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Open Source Hardware: Vacuum Cleaner

Design Interactions: Work In Progress - Opens tomorrow at 6pm

Open Source Hardware: Vacuum Cleaner

Our modern lives are dependent upon proprietary technology which few of us could explain let alone understand how it works.

A growing number of people are reacting to this proprietary technology by building their own devices, so called Open Source Hardware (OSHW). This project explores the application of OSHW to the design of every day objects, taking the ubiquitous vacuum cleaner as it’s subject.

Smiths of Smithfield

Tonight a friend has visited some bar/restaurant in London called Smith of Smithfield which has a split-flap display fitted behind the bar:IMG_2222


I did a bit of looking and discovered an official image, it looks like the display is used for showing menu items during the day, however the display is clearly not a new design and looks like it is reused from an airport departure board, where the hell did they get this – I think this necessitates a phone call and perhaps a visit?



commandqToday I bought an app without even trying it when I discovered what it did!

The app is called CommandQ, it is made by ClickOnTyler a very clever indie Mac Developer.

The principal is simple, it lets you have a timer delay on quitting an application. This prevents accidentally hitting Command + Q when you meant Command + W and closing all your stuff.

I’d say more but at £3 for the whole app it’s a bargain and you should just go buy it, Tyler’s other apps are equally brilliant, although I still have issue with VirtualHostX not working, and it is the reason why I haven’t upgraded to V3.

Tyler’s technical support is brilliant however VirtualHostX just doesn’t work out of the box and so I have rather lost faith in that product and wish it worked properly.

UPDATE: It turns out that the problem I had with VirtualHostX is that I didn’t enable PHP and also that I didn’t put the sites in the Sites folder. I guess it would have helped if that was made clearer but basically I am an idiot, sorry Tyler!

The CommandQ app is simple and you cannot go wrong! The only thing would ask for is that the HUD notification you get when holding down the buttons had a slight delay before popping up so it doesn’t appear for really quick taps, and I also wish it had a progress bar that matched the HUD style similar to the iPhone progress bars, the regular Aqua bar on a black background isn’t exactly the prettiest thing ever.Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 21.32.10

Parts: Tools

A real area of innovation for the vacuum cleaner would be the tools, at the first workshop it was suggested that I could text the air exhaust back down to the tool where it would blow it into the carpet in a fine blade just in front of the area where the suction happens, hopefully dislodging the dirt. I would be concerned about over heating the motor and dealing with the push-pull nature of the tools.

Tool sets are available for existing models relatively cheaply online so tools aren’t going to be a focus for this project, however it would be interesting to explore the idea of new tools and attachments. Keeping in mind that this is a vacuum cleaner for makers, it may attract some interesting attachments as it is to be designed for all manner of uses.

Parts: Filters

I have been brain storming which filter materials to use, the obvious thing to do is use what ever eSpares say is the most common part or their universal filters, however more ‘ghetto’ approaches would include car filters, furnace filters, coffee filters, etc… I am not sure how I would test the effectiveness of these. Some people have suggested measuring a pile of flour onto the floor, vacuuming it up, and then seeing how much more the vacuum cleaner weighs after. This would show if its all in the air, or in the vacuum cleaner.

Parts: Chassis

The material for the chassis design is difficult to choose because aesthetically we are used to seeing metal and plastic vacuum cleaners, however they aren’t easy to work with, I prefer a plywood design which allows for easy hacking and potentially can avoid the need for a laser cutter, if the design allows for mortice joints to be substituted with L-brackets and screws.

One issue is the flammability of wood, this may render it unsuitable.

Parts: Hose connectors

Hose connectors are problematic, I am going to investigate designing a laser cut acrylic stack to make an air tight ‘printable’ connector however most hoses come as an assembly and the connectors are custom moulded parts, I could however use a hose clamp and some ridged PVC from a plumbing store, but the aesthetic might let the product down.

Parts: Motor + Fan

Finding alternatives to motors is difficult because the motors used in vacuum cleaners are specialised for their job, they rotate at high RPM and are designed to cool themselves through the airflow they produce. Buying a motor to spec from a supplier might work for this first prototype but it is not sustainable as more people build their own open source vacuum cleaner.

So, the problem is also that anyone selling this type of product is going to be selling it in large volume for manufactures of vacuum cleaners. This doesn’t leave much option open for actually buying a motor and other types of motor are likely to be inappropriate for the task and suffer similar issues of quantity, but is there another way?

In recent years the growth of online spare parts suppliers means that it is now relatively easy to obtain a service part for almost any modern vacuum cleaner. The trick is that the motor it takes needs to be a popular one, i.e. one that is likely to be around for a long time, such that the project isn’t held at the mercy of the manufacturers obsoleting the product by discontinuing spares, even better would be a product that has third party substitute parts, however this is unlikely given the safety concerns of mains power and high speed mechanical parts.

An obvious choice would be to look at the popular products of the main manufacturers:

  • Electrolux
  • Vax
  • Dyson
  • Hoover
  • Numatic (Henry)

I am in discussion with a website called eSpares to find out what the most common parts are and therefore what are most likely to last the longest.

Parts: Handle

The handle part on the end of the hose will consist of three parts, a tube bent to a comfortable angle. A hole with plastic insert to allow control of the reduced suction mode. A hose coupling on the end.

There are two standards for existing tools on the market. 32mm and 35mm. It makes sense to use a universal size rather than a bespoke one. The handle is the least of my concerns at this stage.

Parts: Suction hose

Hose types
Suction hose is a special type of plastic hose, usually made of PVC that is designed to allow a vacuum force inside the hose to pass without the hose collapsing. This is achieved usually through the use of a continuous ridged metal or plastic spiral embedded in a flexible plastic extrusion.

Other types of suction hose found commonly in cheap vacuum cleaners use moulded rings along the length of the hose to provide strength whilst the caps between allow flexibility. These cheaper hoses tend to break due to the stresses on the more ridged plastic, and the tear in the plastic tends to run all the way around the ring until it falls off and is essentially unrepairable.

PVC spiral suction hoses are still susceptible to breaking because the flexible plastic structure linking the spirals can tear or be punctured causing a tear along the spiral down the length of the hose. This is almost as unrepairable however due to the distance between the spirals it is sometimes possible to repair these.

One of the key issues in favour of the cheaper plastic hose other than cost is that if the damage occurs near the end of the hose, as is common due to the stresses at these points, it is normally possible to unclip the hose connectors, cut the end of and re-clip it leaving a slightly shorter but working hose. The more expensive spiral hoses however are quite hard to cut due to the ridged embedded spiral and the difficulty in cutting a straight edge through a spiral. Either way the most common factor preventing repair is the one use nature of many of the compression fittings used to at either end of the hose, clearly an area for improvement if at all possible.

Another aspect to consider with these hoses is their length, most hoses are about 1.5 to 2.5 meters in length, the length makes a big difference the usability as it allows you to walk more freely with the vacuum cleaner dragging behind. Length also affects the power of the machine and can cause it to be greatly diminished if it is too long, due to the suction acting on the host trying to crush it rather than pulling in material from the end. Also while many hoses are smooth internally there will still be bumps and the contour of the bends that restrict the airflow.

Internal diameter
One final aspect is the internal diameter of the hose, too small and the airflow will be restricted, too large and the airflow will dissipate. An average hose has a 25–45mm internal diameter.

The inside surface of any hose should be smooth as this will prevent clogging and build up of dust and other materials, investigating a transparent hose would be an idea as it allows for a clear view of any blockages, especially from brightly coloured cat toys…

So what is the solution then? I have found numerous companies selling hose for suction of dust and air, I haven’t managed to find one that sells small lengths however I am hoping they will help me out.