2/2010

TUT's students learn to make unique mobile phones


mobile phone

Soldering components onto a circuit board requires dexterity and a steady
eye. Jenni Saarinen's hands don't shake.

A new course teaches students to build their own mobile phone. This hands-on approach promotes the transfer of theory into practice.

You can customize a store-bought mobile phone with colour covers and ring tones, but still thousands of others have exactly the same phone. Up the ante and make your own unique phone. TUT's students set you an example. Last autumn the Department of Electronics launched a new course that teaches students to build their own mobile phone.

Learning by doing

The course dubbed "The Basics of Modular Electronics" is aimed at all the students at TUT, not only those studying electronics. During the course, students get their hands dirty and etch circuit boards, solder tiny components and load software onto a mobile phone processor.

"The objective is to turn a unique mobile phone the trademark for TUT's students and to promote the transfer of theory into practice. It's also important to encourage hands-on learning and show students that they can do a lot by themselves in the field of electronics, too", says Professor Karri Palovuori who came up with the idea for the course.

If the stereotype of studying at a technological university revolves around sitting through lectures and tapping away on a computer, this course turns everything upside down. For example, the participants learn to use a mini drill and a soldering iron that require a keen eye and a steady hand.

Students are taught step by step how to use the equipment, so previous experience is not required. The course lasts for six weeks and, in addition to the phone, earns the students one ECTS credit.

Mobile phone2


 Example of TUT mobile

  • Size: equal to the size of a cigarette box.
  • Covers: wood
  • Contains: two circuit boards, resistors, capacitors, processor, GSM module, battery and SIM card
  • User interface: a capacitive "dial" inside the covers, one number display.

Innovative user interface

The user interface embedded into TUT's phone model challenges the keypads and touch screens of commercially available phones. It contains no keys.

The phone is turned on, numbers are dialled and calls answered by sliding a finger over the device. Will this be the next big trend in the mobile phone market? If truth be told, the interface is not equal to a touch screen, but there is a reason behind the decision. The objective is to inspire students to think differently and be innovative.

Customization earns extra credit

The course is primarily intended for first-year students. If the participants are motivated, they can earn more credits by refining the phone's features later on.

"This is why the basic model is really simple, you can use to it make and answer calls. Everything else, including the off button, has been left out," explains Palovuori.

The phones built during the first implementation round of the course have subsequently been equipped with components and adjusted software, among others, to boost sound quality. At least one student has also integrated a port to the phone that can be used as a GSM dongle for a laptop.

This year, the phones were made entirely of wood: the body is made of spruce and the covers of birch veneer. The intention is that each year's model will be different, so next autumn TUT's students might be using phones cast in see-through plastic.

Text and photos: Martti Tammisto


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