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audio design manufacturing myomb packaging shipping shop

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.

📦🎁🎅🎄🧦🎉🛠️🏺🏛️🔌💡🔉🌰

Categories
audio brain commission design

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

Categories
3D audio commission education

New Commission: British Museum & National Museum of Iraq Partnership – A Box goes to Baghdad!

The National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad was founded in 1926 as the Baghdad Antiquities Museum, and its first director was Gertrude Bell, an important figure in the early development of research collaborations between Iraq and British archaeologists. I first became aware of threat to, and looting of, museums in the region after discovering the UNESCO handbook called Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook, which I’ve made use of even in more fanciful museum explorations here in London.

Four museum staffers from Baghdad have just completed eight weeks in London in a top-to-bottom digitisation training program at the British Museum. The program was designed to develop skills in the digitisation of heritage collections, especially archives, and to make best use of digital resources to engage audiences in Iraq and beyond. We were thrilled when the BM team reached out to commission a Museum in a Box to encapsulate and represent the training.

We were excited to meet Samah (Educator), Safa (Photographer), Mustafa (Curator) and Thamir (Conservator) from the Iraqi Museum. Charlie and I visited the British Museum a couple of times, to help with object selection for the collection, and digitisation tips. We also helped gather and edit the audio scripts the team had written and recorded themselves, as part of the box production process. With the support of Jennifer Wexler at the BM, who helped prepare the 3D models for us, we also arranged to print four objects in 3D, and getting another 20 or so postcards printed and set up with their shiny yellow acrylic box. The resulting collection was a blend of objects from both institutions – we’re wondering how often that’s happened to date…

New Commission – British Museum & the National Museum of Iraq from Museum in a Box on Vimeo.

The training program was celebrated at a morning event in the wondrous Arched Room at the British Museum on April 13th. Each of the trainees gave a short talk about what they learned, and Thamir and Mustafah gave a live demo of the new Box! Apparently there were gasps in the audience, and we now have an (un)official endorsement from rockstar curator, Irving Finkel 🙂

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Special outcomes for us

  • Our first deployment into another country, Iraq. (We were certain to offer to perform any technical follow-up in person!)
  • The first collection we’ve made that draws together objects from more than one institution
  • Our first commission in another language, Arabic (unless you count Frog as another language?)
  • We also have our first translation of the “starter kit” greeting scripts used in every box, translated by Safa and Mary (who was on the BM project team)!

Here’s the finished Arabic intro that plays when you first fire up the Box:

Hooray!

Categories
audio prototype public domain

Making a Box that reflects the content

 

The paradigm that Museum in a Box uses to connect objects to related content is simple:

  1. Take a Thing.
  2. Put that Thing on a Brain.
  3. Receive lovely and interesting Content.

You can think of Things in the above scenario as ‘keys’ that unlock the context to the object you’re looking at. Sometimes the Thing is a 3D print of a scanned artefact, sometimes it’s a picture postcard and sometimes it’s fun to leave things a bit ambiguous – what is the Thing you’re holding? How does it relate to the Content you’re listening to?

This is what we explored a bit with Prototype No.13, which you can watch a demo of in the above video.

For this Box, we used some public domain audio from The Internet Archive as the Content and decided to try out a form factor for the Things that reflected what you would be listening to but still leaves a lot to the imagination…

img_0480

So in case you’ve not guessed yet, we used the Planets Suite by Gustav Holst for this Box, hence our spherical Content keys/triggers. We sourced some half-spheres of  birchwood from eBay, as this seemed like the easiest way to get an RFID tag inside a globe shape. Polystyrene may have been cheaper but we like the look and feel of the plain wood. We slapped an RFID sticker on one half and used wood glue to join this to its counterpart.

Making this prototype was also a good exercise in testing the limits of our tech. It turns out that smaller RFID tags have (maybe unsurprisingly) a shorter pickup range when offered up to the RFID reader we’re currently using. In a quick test, the small tag would not trigger the audio when housed in our 32mm diameter balls (so their range is less than 17mm). Fortunately, upgrading to 25mm tags extended the range of our wee planets to about 2 or 3cm. We also found out that tags only register on the reader if offered in a near parallel orientation (as in the GIF above).

We re-purposed a gift box to house our Raspberry Pi, tag reader, battery, audio speaker & cables and made a simple insert  with holes to hold the planets in a nice formation and another to suspend them over the RFID reader. (Extra special thanks to my partner and her mum for helping with this!)

All in all creating this Box only took about half a day and we’re very pleased with the results 🙂

T.