Jun 22, 2015

Computer on the Wall - a Middle School Maker project

I participate as a parent in our middle school Tech Club - the TechDetectives. The 8th graders in the club came up with this great end of year project idea - they wanted to take apart one of the lab computers and re-mount all the parts on the wall so that future students could easily see all the parts of this working computer. It was something they saw done on YouTube.
I've been calling it the "CoW" (Computer On the Wall).

I loved this idea - and quickly volunteered to help out after school - knowing we didn't have enough time in tech club before the end of their graduating year to finish it. As I described in a few posts previously, this project also turned into a great opportunity for some #3DPrinting solutions.

The Take-Apart

This was how it all started - taking the computer apart. We chose our victim (desktop PC), with the guidance of the group's teacher leader, from the 20 or so computers in the Tech classroom. We decided that we'd almost certainly get approval for this, especially since the school recently went 1:1 with Chromebooks, so we just dug right in. Pretty much anyone has fun taking things apart - so the students immediately started unscrewing, unclipping and disconnecting wires. They took pictures as we progressed in case we (or someone else) decided to cancel this project - so we could figure out how to put the computer back together again.

We created a hand-drawn map of the wiring so that we could re-connect parts in the right place on the mother board. There were hardly any challenges at this step - as desktop computers in large cases are pretty much made for upgrading - which means removing and replacing parts.

The Board Design

We planned on hanging the parts on the wall on a board - so it was important to figure out how much space we needed so we could acquire a board of the right dimensions to hold the parts. We talked a bunch as a team about different challenges - like how and where to run the wires, where to put the switches and plugs that were attached to the original computer case, and more. We also brainstormed a bit on added features we might want to add - like cool lighting or signs. In the end we stuck mostly to basics - except for the Big Red Button, which I'll explain below and was highlighted in a separate post.

We laid all the parts on the board which is about 14" x 28". Once we were comfortable with the layout, we started looking for ways to secure all these parts. The Motherboard - the centerpiece of the computer - looked simple. It has holes for mounting with screws. But all the other large parts - Hard Drive, Power Supply, CD Drive - had no obvious mounting method. We would need straps or strong glue or....or... 3D Printed Brackets! Oh, isn't that always my motive... See the next section for more.

While we planned to have some cool lighting on the board, in the end we really just ran out of time and settled for placing the existing LED on/off lights inside the Big Red Button box. It looks cool, but as of this writing still has a slight short circuit which needs to be fixed before hanging the project on the wall.

3D Printed Parts

There were a few things that we decided 3D Printed was truly a great option. I have previously posted about all of these - so  I'll point to those posts here and keep it short.

1 - Brackets for mounting - this allowed us to make custom fit brackets for each part.

2 - Speaker Box - without the computer case, the speaker had no home. It was like a turtle without a shell, until we created the perfect home for it.

3 - On/Off Switch - aka The Big Red Button - we made something seemingly boring, the focal point of the whole project. This was complex, but achievable.

The Result

This was a great project, with lots of hands-on mechanical interactions, some electrical connections, a bunch of testing of the equipment after mounting and re-wiring and even some painting (the board ;). The team was quite proud and presented the CoW (Computer On the Wall) to the school as their tech club legacy.

We're expecting to have it hung in the computer lab over the summer, clearly marked with "Class of 2015" and perhaps encouraging a tradition of each class taking apart one more computer each year and leaving their mark.

1 comment:

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