Wireless site surveys are one of my favorite aspects of wireless. There is nothing like heading out into the world and unraveling the mysteries of RF. While we have great software and hardware for surveying, the way that is generally accepted to affix that hardware to a laptop is definitely lacking. Good old Velcro tape, while it does the job, is ugly and I don’t know about you, but I’m always worried that my USB hub is going fall. Therefore, I am always looking for a more sturdy way of holding my USB hub while surveying. No matter what I try, I always end up back at using Velcro tape. Again, ugly as sin but it mostly gets the job done. I have not been able to find any other existing, viable alternatives. This led me to the conclusion that if I want something better than Velcro tape, I was going to have to build it myself.
As many people know, I’m kind of a poor man’s 3D printing enthusiast (I use the 3D printers at work.) I got hooked on the possibilities that they bring. Don’t get me wrong; 3D printing is full of frustrations, but that is part of the learning process. Through many failed attempts I have learned that 3D printing needs simplicity and balance. Knowing how something will print is more important than what you print. Once you understand these things you can print almost anything.
The Design Process
How to design something better than Velcro? First, I wanted something removable. I mean, come on. Who wants something permanently affixed to their Macbook? (Besides awesome stickers of course.) It had to be a clip-on accessory. So, I went to my favorite idea-generating website thingiverse.com to see if I could find inspiration or at least a starting point. Luckily I was able to find a clip to use a starting point. Now that I had a starting point, I started designing. Here is a breakdown of the various design phases, that I went through.
Most of the pictures below are thumbnails, click them to see the full versions.
The first design was very basic. I took some measurements of my hub and made a simple L bracket. I attached the L bracket to the stock clip, added a little curve at the joints to alleviate stress points, and off to the printer.
- USB hubs aren’t square
- The USB hub was very loose
Learning from Phase 1, I added curves to the inside of the L bracket to better hold the USB Hub. I also added a WiFi symbol to the front of the design.
- I am not very good at eyeballing curves
- USB hub still very loose
- Maybe the stock clip isn’t going to work
As with any great idea sometimes you need to take a step back and re-evaluate things. This phase was all about the clip; it needed to be redesigned. So I started with varying the design with different angles and curvatures. Luckily, it only took me 5 tries.
- This probably should have been Phase 1
As with Phase 3, I decided to step back and rethink the L bracket. I wanted the USB hub to sit snugly and securely, but not interfere with any of the USB slots. I was stuck. Enter Mr. Eddie Gil de Montes, a fellow 3D printing enthusiast, co-worker, and a great artist (I have some of his art on my walls, check out his portfolio here.) Eddie gave me the idea to import the USB hub’s shape, instead of trying to re-create it.
Also, with this Phase, I wanted to see what I could do to enhance the WiFi symbol on the front. I printed a few with varying levels of inset and a complete cut through.
- This was revolutionary, having the actual shape allowed for the creation of a secure fitting clip that did not interfere with any of the USB slots.
- Having the WiFi symbol cut out instead of embedded is not only aesthetically pleasing, structurally it adds some needed flexibility to clip
Now I had a working design, but I felt like something was missing. So I added a USB holder to the bottom.
What if I change USB hubs? What if I’m using something other than a Macbook to conduct a survey? What if other people are interested in using it?
So, what I did was break down each of the core components into their own individual piece. This allows me, with the right measurements, to quickly re-design to fit just about any combination of laptop and USB hub.
- Apple MacBook Air
- Apple MacBook Pro
- Surface Pro 3
The Hub Holster
(A special thanks to Steve McKim, @alfmckim, for your contribution to the name)
This was a great project and one I hope to bring to everyone in the wireless engineering community. The Hub Holster was not only fun to build, it is also a useful tool, plus I got to work with some great people. Not to mention that I love building and designing things. If you have any ideas or thoughts on how to improve the Hub Holster or any other ideas, let me know. I would be glad to hear them.
As always thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. Leave your thoughts below.