DIY CELLPHONE – DAVID A. MELLIS

Case Study by Afaq Karadia, April Xie
Presentation

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******** INTRO: DIY CELLPHONE ********

What is it?

DIY Cellphone is “a working (albeit basic) cellphone that you can make yourself”Created by David A. Mellis(1). Using the Arduino GSM, Mellis developed a comprehensive kit of open software, hardware and instructions for making a fully functional cellphone as part of his PhD research at the MIT Media Lab. Mellis used his DIY cellphone as his primary phone, for the purposes of research, for two years. It has formed a large international following of others who have made, customized, modified, and used their own DIY phones.

Capabilities

The DIY cellphone can “make and receive phone calls and text messages, store names and phone numbers, and display the time,” much like early Nokia cellphones in the 90’s and early 00’s.(2)

Specific features: (3)

  • Makes and receives calls and messages
  • Stores up to 250 numbers and names
  • Shows time
  • Serves as alarm clock
  • Connects to GSM networks (AT&T, T-Mobile)
  • Socket for standard SIM
  • 3.7 volt, 1000 mili amp hour rechargeable LiPo battery, rechargeable with mini USB

Mellis created two variations of screens for people to choose from:

  1. Black and white LCD like those found on old Nokia phones and one
  2. Eight-character matrix of red LEDs.

The LCD shows more information (six lines of fourteen characters) but breaks over time. The variant with the LED matrix is harder to use but the display is more robust.

Images of DIY Cellphone

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Who can make the phone?

Making the DIY cellphone is complex and labour intensive, but is possible to complete without expert knowledge in electronics. Hand soldering and debugging the software will take a while, depending on luck and experience.

The most possibility for customization is in the exterior casing. Mellis’s standard model is made out of laser cut plywood, but makers can choose to customize the decor, or make a 3D printed enclosure.

Who is David A. Mellis?

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  • During time of making DIY cellphone, Mellis was Doctoral student in High-Low Tech research group at MIT Media Lab Hi Low Tech Lab 
  • One of the creators of Arduino
  • Currently works at Autodesk as a circuit design program designer
  • Research interest: “relationship between digital information and physical objects (manufacturing, electronics, programming),” and  “wants to create tools and examples to help people design, build, program electronic devices”.(4)

Hi Tech DIY 

  • Mellis: “[Hi-tech DIY is the] individual’s use of digital fabrication and embedded computation to make electronic devices”(5)
  • Hasbeen made possible with the rise of smaller, cheaper and more accessible computing and electronic components 
  • Extends traditional DIY through blending it with  hacker culture (software)

******** HOW TO MAKE A DIY CELLPHONE ********

Components of DIY Cellphone – overview

  • TOTAL COST FOR PARTS(6)
    • $105 USD FOR LCD VERSION
    • $135 USD FOR LED VERSION
  • Components(7) 
    • Around 60 total parts need to be hand soldered
    • All parts can be ordered through Digi-key, SparkFun, Arduino
    • Main components: 16 buttons, mic, speaker, magnetic buzzer, b/w LCD display (84×48 pixels) or 8-char LED matrix  

DIY Cellphone resources – open hardware and software

The code and plans for DIY cellphone are all open source. You can find these at

Hardware: damellis/cellphone2hw
Software: damellis/cellphone2

Program:

  • Approx 1000 line Arduino program(8)
  • ATmega1284P microcontroller controls user interface and communicates with the GSM modules

What is the Arduino GSM Shield?

  • Arduino GSM “connects your Arduino to the internet using the GPRS wireless network” with a SIM card and allows you to “make/receive voice calls using the on-board audio/mic jack and send/receive SMS messages”.(9)

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Steps to making the phone

Mellis’s instructables page

Mellis’s website for making phone

There are 6 major steps Mellis describes in his instructions:

  1. Getting the parts
  2. Soldering the electronics
  3. Compiling the software
  4. Using the phone
  5. Troubleshooting/serial debugging
  6. Making the enclosure

********CONTEXT – DIY AND MAKER CULTURE********

DIY Culture: Definition  

“individuals engage raw and semi-raw materials and component parts to produce, transform, or reconstruct material possessions(10)

Motivations include marketplace and identity enhancement; alternative to modern consumer culture(11).

History and applications:

DIY movement began in the 1970s, as part of a renewed interest in skills for personal decor, building and upkeep of the home, clothing, and other everyday material items(12). It especially appealed to those living in urban environments, disconnected from the physical world and personal making of possessions. Magazines such as Popular Mechanics and Mechanix Illustrated were established, and became immensely popular.

Alan Watts (1967):
“Our educational system, in its entirety, does nothing to give us any kind of material competence. In other words, we don’t learn how to cook, how to make clothes, how to build houses, how to make love, or to do any of the absolutely fundamental things of life. The whole education that we get for our children in school is entirely in terms of abstractions. It trains you to be an insurance salesman or a bureaucrat, or some kind of cerebral character.(13)

Maker Culture – Background

  • A subculture of DIY that intersects between DIY and hacker culture (software)
  • Open source hardware – electronics, robotics, fabrication
  • “Cut and paste” approach to hobbyist tech, recipe-fashion re-use of designs on maker sites and publications (e.g. Make Magazine)(14)
  • Learning through doing in a social environment
  • Rise of hackerspaces, makerspaces, fabrication labs
  • 3D printing- “a market of one person”(15)

Examples of Maker Culture websites

Specific projects David Mellis was inspired by(16)

  • Mitchel Resnick – projects to introduce programming and engineering to children
  • Lego Mindstorms products, PicoCrickets
  • Other toolkits, for designers – Phidgets, Basic Stamp, Arduino, Raspberry Pi
  • Fritzing – helping people translate prototypes into fabricated circuit boards

******** DIY CELLPHONE AS RESEARCH THROUGH DESIGN:
QUESTIONS, PROTOTYPING, TESTING, FINDINGS*******

DIY Cellphone as Research

  • DIY Cellphone was made as part of Mellis’s PhD dissertation at MIT Dissertation: http://web.media.mit.edu/~mellis/mellis-dissertation.pdf
  • Can be considered “research through design”, meaning the creation of knowledge through making of an artefact.
    • Form of research where the process of making the artefact addresses the research questions being posed. “How can I tell what I think, till I see what I make and do?”(17)

Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High Tech DIY, Co-written by David A. Mellis and Leah Buechley, MIT Media Lab

  • Post-PhD dissertation, David presented this paper at CHI conference in 2014 in Toronto
  • “New technology is an opportunity and a challenge. If we can create tools and experiences for creating modern devices, we can provide DIY with increased appeal and value – but, unless we keep up, DIY will offer fewer and fewer possibilities for the devices people use in daily lives”(18)

Research questions for DIY cellphone(19):

  • “To what extent is it feasible for people to make the technology they use in their daily lives? What obstacles and difficulties will they encounter?”
  • “How are devices (and the process of making them) transformed when they can be produced by the people who will be using them?”
  • “How can we combine the flexibility of quick prototyping processes with the reproducibility and robustness of finished products?”
  • “Who will be interested in making their own devices? Why?”
  • “What are the economics of building a high-tech device in small quantities? Which parts are even available to individual consumers? What’s required for people to customize and build their own devices?”

Design goals for DIY cellphone

  • Mellis aimed to resolve two conflicting objectives in the design plans:
    • “As easy as possible to assemble vs functional enough to serve as primary phone”(20)
  • “Robust, attractive form that can be made with digital fabrication, minimize cost, time, # processes”(21)
  • Creating DIY cellphone did not require expertise – relies on variety of info and open source libraries
    • Arduino GSM shield: did not need to know about radio frequency circuit design
    • Software: based from open source libraries


Prototyping process

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  • breadboard prototype
  • 1st generation POC – make and receive calls
  • 2nd generation (previously described) – has been David Mellis’s phone for 9 months
  • Kept diary of experiences

David’s research process

  • Autobiography
    • Very excited to use prototypes; very frustrating when they wouldn’t work
    • “Had no-one else to blame but myself”
  • 1 workshop for designers
    • 9 people ages 21-39
    • 2 made custom enclosures

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  • 1 workshop for public

    • 11 people (5 via fliers, 6 via word of mouth)
    • Limited customization; challenges getting different GSM modules to work

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  • Public local and online communities
    • Some made phone with no help at all. “An indication that the components and processes required to create the phone are, at least for some, independently accessible”(22)
    • Online community “[Showed] importance of having others in different places with different resources to replicate a device as part of refining a design”(23)
    • Obstacles that prevented daily use:
      • not good reception at home,
      • can’t find time to make repairs
    • People found time to organize dedicated sessions to get together and work on the phone

David’s research through design findings

  • “Hi tech DIY exists in an ecosystem”(24)
    • Like large companies and complex web of third party parts and manufacturing
    • DIY not just ability to do everything yourself. Depends on the availability of parts, resources, and processes
    • Industrial manufacturers hold control over DIY
  • “DIY tech supports multiple forms of engagement”(25)
    • Workshops need to be specific to audience goals and skills
    • Workshops let people form communities of making, open door for further exploration  
  • “Bridging the gap between prototype and production”(26)
    • Prototyping tools not good for production
    • Better hobbyist software for making circuit boards needed
    • Digital fabrication has helped close the gap
    • Preference of people who used phone in daily life:
      Reliability and robustness > functionality, easy of use
  • “Modern technology gives relevance to DIY”(27)
    • Complexity and focused concept give people more motivation than simpler devices or general purpose toolkits
    • People most excited to make cell phone (vs radios, speakers) – ubiquitous, little understanding of how they work
    • DIY must engage with things people see every day
  • “Technology requires new conceptions of transparency”(28)
    • Data sheets and source code increasingly relevant for DIY – dependent on manufacturers
  • “Has helped people make steps towards empowerment”(29) 
    • Having choice to produce technology
    • Understanding how devices are put together
    • Do we want a world in which only big companies have access to tech needed to make a modern device?

References

 

  1. David Mellis, “DIY Cellphone,” http://diy-devices.com/devices/cellphone/.
  2. Mellis, “DIY Cellphone”.

  3. Mellis, “DIY Cellphone”.
  4. MIT Ledia Lab, “David Mellis,” high-low tech group, http://highlowtech.org/?p=66
  5. David A. Mellis, and Leaeh Buechley, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 2014, 1723.
  6. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1725.
  7. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1725.
  8. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1725.
  9. “Arduino GSM Shield”, Arduino, http://arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoGSMShield.
  10. Marco Wolf, Shaun McQuitty, Understanding the Do-It-Yourself Consumer: DIY Motivation and Outcomes, Academy of Marketing Science Review, 2011.
  11. Wolf, Understanding the Do-It-Yourself Consumer: DIY Motivation and Outcomes.
  12. Seattle D.I.Y., “What is DIY?” Gender Jam: LAD.I.Y & Trans Fest, https://olyladiyfest.wordpress.com/what-is-diy/.
  13. “Alan Watts (1915-1973)”, Terebess Asia Online, http://terebess.hu/english/watts6.html.
  14. Thomas MacMillan, “On State Street, “Maker” Movement Arrives”, New Haven Independent, 2012, http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/make_haven/id_46594.
  15. Neil Gershenfeld,
    How to Make Almost Anything : The Digital Fabrication Revolution, https://books.google.ca/books?id=pdx5CwAAQBAJ&pg=PT15&lpg=PT15&dq=3d+printing+%22a+market+of+one+person%22&source=bl&ots=TY9bFdXVbC&sig=JzKIdtcS2lhY2-TndJ0IPVS2TVA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjto_nIxOXQAhVH12MKHaUfCmAQ6AEIMjAD#v=onepage&q=3d%20printing%20%22a%20market%20of%20one%20person%22&f=false.
  16. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1724.
  17. Christopher Frayling, Research in art and design, London: Royal College of Art, 1993, 5,
  18. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1724.
  19. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1723.
  20. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1725.
  21. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1725.
  22. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1728.
  23. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1728.
  24. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1728.
  25. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1729.
  26. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1729.
  27. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1730.
  28. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1731.
  29. Mellis, Do It Yourself Cellphones: An Investigation into the Possibilities and Limits of High-Tech DIY, 1731.