Hardware Prototyping: Memory Phone

Project Status: Complete

For the final project in Hardware Prototyping, taught by Michael Nitsche, I worked with a group to create a project that responded to the work of a local artist. In the group, I served as project manager, content strategist, product developer, and researcher. It was also my grandma’s videophone that we repurposed.

Inspiration

Memory Phone is a project created in response to the mission statement of a local fashion designer, Karen Glass. Our project explores the concept of preciousness as functionality. We were inspired by Karen Glass’s apparel brand, zerøwaste. We took away three main points from her business model to incorporate into our project. First, after her garments are sold, they are used three or four times, making them precious. Second, the concept of mashup as design, taking elements with their own unique stories and forging a new story. Lastly, upcycling and second life of a garment. We started to think of the equivalent in our field, which is Digital Media and Human-Computer Interaction. We concluded that the equivalent is repurposing and giving life to old electronics.

Concept

Memory Phone incorporates the three takeaway principles from Karen Glass’s company: mashup design, preciousness, and upcycling. Memory Phone has a mobile component that records external memories, which returns to the main device upon completion. The memory is stored on the main device, which can be played only once and then the memory is gone. All in all, the world is a fabric and we can only make our precise cut on the world. We can create a collection of those snippings, but they are fleeting and will inevitably disappear. Thus, we value these fleeting moments as precious.

We can boil our process down into four steps.

  1. Identify objects that are meaningful in our own lives
    I visited my grandparents’ house and found an old video phone that my family had used to communicate. The video phone became the centerpiece for the project and became a symbol of memory and preciousness to us, evolving the metaphor. After that, we collected other electronics from various sources and created “Memory Phone.”
  2. Focus our concept
    Using other related objects, we created the phone as a memory database that allows people to play the recorded memories. Memories would be recorded on a mobile device – an ethernet hub.
  3. Take it apart
    Since we’re not engineers, we needed to gut the inside of the devices to use Arduinos to suit our programming purposes. We had no idea what we were doing and it was both terrifying and liberating at the same time.
  4. Repurposing
    Through hacking, tinkering, soldering,  coding, ingenuity, and luck we made it work.

Lessons Learned

  1. Buttons are incredibly complex to program. You have to account for the time the button is pressed, which requires something called “debouncing” in the code.
  2. Communication is difficult. As always, with group work, one must be very intentional about communicating ideas – both internally and externally. For instance, we had to make sure we all understood the project so that we could communicate it to others.
  3. Scope is necessary. We had a ton of great ideas, but there comes a time when we have to be realistic about our ideas and focus them.

Future Plans

In the future, the integration of the product would be much more seamless and would have increased functionality. You could record ideas rather than just a simple sound. There would be other mobile devices that could be plugged into the phone. The screen would be used to display data.

The possibilities are endless.

View project website