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Olinda connections

One of Olinda‘s jobs is to communicate the potential for hardware APIs. Matt discussed this in detail in his post on widgets.

Olinda is expandable and modular. For this to be effective, the core services of the central unit really have to be accessible from it’s periphery. We don’t mean superficial expansion or extension of lineout (like adding a speaker), but actually change the nature of the object, to grow from it’s core. There is an obvious predecessor in consumer electronics in hi-fi separates, although it is limited in that the turntable cannot affect the services available through the interface, on the amplifier. The extensions for Olinda will be able to make the radio a new object with each addition (In our case main and social do this).

Part of this project is to discuss modularity. (While designing the physical radio itself is a large part of the work, the larger project is about communicating the core ideas.) The connector is effectively a serial connection between the main unit and the extensions (plus a few extras). This could have manifested as a serial cable with two sockets on each unit, much as they appear on old printers and the like. Although traditional connections and cables have historical precedent, they do not sufficiently raise modularity.

We were clear early that the mechanism for connection should be visible, rather than discreet. It should go out of its way to invite extension (Matt discusses these ideas with reference to the Levittown Homes in his talk, The Experience Stack). One should see how it extends and the connection be mechanically explicit. The use of the mechanism, the act of extending should feel really satisfying too. For the reasons described above the serial cable fails.

Connector developments

Each module needs to include a surface which connects to the previous. Software and power aside, the implication should be that the units are infinitely extensible. To begin with we examined the possibility of a mechanical connection, something with toggle clamps or vertical stacking.

Japanese Joinery 01
Japanese Joinery 02

Kiyoshi Seike’s book on Japanese joinery includes some beautiful imagery, above.

wood test

In some early work we experimented with connections in wood. As the process progressed and more influences on the form of the radio emerged, we chose to explore a system of magnets and studs. This delivered the most satisfying feeling and the building brick aesthetic taps nicely into the familiar heritage of Lego.

This idea came out of both Apple’s MagSafe power connector, and a previous project on RFID which touched on using magnets for tactile feedback to make reading RFIDs more like pressing a button

So in the final model, the entire end surfaces of the modules are positive and negative connectors.

Milled 01
Milled 02

These two images show the progression of the studs, looking for a good fit and a good feel. These models also explore how the magnets are to be included.


There are eight electrical connections between the modules. These are a line of sprung copper domes, held against copper blanks on the opposite face by the force of the magnets.

Most recent test

Above is the most recent and final connectors prototype before machining, and the image following gives an impression of the final form.

CAD connectors

Much of the early work in this process was produced with the help of Jeff Easter, thanks Jeff!

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