Founding Node: design story

Why the glass and silicone? Our design director walks you through the production process for our first dedicated node

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Our Founding Node is a first step in onboarding contributors at scale to the DADI Edge network. Every recipient of the device will help lay the foundations of a new, fairer internet – and we chose to manufacture something special for this first wave as a thank you to our earliest supporters.

That this represents a phase early in the gestation of the network helped inform the design of the Founding Node. It is conceived to evoke the feeling of functional laboratory equipment, not just in the colour of materials used but that the bulk of the product is made up of borosilicate glass – the same as you’ll find standing above Bunsen burners in chemistry labs the world over. This grade of glass has shock and heat resistant properties to aid durability.

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It is also transparent because we want people to see the inner workings, and with it what the network actually is, rather than veiling our network with decorative language like ‘cloud’. Traditional cloud services like to conjure an image of floating data all around us – masking the reality of behemoth warehouses with racks of servers.

DADI is different, it will be a larger network of smaller devices dotted around your local towns in homes and offices (the bulk of which will already have a life as a laptop or desktop machine giving up spare capacity) and the Founding Node articulates this by making obvious its heart – a straightforward, standard Raspberry Pi 3b.

Our network is designed to run on everyday devices, but the Founding Node isn’t something you’ll want to hide in a cupboard. The objects we choose to surround ourselves with have either an active or passive purpose – a picture on the wall brings us joy even though it’s passive whereas a stove has a functional purpose that requires active involvement (or your dinner gets burned). We’re exploring the intersection between these boundaries.

The glass is hand-blown and each unit will vary slightly as a result, depending on things such as where the material was held during the process. Apart from being a unique design feature, this also links nicely with the angled shape to the silicone lid, reminiscent of the cork stoppers seen on some laboratory glassware.

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This shape means the lid will always fit the Node’s glass case without falling through, even with a diameter variation of up to 2mm thanks to its handmade nature. It’s a nice, sticky fit too – the silicone is pleasing to handle and grips the glass firmly so it doesn’t move even when you are plugging in the cables during set-up. Silicone also has better eco-credentials than traditional plastics, so we are not adding more microplastics to our oceans and food-chain.

The lid is moulded to ensure the plastic chassis for the Pi board can only be inserted in one manner, meaning the debossed ‘D’ logo on the lid is readable when the board is facing the user. The chassis itself (along with glass, lid, cables and even the Pi device) are all recyclable or reusable, and everything is ‘friction fit’ besides four small metal screws to achieve maximum sustainability. We believe our products should feel solid and built to last, but also easy to deconstruct and recycle or repurpose at the end of its working life.

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The same can be said for our packaging. The outer box is compostable cardboard, while the inside is made from moulded bamboo and uses no glue. The power plug is a standard USB device so could find a life with other products should its partnership with the Founding Node come to an end.

The manufacturing process is no short road (even with the professionalism and expertise of our industrial design partners Blond). Usually it takes at least a year to get from drawing board to delivered product, but we are managing to complete in around three-quarters of that time by making some clever development decisions.

Even so, it hasn’t been without its challenges. There have been thousands of emails to suppliers to discuss the detail in the specification documents we supplied. Our CAD files, material choices and colour references led to 10 samples being sent for the device and seven for packaging, each reviewed and discussed in detail.

Chosen samples were left exposed to check for sun damage to colouring. We left them in water to reveal any degradation (there was none). We made tiny adjustments to the silicone stopper to make sure it was the perfect shape and were meticulous in quality control.

The result is a series of components which the DADI team will assemble at our London facility, each one tailored to its Founding Node lottery winner and shipped with care in a bespoke (also recyclable) outer box. Just one more shipment needs to land before we process – in time for the upcoming fully-live network launch.

Excited? Just a bit. If you have any further questions about our design process or the Node itself, do join our AMA tomorrow (Friday 26th October) at 3pm UTC across Telegram, Discord and Reddit. Or read the transcript we post over the weekend.

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