredibly clear. This alone makes the experience of using a Museum in a Box, particularly in noisy environments, so much better.

1000 Speakers!
1000 custom made speakers!

The new speakers not only pack a punch but also weigh a lot less which in turn makes them far easier to mount. V1.3 is almost half the weight of previous versions which will reduce both the cost of postage and it’s environmental impact when shipped around the world.

The new Skull…

A side by side comparison of the Museum in a Box design changes from 2018 to 2019
A comparison of the Box design evolution from 2018 to 2019

With our new PCB came the challenge of mounting it inside the ‘Skull’. Past versions required us to fix bits to the sides, top, and base with an opening on the underside. This was fastened by screws in the feet and some t-nuts that were an incredible pain to mount and often came loose!

The advice we kept receiving when talking enclosures was to injection mould it. The main benefits of that being a moulded enclosure is ‘preassembled’ and ready to put the electronics straight in. It’s also very scalable and would allow us to integrate snap fittings into the design for mounting components inside.

To explore this we did a lot of research into moulding and a bunch of work CADing and prototyping different enclosures. We also took a team trip to visit Protolabs in Telford and learned a great deal from the brilliant people there and received an exciting factory tour of their setup. We attained quotes but ultimately decided not to go with injection moulding for two reasons:

1. The upfront tooling cost is very high and hard to justify for the small batches we planned to initially produce.

2. The overall aesthetic of the Box has become part our identity. The ability for us to easily modify the design, and teach others to build the Box (such as our amazing Verizon volunteers!) feels much more appropriate for our scale and values.

So, having decided to stick with our laser cut look we needed to find a neat way to mount the PCB inside the Skull. The solution was to switch from a bottom opening to a front loading Box. We created a neat groove on the back panel for the PCB to slide into and sit neatly in the middle of the box, lining up with openings at the back for the micro-USB and aux jacks. The Box can now be opened, the PCB removed, and replaced in mere moments!

Get in the groove! The ledge the PCB slots and rests into, lining up with the aux & power jacks on the skull.

The extra front and back panels are held in place and made removable by using some neat snap rivets which can be removed from the outside. We used these rivets for speaker mounting too where before we’d faffed about with tiny nuts and bolts and a laser-cut stand.

Blinky Lights – We use these to indicate that the Box is ‘warming up’ and ‘ready to go!’

Other new features include a new progress LED board which is slicker and uses some recycled acrylic offcuts for the shims that we sent to the PCB manufacturers European Circuits. We spent a long time looking for the perfect light pipes to use with surface mount LEDs but ultimately decided to stick with through hole LEDs and our big green green LED. Why? Because they look bright and amazing!

New Packaging!

A new Box deserves new packaging to go with it. We revisited a previous design using a more compact container and an insert that conceals the power plug and various admin and try me cards so all you see when unboxing is your shiny new Box!

Finally there’s the latest version of the software. We’ll talk about this in more depth another day but we’re chuffed that the Box now boots up waaay quicker than it used to and includes more audio guidance when working through steps like WiFi and updates.

The new assembly time…

With our new design manufactured we decided to assemble the first 20 Boxes. We were blown away to discover that assembly now takes ~7.5 minutes per Box – a 2000% increase from the old design!

George and Charlie building 20 boxes in 2.5 hours!

In future this saving will enable us to fulfil orders quicker than ever before. The Box was intentionally designed for disassembly and as a result we proudly no longer use glue during the assembly process. The Box will now be much easier for people to disassemble and recycle at the end-of-life and we will share a breakdown of the parts and materials inside the Box in due course to make safe and appropriate disposal even easier.

And so with our shiny new Box design came our first test…

First boot up of v1.3… we figured out the Zeus print, eventually!

So there you have it, our new Box and the culmination of over nine months hard work. I hope that proves an interesting insight into some of the design decisions we made in developing v1.3. We love it and we hope you do too!

Our shop is now online so you can buy your very own v1.3 Box with a Make Your Own kit now! Kits are available in Individual, Educator, Small Org and Large Org options and colours include CMYK, Transparent, and Plywood.

Box colours range: Cyan, Yellow, Transparent, Plywood, Magenta, Key
Box colours include: Cyan, Yellow, Transparent, Plywood, Magenta, Key

Have a wonderful New Year from all at Museum in a Box.

📦🎁🎅🎄🧦🎉🛠️🏺🏛️🔌💡🔉🌰

New Commission: The Scout Association!

We’re chuffed to share the work from our latest commission with The Scouts! In this post, we’ll share not only the brilliant collections we produced together but also talk a little about the steps involved in the commissioning process.

The finish scouts collections, including two sets of postcards, a replica 'Point-It-Out' book, a 3D print of a ARP warden's helmet and a 3D printed replica of a wooden hand-carved logbook.
The two finished collections: Home Front, and Moving Collections. The commission included postcards, a replica ‘Point-It-Out’ book, a 3D print of a ARP warden’s helmet and a 3D printed replica of a wooden hand-carved logbook.

In 2018, The Scouts Association received a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to run a project, ‘Moving Connections: Scouting and Displaced People’. It centred on increasing awareness of refugees and migration and developing young people’s empathy skills, using the Scouts refugee and displaced person collection as a springboard.

The project included running workshops integrating objects, stories, creative writing and art to help children explore the topic of refugees and displaced people. These workshops were run in schools and in collaboration with author Jane Ray and charity EmpathyLab and proved a great success.

Caroline Hamson with pupils exploring items from the heritage collection during one of the workshops

Following the workshops, the Scouts’ Heritage Collections Officer, Caroline Hamson, approached us with the idea of commissioning collections that can be borrowed by Scout groups, allowing them to run a condensed version of the workshops. The Box could act as the perfect way to facilitate these outreach workshops, and we couldn’t wait to get started!

Caroline signs the guestbook

Following our initial communications, Caroline visited our Hoxton HQ to try out a Box, explore some existing collections and — with neither of us having any Scouting experience — tell us a little more about The Scout Association and its archive. We learned about all the different work Scouts did on the Home Front during the war as well as The Scout International Relief Service and discussed a little about the kinds of objects in the collection.

Following this meeting we kicked off the commission and arranged a visit for George and Charlie to visit the home of Scouting, the beautiful Gilwell Park.

Visit and Object Selection

It’s certainly one of our favourite aspects of a commission to visit the site of the commissioner and rummage about in the collection with the education or curatorial teams to figure out a good story for the collection.

We ultimately decided to create two collections: On the Home Front which tells of what life was like during wartime and how Scouts contributed to the war effort at home, and ‘Moving Connections: The Scout International Relief Servicewhich documents the work of Scouts in Europe after the war had ended.

3D Digitisation

Each collection we made includes one 3D print and eight or nine postcards. As with most collections, much of the Scouts’ archival materials are 2D: photos, documents. but along with Caroline we were able to pick out two really nice objects that we knew would digitise well. The first was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden’s helmet: a great symbol of the roles played during the war and was no doubt a comforting sight to see during a wartime bombing raid.

Charlie doing photogrammetry image capture of the ARP warden’s helmet at Gilwell Park near London

The second 3D object from the The Scout International Relief Service collection was a Prisoner of War camp logbook. This is a particularly special object because it belonged to scouts who were interned at Miranda de Ebro, a Spanish concentration camp. The book is made up of three intricately carved wooden panels.

Left: Hand-carved logbook from Camp Miranda in Spain. Right: 3D printed replica used to hold the collection.

Replica ‘Point It Out’ Book

As well as the postcards and 3D prints we wanted to create a replica of the ‘Point It Out’ book. Scouts would have used this book a means of communicating as they worked throughout post-way Europe; it features pages and pages of beautifully illustrated images that the user could point at in order to overcome any language barriers they may come up against.

Replica Point It Out booklet given to Scouts in Europe

We worked with printmaker Takako Copeland (who made the beautiful container for our Bata box back in May) to create the replica of the book. Each page was scanned-in, cleaned up and printed out before being wrapped in a nice thick cover featuring all of the original artwork. The book also has one of our metal stickers on it so it can be booped along with the other items in the collections.

The finished article…

The collections have already been used at an event, the Gilwell Reunion at Gilwell Park, and we’ve already had a note from Simon, a Scout leader in London, who’s interested to help his charges attain their Digital Maker badge by making a Box! We’re excited about visiting with him, and hearing more about the recent Scouts & Raspberry Pi partnership, which we’d love to be involved with somehow.

New Commission: International Slavery Museum

Photo of the 3D prints and postcards that make up the collection
The Transatlantic Slavery and Its Contemporary Significance Collection

We’ve been busy working on many exciting commissions recently and plan to share a few more detailed insights into these over the coming weeks.

One such commission is with the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, a collection we produced along with staff at the museum that explores transatlantic slavery, and its contemporary significance. 

The collection consists of two 3D models and seven postcards and encompasses a range of artefacts from the museum’s collection.  These include objects that would have been touched by African slaves, street signs connecting Liverpool to the slave trade, and contemporary art pieces.

Photo of lighting rig and sculpture being scanned
Our rig for doing 3D photogrammetric capture

After settling on an object list, Charlie travelled up to the museum to 3D scan the two objects that were to be 3D printed. These were the Olaudah Equiano sculpture – a brilliant sculpture of writer, abolitionist and a former enslaved African, Olaudah Equiano by sculptor Christy Symington, and a Bamana mask – a type of mask used in Bamana culture used in traditional initiation societies in order to pass into adulthood. We printed them out in some brilliant bright yellow PLA, and were glad that so much detail of the original, including the shape of Africa on Olaudah’s back, broken shackles, and an enslaved female figure from the Brookes slave ship diagram were all visible on the print!

A photograph of the 3D printed bust of Equiano

The audio in the collection incorporates narration from staff members including education demonstrators, curators, volunteers, and youth ambassadors. It’s great to hear such a variety of expert voices talk about the objects in such depth. Here’s a sample of one object in the collection, a ‘Talking Drum’, described by Yaz, one of the museum’s education demonstrators:

Drum, 20th Century, Akan, Ghana
‘The Talking Drum’

An important distinction the collection highlights is the range of material held at the museum. This includes not only original objects but contemporary artworks too such as the Olaudah Equiano sculpture and The Cockle Pickers’ Tea Service.

‘Made in 2007 to commemorate 200 years since Britain enacted a law to outlaw the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The artwork references the original African victims, whilst also remembering twenty-one Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay Lancashire in 2004. These people were contemporary slaves. A reminder that the slave trade is still alive in the twenty first century.’

Paul Scott’s ‘Cumbrian Blue(s), The Cockle Pickers’ Tea Service’ (2007)

We’re chuffed with how the set neatly encapsulate the museum’s broad collection, and that the box will be used to help increase awareness and understanding of the important stories it has to tell.

We can’t wait to hear how they get on with the box in the coming months!

Our First Upgrade!

The Jewish Museum London (JML) commissioned a Box from us last year, about remembering Jewish people who served in WWI and WWII.

They got in touch with us again this year to see about doing an upgrade of their Box – our first upgrade!

Since we delivered the initial commission, the Box’s core design has seen some important changes, and in fact, we declared V1.0 of the physical design back in February this year. We’ve also been gradually improving the software that runs the core Box interactions, so this was a good chance to upgrade the code on the JML Box while we were poking around.

Physical upgrades

  • The plywood ‘skull’ has been simplified with the speaker and power jacks now exposed on the back of the box, along with access to one of the Pi’s USB ports. (We’re not sure what we want to do with that yet. One idea is to incorporate a microphone into the mix.)
  • Most of the previous perforations across the older ‘skull’ have now been filled in, to focus the sound (so it doesn’t just bounce around inside the box), and most importantly,
  • We’ve replaced the old tiny stereo speakers with one beefy new mono one (see below)!

Our beefy new speakers!

So, to do the upgrade, we took back the museum’s old Box, gutted it, reusing  what we could before cutting them a new V1.0 Box in plywood, reconstructing it with the new sound components, and handing it back.

There were two other important aspects of the upgrade: the audio clips and the software. The museum had tested their Box in schools and found the audio was too long. We’ve been evaluating this challenge across all the Collections we’ve made, and developing a much better understanding about audio duration and content types that work really well with young children. Our main conclusion is – perhaps unsurprisingly – if clips are too long people begin to disengage and switch off. Therefore, the museum trimmed some of their lengthier tracks down and we republished them to the Box.

Now, with WiFi!

It’s now possible to configure each Box in situ to get on to a WiFi network, so we made the cheeky addition inside the shiny new packaging – a WiFi card! The card allows the box to connect to a local WiFi network with the assistance of a smartphone, tablet or computer.

The upgrade gave us the opportunity to test the new wifi configuration out in the wild  for the first time as well as update the shortened audio tracks onsite using the museum’s WiFi.  Once the box was online, and after a little troubleshooting had been done, the box automatically pulled down and updated the new audio tracks!

What WiFi means for the future

Upgrading the Jewish Museum London’s box has been a great testbed for us to learn how we can retro-fit and improve upon older boxes as well as provide on-site updates to content without the need for physical intervention from us- this is an exciting development that’s heading towards our long term goal, where we can offer subscriptions to people who have Boxes. Say you like Natural History” and you subscribe, every month (or so), you get a new set of things delivered from museums all over the world, and your Box just knows about the new set of things because we’ve been able to update it in the background.

Huge thanks to the JML crew for inquiring about the upgrade and for being patient while we figured out a method of best practice!

Charlie

All boxed up [update]

Our brains have done a fair bit of milage recently with George travelling to LA for the Communicating the Museum conference and Charlie flying over to Belfast to talk at the Digital Tech, Young People & Heritage conference at Ulster Museum and also exhibiting at the British Museum’s 3D Imaging in Cultural Heritage conference.

In preparation we’ve spent a bit of time working on new packaging for what we refer to as the ‘starter box’ because it contains: the brain, an introductory print, and a mains plug; everything you need to get started! Previous versions have been bulky and wasted space which can make travelling with the box more challenging than it need be. We wrote exactly a year ago (gosh!) about our visit to MOO HQ where we worked on packaging ideas with their product design team and having now spent some time designing a new box we wanted to share a brief overview of our packaging evolution and developments:

Statues of Women in London – December 2015

December 2015: Early brain prototype combined with the statues of women around London set. We later decided to separate the brain into an independent starter box because the variation of possible 3D prints and postcards in the box is so great. This gives us more freedom now when packaging up each unique collection. 

***

MOO Box – November 2016

November 2016: An experiment developed with Moo Ltd using their plotter machine and a square brain. This included a space for a set of NFC cards.

***

February 2017: Starter box comprised of many laser cut layers of card. Solid but used an unnecessary amount of material, was heavy and there was a great deal of wasted space.

An object box made for the Jewish Museum London’s ‘Hearing History’ set

***

Render of a foam insert design – July 2017

July 2017: Stacked foam insert, the brain sits above the starter introductory print and plug. We liked this foam design but for small quantities we’d need to laser cut and stack multiple layers which is both time consuming and costly.

***

Development of a card insert – October 2017

October 2017: 

In this new design the brain sits above the insert, when you remove the brain the plug and print tucked away underneath are revealed.

We adapted the foam design to allow for the slightly bulkier Rasperry Pi plug. Doing this means we could easily change the plug type and send a starter box to almost anywhere in the world without the need for an adapter… it’s the small things that count!

The box is made out of three parts: the box itself (a), the insert (b) and the tray (c) glued to the underside of the insert. The real challenge was designing an insert that works with the many different plug adapters of the Raspberry Pi universal plug!

Raspberry Pi power adapter

The packaging is a great improvement on the older bulky and heavy box making it much better for sending in the post. Having travelled around with this new box however, we’re now thinking we can make it smaller still!

Hopefully this has been a brief but insightful overview for any packaging nerds out there!

C

Designed to Disappear

The 31st July was the 100th anniversary since the start of the Battle of Passchendaele, and in the days leading up to the centenary a sculpture appeared in Trafalgar Square called The Mud Soldier. Created by Damian and Kilian Van Der Velden, the slumped soldier was crafted from sand mixed with mud from the fields of Passchendaele, and designed to slowly deteriorate, washing away in the rain. (It was also rigged with a watering system in case of dry spells, but turned out it was a rainy week!)

Transition from Day 2 to Day 4

 

It was a truly touching memorial and we ran down to Trafalgar Square several times to revisit the sculpture, as did many other Londoners and those who’d travelled from further afield to see it.

Given its temporary nature, we wanted to take the opportunity to make 3D captures of the sculpture in its different states and share those online. We did that on the second and fourth day (which was its last). Here’s the model from the second day…

… and here’s a small print of it we made:

The #MudSoldier was a fitting tribute to remembering the human cost of the First World War. It was lovely to see people who may normally rush across Trafalgar Square stopping in their tracks to observe the sculpture and take a moment to realise its meaning.

We were also thrilled to meet sculptor Damian Van Der Velden and two of the project organisers, Karen Roebuck and Pauline Steverlynck from Visit Flanders, Thank you for letting us loop around the installation snapping away to create the model!

We hope you enjoy it…

Charlie DoES Liverpool

Last week Charlie hopped on a train up to Liverpool to hang out with our tech lead Adrian, here’s an account of what he got up to:

DoES Liverpool

Having never been to Liverpool before I jumped at the chance to make the two or so hour train ride to visit Adrian who is based at DoES Liverpool, a maker space which he co-founded in 2011.

On arrival I was introduced to all of the friendly faces, claimed a desk and set my intro music to a piece by Frédéric Chopin (the space is rigged to play an audio file when you ‘tap-in’ in the morning). I was also introduced to the talking fridge, the gesture bin and the internet-connected coffee machine. Welcome to the wonderful world of DoES Liverpool!

The space is divided between the co-working space and the workshop which has a wealth of kit including two laser cutters (Gerald & Sophia) and several 3D printers. I arrived with a list of things I wanted to get done and so wasted no time with cracking on.

Cardboard Experiment

One experiment I had a chance to play with and develop was a cardboard Museum in a Box. I’d prepped a flimsy mock-up in London and was pretty chuffed with the outcome so decided to refine a neater version in the workshop at DoES. This was also a useful opportunity to try out a different internal configuration and a new way to access the tech inside the box.

Architecture

Being a bit of an architecture enthusiast, spending time in Liverpool was a dream because the buildings vividly tell the story of a busy port city, its development and importance at the time of its height in the British Empire. I’ve dreamed of an ‘architectural box’ for some time now and a tour around the docks provided the inspiration to start just that. Towns and cities across England are littered with great lessons and examples of great architecture but unless you can decode what you are looking at it’s hard to truly interpret and appreciate it. The author and illustrator Matthew Rice says it nicely:

‘Once you can speak any language, conversations can begin, but without it communications can only be brief and brutish. The same is the case with Architecture: an inability to describe the component parts of a building leaves one tongue-tied and unable to begin to discuss what is or is not exciting, dull or peculiar about it.’

Garstang Museum of Archaeology

Adrian and I managed to squeeze in a trip to the Garstang Museum, a museum named after Professor John Garstang, who founded the ‘Institute of Archaeology’ and associated museum in 1904.

Despite its modest size it’s packed with fascinating objects, most of which were excavated by Garstang in Egypt, the Sudan, and the Near East; the collection also contains almost twenty collections of glass-plate negatives relating to Garstang’s archaeological work in these areas. Several of the images have been enlarged and line the walls of the museum providing a fantastic insight into the world of archaeology in the early 20th century.

Something that struck me was the amazing collection of Shabti that are on display in one of the exhibition spaces. Shabti were funerary figures who accompanied the deceased to the after-life, left alongside them inside their tombs. The poorest people may not have had any but even those tombs of modest size would have contained at least one or two Shabti. Those on display in the museum clearly show the range of Shabti and their corresponding value because of the materials used (wood, stone and faience) and their size (from ~10mm up to ~30cm), it was great to see such a diverse representation of people come together within one display case.

If you’re in Liverpool and have a spare hour I can absolutely recommend heading to the Garstang but be sure to plan carefully as the museum only opens on between 10am-4pm every Wednesday.

Taking five after a long day of making and learning in Liverpool

Back at DoES I was really enjoying being able to work on an idea in one room and nip next door to quickly mock-up a prototype in the workshop so much so that I was still laser-cutting minutes before having to leave to catch a train back to London. I was able to work on and develop some fun ideas including an architecture box which I’ll share some more info on in due course. Thank you Liverpool!

That’s all for now. C

Design for Disassembly

The design of the Brain has evolved as components have been added, removed and replaced. We are improving accessibility to the tech inside, and coming from a sustainable design background I wanted to challenge myself to produce an experimental Brain where the products’ full lifecycle is factored into its design. So, here’s what I’ve been up to…

The aim was for the Brain to do the following:

  • Provide easy access to the electronics
  • Enable components to be quickly changed or modified
  • Completely disassemble easily
  • No glue!

First came lots of planning, then sketching and then I got to work CAD-ing up the design. Creating the design digitally first was beneficial as it provided the ability to position the components in a virtual space, adding the wires also helped to visualise how crowded the Brain would be.

The most notable change to the design was how the Brain is held together. We currently glue panels with interlocking finger joints, but for this design they slot into channels on the top and bottom and are pulled together with brass standoffs in each corner. We often get asked how the Brains work but it’s not always easy to demonstrate, we therefore laser-cut the panels in plywood and clear acrylic making it clear to see what’s going on within the skull.

Panel flat-lay (excluding mounting nuts/bolts)

After some light sanding the Brain assembled for the first time and the components easily mounted to the dotted grid. Most importantly the feet can be unscrewed and the base panel lifted providing easy access to add and remove parts.

This Brain has enabled us to improve upon components that were appropriate in the past but no longer live up to our requirements. One example is the power socket which was previously glued to a laser cut shim and had a tendency to come loose, we managed to source a panel mount version which now works a treat (see pictures below).

I’m very happy with how well the design turned out, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve disassembled and reassembled it. We’ve primarily been using it as a prototyping Brain to quickly test out components and content but it’s also made us big fans of acrylic and we now have plans for a colourful set of CMYK boxes!

That’s all for now,

C

Making smaller brains

We’ve made about 20 prototype boxes now and have learned a great deal from each one. We wanted to highlight one particular box we made a couple of months ago where we experimented with a smaller form and what making it has taught us. 

The design of the box or ‘skull’ (the plywood/acrylic case that contains the tech) as we refer to it is dictated by two things: the form factor of the Raspberry Pi in question and all the features we feel necessary for the product to have.

Early on we were creating boxes with the Pi 2 which required a dongle to connect the box to the internet but several months ago we switched to the Pi 3 which features built-in WiFi saving space within the skull. Raspberry Pi also make the ‘Zero’ which is about half the size of the Pi 3, we liked the idea of a small box which would be more transportable and also not require mains power connection so we designed a smaller square brain inspired by the recorder box we made back in October.

Our prototype recording box which inspired the square brain design

I (Charlie) got to work with the layout of the hardware inside the box trying out a new method of speaker mount while Adrian worked his tech wizardry to figure out what hardware to adapt and then got cutting! The square brain featured several changes from the regular rectangle namely:

  • a power on/off button
  • push button volume control
  • No LED progress bar
  • an internal battery charged via a Pi charger board and micro USB cable
  • A single speaker mounted to one side

We tested the box at Nottingham’s Explorers Fair (we’ll share a post on that soon) where we had it set up alongside the standard rectangular box. Seeing the two side-by-side it was clear the rectangle with its larger surface area provided more of a platform for the children to place multiple objects on top of however the square allowed them to pick the box up and put it to their ear or sit down on the the floor with it.

Getting hands on with the square design at Nottingham’s Explorers Fair

Despite working well and having great mobility the square box also had some obvious limitations:

  • the Pi Zero only allowed us one speaker, so the sound wasn’t as good
  • the clicky volume buttons weren’t as effective or efficient as a dial
  • the lack of our physical progress bar didn’t help people understand they had to wait a bit
  • larger objects might not balance well on the smaller top

The square design with its illuminated power button and push button volume controls

We do love the smaller form factor but when you put the two designs side-by-side the larger rectangular box has a greater presence, not to mention more room for fiddly cables and components. It was a great thing to prototype and has since influenced alterations for our bigger boxes. This won’t be the last you see of square boxes however, I’ve had some fun recently prototyping a bigger ‘Design-for-Disassembly box, but all that is for another day.

C

Talking to Teachers

IMG_4540Putting boxes in front of people in the big wide world is very important because it allows us to find out exactly what does and doesn’t work. We make regular efforts to reach out to both teachers and pupils to figure out how best we can evolve and design the product to fit the needs of the classroom.

Back in November I (Charlie) joined a group of teachers, part of the East Sussex History Network at Heathfield Community College in East Sussex, to introduce them to Museum in a Box, learn about their own teaching methods and hear how they envisage the product benefiting their classroom activities. I had visited the school previously to demo a box during a history class which resulted in a lot of excited year seven pupils so it was an intriguing prospect to see whether the teachers would respond with equal enthusiasm!

In short I was overwhelmed by the positive reaction to the box and it was great to see the teachers coming up with imaginative ways they would use a box and its content as part of a wider community of History teachers. Here’s a short list of the takeaways from the meeting:

  • Age range – the teachers strongly believed that a box could easily sit across any year group and would be particularly effective for those doing their GCSEs in Key Stage 4 and even 5. This was particularly in view of the box being used for revision to revisit teaching material without having to search through a text book. One teacher said in response “my sixth formers would love this”.
  • Path to purchase – how the schools would get hold of a box and content came up several times particularly considering different budgeting options available to them to acquire teaching materials. The teachers who were from different schools suggested the idea of sharing ‘boopable’ content amongst themselves given they already have a channel of communication established between the network and commonality of teaching topics.
  • Home-made material – responses to where they currently source their physical teaching material and prompts included: museum shops, car boot sales and ebay with ‘a desperate need for [supplementary resources] for GCSE’. This was furthered by a discussion about teachers using a customisable box to record their own descriptions to objects and maybe even add tags to objects they have collected themselves. 
  • Record-ability – is a primary interest for teachers to design classroom activities with a box on every table.
  • Class activities – How boxes could be positioned around the classroom was raised several times providing a means for pupils to explore the content for themselves, moving around the tables to hear a different topic or account of an event of period in history.
  • Sourcing objects – There are currently only a limited number of services to acquire physical objects for the classroom, however the ability to loan sets of objects for a whole term from some provides greater flexibility to when topics can be taught.
  • Basic lessons plans – as a starting point it would be useful to have simple lesson plans, teachers would adapt to their classrooms as and when they see fit.
  • Different levels of access – “Having mutli-versions of the same materials at different levels of depth would be very helpful, so there is the same material pitched easily… but they use language and an insight that’s more sophisticated or broad or much more simplified and basic.”

It was a great session and I’m great to all the teachers of the East Sussex History Network. That’s all for now!

C.