ThinkGeek Inspired Star Trek Phone Dock

ThinkGeek Inspired Star Trek Phone Dock

To Boldly Go…

Demo video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuYR8m5SDVc
STL Files: pinshape.com/items/26956-3d-printed-thinkgeek-inspired-star-trek-phone-dock

This is my own interpretation of ThinkGeek's infamous 2016 April Fools joke, the Star Trek White Noise Sleep Machine (www.thinkgeek.com/product/ivmt/). While I stopped short of shooting a full starfield projection on the ceiling as in TG's original concept, this is about as close as I'll get to the "real" product unless they end up putting it into production like some of their other gag ideas.

The original ThinkGeek product wasn't actually a phone dock, but rather appeared to have two phone sized screens embedded directly into it. My idea was to basically cut the size of the device in half (the official "specs" list it as a monstrous 10×11), and make a lip which would could hold my phone in roughly the same spot as the main screen in the ThinkGeek original. In place of the starfield projector my dock has a night light replica of a Star Trek "tech cube" (more on that below) with two brightness levels.

As for the software, I am fortunate enough to be good friends with the developer of "LCARS UI" for Android (play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.omnicorp.lcarui.test), who was gracious enough to add in a white noise generator function to mimic the functionality of the ThinkGeek product.

Special thanks to my lovely girlfriend Jennifer Broadnax for the encouragement and help with non-potato images.

Bonus Night Shot

The glow of the cube looks really cool at night, but is predictably difficult to get a decent shot of.
Bluetooth Speaker

The dock is essentially a fancy enclosure for a Bluetooth speaker, which fires out the side. I tried to find a BT speaker that had enough bass to do the audio justice alone, and the added mass and structure of the dock ended up making it sound even better. I wouldn't suggest this thing for playing music, but it definitely sounds the part when you want to feel the Enterprise's engines rumbling away.

For anyone playing along at home, the speaker I ended up going with was a CE Tech model from Home Depot (www.homedepot.com/p/CE-TECH-3-Watt-Mini-Portable-Wireless-Speaker-BT015/206200473). Mainly because it's a simple cylinder and so it was easy to design a mount for it, but it was also fairly cheap and readily available just in case I broke it during the build.

Controls

The left switch selects the different light levels for the cube (or turns it off), and the right switch turns the internal Bluetooth speaker on and off. The USB port is used for charging the phone itself, so that way you don't need to have two separate USB cables going up to the dock.

Interesting note, the icons are actually taken from Android's "Material" theme (design.google.com/icons/). Originally I intended to have the LCARS font spell out the functions, but I could never get the letters to print acceptably.

Inspiration

A detail that probably went right by many of the people who saw the ThinkGeek product listing was that the Sleep Machine itself was a reference to a "real" device in Star Trek, the "optronic data core" (memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Optronic_data_core).

This device is probably best known as the gadget used to lock up Mr Sheffield's butler when he tried to take over the Enterprise in the Next Generation episode "Ship in a Bottle". In that episode, a whole artificial universe is created and stored on such a device, which seems pretty fitting for a sleep machine.

My dock takes some elements of the design from both the ThinkGeek product and the optronic data core and meets them somewhere in the middle. Specifically, the color scheme and cube on my dock is much closer to that of the Star Trek prop, but the overall shape and design is more like what ThinkGeek came up with.

Design

I designed the entire dock in OpenSCAD, using a 3D model of the Nexus 5 as a size reference. This was my first attempt at designing, printing, and assembling an object with so many different interconnecting pieces; and I found it extremely helpful to be able to build it virtually and see how everything would go together.

To work around the limitations of my build volume, I designed the dock to be printed and assembled out of 5 main pieces. The two side end pieces, the center arch (which I refer to as the saddle), the control panel, and finally the cube itself.

Printing

The entire dock is designed to be printed within the 6x6x6 inch (150x150x150 mm) volume of my PrintrBot Simple Metal, and does not require any supports. The large components needed to be rotated 45 degrees along the Z axis to fit within this envelope, but otherwise it wasn't too difficult to squeeze it all in. Ironically, by the end of this project I had upgraded to the 10 inch (200 mm) bed, but there's something to be said for a design that can be done on a standard printer configuration.

The large parts (the two side caps, and the saddle) were done at 0.3 mm layers to save time, and each one took between 1 and 2 hours to complete. The smaller parts (mainly all the components of the cube) were done at 0.2 mm, and represented another couple hours of print time. Most parts were printed at 35% infill, except for the cube which I kept low to maximize light transmission through the clear plastic.

All told, the dock took roughly 10 – 12 hours to print; which ended up being much less time than it took to do all the finish work.

Sanding and filling

Because the face of the end pieces was printed on 3M blue tape, it took the texture and annoying little surface imperfections, which needed to be sanded out with extreme prejudice. I also found the curve to be rather rough (it may have been better to use supports here, but in general I hate using them), so that got sanded down quite a bit.

I filled in the majority of the curved edge and any major surface dips with Tamiya "Basic Type" putty. This stuff is essentially like Bondo for plastic model kits, and has the advantage of drying within a minute or so of application. This allows for a very rapid pace, by the time I carried the part over to the sink to wet sand it, the putty had already dried.

Initial sanding was done with an 80 grit flexible block, then 220 grit wet paper once I started using the putty.

Printing and sanding the saddle

The saddle component was the largest and most nerve-wracking piece of print, but in the end really didn't give me any issues; though it definitely pushed the build volume of the stock PSM to the limit.

The opening for the cube core did require a little cleanup with a file after printing because of the lack of supports, but overall came out very nicely. This was one of the easiest parts to sand as well, since it it just huge flat areas; though it is also the one which I wanted to make sure had the best finish since it's really what you'd be mainly seeing on the finished product.

Coating with XTC-3D

I made extensive use of XTC-3D on this project to help achieve the smooth metal look of the final build; every piece except for the cube was treated with XTC-3D before priming and painting. I was careful to tape off the areas were I intended on putting glue later, as I wasn't sure how adhesives would stick to the XTC-3D surface (but I figured not very well).

Using XTC-3D is actually very simple, just measure out how much you want (a little goes a long way, I usually don't mix more than 7 mL at a time) and apply it with a brush you don't care about throwing away. I got a pack of "Acid Brushes" from Harbor Freight that are great for it. It's important to protect the work area with newspapers or something before starting though, as the stuff is extremely sticky and once you've coated the parts they have to sit there for quite some time.

The XTC-3D documentation says you can go right from print bed to coating, but I've found that sanding and filling the worst of it makes the final XTC-3D finish much better. Alternatively you could just do multiple coats of XTC, but at the cost of the product and the fact that it really takes 24 hours or so to fully cure (unless you want to use a heat gun), I avoid doing multiple coats if at all possible.

After the XTC-3D completely cured, all parts were wet sanded with 800 grit paper to bring down the gloss and make sure the surface was uniform.

Priming

All the parts were sprayed with at least 3 coats of Rust-Oleum "Filler Primer" before painting. This stuff is really intended for cars, but I find it works great on 3D printed parts. As a bonus, you can find it at almost any home improvement store for only a few bucks a can, which is good considering how much I tend to go through it.

In most cases I went from primer directly to paint, but here and there some low spots or other issues popped up that needed some attention. In some cases I just laid down more primer, others I went back to the Tamiya putty and blended it in. This phase took some time, as I really wanted to get the surface to the point where there were absolutely no surface imperfections.

Painting

Final painting was done with Rust-Oleum metallic colors, which had the added benefit of further obscuring any surface imperfections. Once I got to this point I was really excited, the finish was absolutely perfect and really looked like some kind of extruded metal.

After painting, each part got 3 coats of matte clear to take down the gloss and help prevent the color from scratching off from handling it.

Printing the Cube

With the base out of the way, I turned my attention to the cube. Since I wanted to have LEDs inside of it I decided to print it in clear PLA with a fairly low infill (I believe I went with 8% in the end). I also wanted to avoid having to use any connecting parts which would look foreign to the project as a whole, so I printed the bolts and washers used to connect all the layers with the same filament.

Originally I intended to glue it all together, but in the end friction holds the cube together well enough that you can pick the whole dock up by it with it.

Since at this point I wasn't 100% sure how the LED lighting was going to work, I left the center of the cube hollow. As I further refined my idea for how it would all go together, I came up with a "Core", which essentially is a hollow cylinder where the LEDs can shine through from the base. One advantage of doing it this way ended up being that I can print out cores of different materials to experiment with, such as a glow in the dark core.

Testing the Cube

After I settled on the core arrangement, I gave it a shot with a blue core and 4 white LEDS. This was another one of those moments were I really felt like I was on the right track.
LED Module

Four LEDs go into the holder, and are wired up so that the double pole switch on the side can select between having two or all lit up at once. In the end the difference in brightness between low and high isn't quite as much as I would have hoped, and if I had to do it over I would probably have skipped the dual brightness levels and just had all 4 LEDs on a single pole switch.
Assembly

This part is hard to document with just images, but this picture shows a little bit of how it's all held together. The end caps and saddle are welded together with a soldering iron, which essentially melts them together into one solid piece. The cube is held onto the top with 4 screws that pass through the LED mounting plate (see next photo), and the control panel has another 4 screws that hold it on.
Electronics

So unfortunately this is where I didn't do a very good job of documenting everything. At this point of the build I wasn't even sure if I was going to do a writeup for this thing, so I got a little too wrapped up with the build and stopped taking pictures. Sorry.

I ripped up a cheap USB hub which gave me a female USB port on a scrap of PCB, and the USB cable with molded strain relief that I used for the power cable. I had to open up the Bluetooth speaker and solder an extension onto the power switch wires so it could be controlled externally. I also hacked the end off of the USB charging cable that came with the speaker and soldered that to the back of the female USB port so it would get charged along with whatever device the dock itself was charging.

Visible at the bottom of the picture is a self-stick NFC tag from Tags for Android (tagsfordroid.com/) which is tied to a task that turns on the Bluetooth and launches the LCARS application on the phone.

Source : MS3FGX from Reddit