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Tom Hartley

The climate emergency is the greatest threat to our planet this century. We are currently on a path to catastrophe. Key to solving this crisis is the circular economy: a tool for us to re-evaluate the way we use products and services. Critical to circularity is the idea of repairing products, rather than throwing them away.

But today, electronics repair is too slow and difficult to be affordable in most cases. Millions of products are thrown away each year when they fail - often just due to a single component failing.

POP is a new type of tool that makes repair as easy as taking a photograph. Within seconds, repairers can now diagnose complex problems with circuit boards, drawing upon a crowdsourced database of common issues to save both time and money for consumers. Once they know the problem, they can order the replacement part with the tap of a button.

POP uses thermal imaging technology to effortlessly compare a broken board to a known-good image, allowing it to accurately diagnose a variety of different electronics issues in a way that is sensitive to the context of the board.

Failure Modes — I started out by asking - how can we make electronics as easy to repair as a mechanical failure? If a plate breaks, we know where the issue is - and we even have an implicit direction in terms of how to repair it - such as glueing the two halves together. With the circuit board however, it looks identical. There's no information given, and in many cases the user can't even be sure it's broken!
Experimentation — With my research question set, I started exploring directions for faster and more reliable diagnosis of circuit boards. After several experiments, I realised that thermal imaging could be an interesting angle to approach from. I realised that the temperature of a board gives good insight into how it's functioning. But it's not as simple as 'hot is bad'. Sometimes upon failure, a board can heat up. But other times, a component can stop emitting heat if it's broken.
Traditional Repair — Typically, diagnosis of broken circuit boards starts in one place: the multimeter, probing test point after test point on a circuit board and comparing against a schematic - if one is even available - in order to move closer to understanding what’s wrong. Even when more modern tools such as thermal imagers are used, there’s little-to-no context available for understanding issues.
POP — I envisaged and designed POP to make this process smoother. POP uses crowdsourced thermal data from circuit boards to quickly and easily add context to the images that technicians capture as they repair devices. By comparing against a database of failures in the cloud, the advanced image processing in POP can quickly and easily suggest guidance or allow the technician to order a replacement part - all much faster than today.

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

The Royal Commission has supported my degree through an Industrial Design Studentship, and I thank them for making my studies and this work possible.