RadioGlobe is an open-source product that began life in DesignSpark's electronic engineering community. Designed by creative technologist Jude Pullen on commission by DesignSpark, the DIY kit is 3D printed, soldered, and assembled - to build a physical globe, which can be rotated to locate any city - and play any of 2000+ radio stations.
This unique physical interface was created during the 2020 Covid lockdown, in Jude's 2x2m shed, in 4 weeks - to inspire creative discovery of news, music and debate when individuals around the world were facing isolation within the confines of the four walls. The award-winning project has been built and improved upon by enthusiasts around the world.
Inspiration for the project was a mix of personal and topical inputs: Firstly, Jude's mixed race heritage and cross-cultural experiences formed a perspective around exposure to other cultures. RadioGlobe facilitates curiosity. Secondly, Jude changed the globe's angle from 23.5 to 30 degrees - both physically and metaphorically shifting our perspective, ensuring that the Southern hemisphere is equally represented to one's natural eye-line when exploring. Arguably, a subtle detail, but provocative for anyone wanting to consider inherent bias in everyday things.
Like many people, Jude has family and friends who have suffered from depression and anxiety, and he observed that many reports were highlighting significant increases in such conditions during lockdown: 3/5 adults reported that they have felt lonely (2020 Cigna US loneliness index), not helped by a 65% drop in international tourism during the first half of 2020 (UNWTO). Many people know the mood-enhancing power of music and exploration - and radio experts Pure revealed 48% of people turn to audio technology to combat loneliness. Spurred on by these insights, Jude was interested in creating a conceptual product that would sit harmoniously in our living space, and feel inviting, yet not intrusive.
Aside from feedback that it was 'not another App', RadioGlobe is still technically accomplished - incorporating two cutting-edge components; absolute rotary encoders, to map the earth into over 1million quadrants - these are registered to the stations via a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, and housed in a 3D-printed enclosure. Although Jude's 4 year old son has proven that the UX is 'childsplay', more astonishingly the project was built by a 75 year old across the Atlantic: "This is the most fun I have had in a long time"..."I am so enjoying listening to all the Music and Talk around the world! I've lived and worked all around [the globe], so I can go back and listen to some of these radio stations [in Europe, Africa, South America] - it's wonderful stuff... and I thank Jude so much for that!" - Chuck (Jefferson, GA)
With high praise in technical communities from Interesting Engineering to Gizmodo, RadioGlobe has also been widely shared across platforms from Reddit (100k upvotes; 1k+ comments) to TikTok (400k views; 800+ comments) - with hundreds of discourse dedicated to new ideas, and improvements on the speculative design. For Jude, this is the real thrill of creating open source Tech-Art.
RadioGlobeSpin and Search over 2000 web-radio stations!Jude Pullen
RadioGlobe in UseEffortless operation even with one hand, and giving a 'equal' perspective of both hemispheres of the globe.Jude Pullen
Detail of Screen and Jog Wheel Function.Once you are in a given city, you can scroll through more stations in that area by turning the Jog Wheel.Jude Pullen
Detail of Reticule (pointer).Perhaps V2.0 might be laser-cut from acrylic! Always things to improve on the original design.Jude Pullen
CAD ModelOpen Source Hardware (and Software), was integral to the success of the project.Jude Pullen
Basic ToolsRadioGlobe was made from relatively simple tools, and components.Jude Pullen
3D Printed PartsMade on an Ender3 Printer, and with free parts to download and modify further.Jude Pullen
Rotary Encoder Integration1024 increments of cutting edge tech!Jude Pullen
Working in the ShedRadioGlobe was created in a 2x2m shed, and then shipped as far as Japan for demonstration.Jude Pullen
"Childsplay"Jude's 4 year old son, testing the interface out.Jude Pullen
Makers of RadioGlobeFrom USA to Europe, with more besides. It truly can be made by anyone with a 3D printer and internet connection.Jude Pullen
Rendering of Globe StylesCartographic Variations.Joydipto Choudhuri / DesignSpark
THE CREATIVE BRIEF The project started as an 'open brief' for DesignSpark, who's parent company, RS Components, was also a leading distributor of the world-famous Raspberry Pi computer. Jude was tasked to create something that brought together the company's legacy , whilst giving it a modern touch for the community of tech-savvy engineers in both hardware and software.
Another aspect of the Brief was to engage people in the offering of RS Components, who stock over 500,000 items. This is both a dizzying mix of 'standard' electrical items like Switches, Connectors, Transistors, Resistors, Buttons, Power Supplies, etc. as well as cutting edge technologies.
INFLUENCES Jude combined the 'old' heritage of the company (RS stands for Radio Spares, as the company became in 1937 selling communications components), Radio transmission, with the comparatively 'new' update of web-radio - but wanted to create a product that allowed one to navigate world radio stations using a tactile solution, rather than a screen or an App, thus created the RadioGlobe, a physical interface to reach out to the rest of the world during the 2020 Covid lockdown when the sense of isolation loomed.
Much of Jude's influences at companies like Dyson, Sugru and LEGO have been extremely hands-on and creative, so the RadioGlobe, being a 'physical interface' for a 'digital world' seemed a fitting creation out of such formative influences. In parallel to these considerations, Jude has always been fascinated by global and multicultural perspectives; he himself is part English, Nigerian and Italian; His wife is from Hong Kong. Jude has lived, studied and worked in Norway, California and Scotland - yet had never been on a plane until he was 23 years old. Growing up in rural Cumbria, North England, Jude was at times frustrated at some of the more parochial aspects of a small community. So for him, RadioGlobe is something he would have wished for as a child growing up - not just for its ability to explore Music, Debates and News - but also as it serves as a 'primer' in modern design practices, by giving tuition in 3D Printing, Code and Design, but also through his 'diary camera' videos of the honest highs and lows and the gradual evolution of the concept, as opposed to skipping to the glossy 'hero shots' as so many products do.
"Although some interactions require linguistic skills, Music is one that often transcends words, and evokes universal emotions and feelings - My son and I have lost track of time exploring Jamaican Dub, Norwegian Metal, Ethiopian Jazz, or even K-Pop! Time zones also provide a joyously disorientating phenomena - being able to listen to a 'late night show' that is broadcasting live whilst you're eating breakfast," Jude said. It is all the more pleasing that the DIY guide on Instructables.com won a Grand Prize, for its clarity of idea and documentation for others to follow, in the spirit of open-source communities.
UI/UX: SIMPLE ON THE OUTSIDE, HIGH TECH ON THE INSIDE Powered by a Raspberry Pi computer, the RadioGlobe as it is known, is constructed from 3D printed parts, and around $150 worth of components: Many of which are familiar such as LEDs and LCD Screens, but the critical components are the two rotary encoders. These are no bigger than a boiled sweet, and yet are capable of detecting rotary change as small as 0.3 degrees - or to put it another way, about 33 miles. Even when located in a City, one can still 'scroll' through stations using the jog-wheel in the control panel, offering even more nuanced exploration of the 2000+ stations.
"I remember dropping in on a South African station whilst developing the project..." recalls Jude, "...and the way that they were talking about Coronavirus was very different from the news coverage in the UK. At times, the delta between global news narratives varies greatly, and it's humbling to reflect on how any one story can create a vast range of responses."
Unlike many products which are deemed 'complete' once on sale, RadioGlobe is a rare example of a highly detailed product that is designed to evolve and change. Not only has the GitHub (for Software) had updates to improve the code, as well as offers to include new 'plug-ins' such as a Shazam button (to use Artificial Intelligence to recognise a given song), the open-source publication of the 3D CAD models has already been modified by users to include different speaker configurations, and for other interface layouts. With open-source the pride is not always the 'perfection', but the 'possibility' that it inspires in others to go beyond the first iteration.
WHY OPEN SOURCE IS POWERFUL FOR CORPORATES
It's worth elaborating that the RadioGlobe having its software and hardware changed by others in the 'open source' philosophy is not only intriguing for those who designed it, but also for the company who sponsored the project. RS Components does not observe the project for hope that it may one day commercialise the RadioGlobe into a high-end luxury gizmo, (although anyone is welcome to do this!), but rather this is a touchpoint where it can see how a community responds to it as a brand, but also to the RadioGlobe itself, and what it represents in our relationship with the technology it contains.
RadioGlobe is both applauded for its use of 'Internet of Things' technology, yet also is Screenless. It is both technical on the inside, but simple and intuitive on the outside. It has respect and accolades from tech professionals and yet is understood and loved by even those who don't consider themselves 'techy'.
One can go on, but the point is that RS and DesignSpark have run a successful 'engagement', rather than trying to simply advertise to its community, or to fatuously survey them for 'what they would like?'. It simply offers up a plaything to the world, and observes how people play with it. This is the real learning for a company to get insights and provocations which cannot always be gleaned from a 'direct approach' of market analysis.
Given that RS and DesignSpark (and associated company OKdo) have strong pedigree in following engineers and designers from school to jobs, and throughout their career, projects like RadioGlobe give insight into what STE(A)M subjects and 'digital labour' vs 'digital creativity' look like in tomorrow's aspiring professionals. The value is arguably less in the tracked link, as it is in the richness of the discourse and questions around the project.
Long-term RS hopes to use 'test projects' like this to understand - through engagement - what our relationship is with technology, and how our humanity is altered through such creations. As Hemingway observed, change happens 'gradually... then suddenly', and it will be the critical mass of such creative projects, rather than just one which will usher in a new comprehension or interaction with a new technology. Brands who will be successful within new frontiers will not only have to be bold and bullish, but also temper such machismo with an ability to create and adjust, to call and respond, to provoke and listen - in short, to be open to the art of the possible.