Children's invention ideas made real
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Peter Coyle

Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, UK
Magnificent maker1 working on



Skills:Product Design, Mechanical Engineering

I design stuff for people to make and sell to other people!
Working with Octo Design, I’ve created products for lots of very different companies. 
I'm a product designer with a keen interest in the creative process.  That means I’m often involved in projects from day one, helping to shape those initial seeds of ideas through to something compelling.
I'm also a mechanical engineer who likes to make things.  That helps me work out how things will work and how we can make them a reality!

Recent blog entries

Generator and Leaves
Posted about Power Tree by Honey

Recently, I’ve been looking at the power tree’s generator and its’ leaves!

Generator  -

The generator will show how much power the tree is making and convert it into something that we can use to power other things!

To show how much power is being created, I’ve included several meters that measure voltage and amps.  These are two of the main ways of measuring electricity, and if you multiply them together you get watts a measurement of power (and light bulbs).  This means we can use the meters to tell how powerful the power tree is!

I’m going to use lots of solar panels on the power tree so I’m including a clever little circuit called a “buck/boost convertor”.  The buck/boost convertor will take all the power coming from the solar panels and create a consistent output.  Exactly what I need to power things!

To show the power tree working I’m including a small fan that will come on when the power tree is in the sun!

Leaves -

I’m using 3D printing to create the solar panel leaves.    

Each leaf will be joined to the tree by a stiff wire that runs down each branch.  This means each branch and solar panel can be repositioned to best catch the sun.  This type of metal wire structure is often used by animators for their models so they can create stop motion animation - they call them armatures.  

The leaves themselves will be printed at Octo Design (where I work).  We have a 3D printer, that we use for prototyping our designs before they are manufactured.  Our printer creates 3D models by melting a liquid with a laser!  It creates the model in slices, one on top of the other.   Once the print is complete, it needs treating with heat and UV light before it can be used. 

I created several designs for the leaves on the computer, before printing a prototype of my favourite.   I was happy with the results, so I’m now printing all the leaves I need for the power tree.  Once these are printed, I should have all the parts I need to make the power tree!!

Branches and Solar Panels
Posted about Power Tree by Honey

I’ve recently been looking at branches and solar panels for the power tree!

Branches – 

After a little experimenting, I found I could make tubes for the branches by thermoforming sheet plastic. 

Thermoforming, is where you heat plastic to make it bendy and hold it in a new shape.  When it cools it stays in the new shape!

To make branches, I needed to find just the right thickness of material – thick enough that it will be strong, but thin enough that I can roll it into tubes.  I found rolling the tubes like they roll paper straws made them very strong.

Next, I have to decide how to best join the branches!

Solar Panels – 

I want the power tree to generate a useful amount of energy – so I’ve found small solar panels I can use for the leaves.  To help me choose the right solar panels, I worked out how much power each one would give, and how many solar panels I thought the tree should have. 

I bought some panels to test and found that the amount of power the supply varies a lot depending on the time of the day, and how bright it is.  I, therefore, decided I need what is called a “buck/boost convertor”.  This takes a varying power source, and creates a constant voltage – this can then be used to power things.

Next I will have to decide what to connect to our power tree!  I could possibly add a battery, so we can store the power when it is sunny, and use it across the whole day.

Getting Started
Posted about Power Tree by Honey

In the times before Covid-19 lockdown...

I started looking at Honey’s amazing Power Tree idea.  It has so much potential, I was really pleased to get the chance to try and make it real.

I was initially thinking about how it could be a huge, power generating tree or a smaller, desktop charging device.  I realised the thing I make could help us explore both of those possibilities.

I decided to explore how we could make the power tree generate electricity. 

Honey’s original sketch has leaf shaped solar panels.  I found that solar panels can be made into lots of different shapes, although they are only readily available and mass produced in squares, rectangles and circles.  This means I will have to think about how we can use standard solar panels to make leaves.

One of the aspects of Honey’s original sketch, I really liked was how she sectioned the tree so we could see the wires inside.  We often do this with drawings and sketches when designing things, to help us explain how things work.  For the make, we can achieve a similar effect by making the branches clear, showing colourful wires travelling down the branches to the generator.

I was also thinking about how a large power tree would probably be made from tubes like a wind turbine, using as little material as possible.

So.  For the power tree model, I’m going look at transparent sheet material, rolled into tubes.  

I then wanted to know what a tree would look like made from tubes, so I decided to make some prototypes.  Prototypes are early, less detailed versions of the thing we’ll finally make.  They can be as simple as a sketch, or almost as complicated as the final thing.   

I initially made a computer model where all the tubes were the same size, with a repeating pattern (each branch splits twice).  I think this shows that with enough branches and panels, we can make quite an interesting looking tree.  I then made a paper model, where the branches/tubes get thinner as they get longer.  I also thought this worked quite well.  

At this stage, I thought it was a good idea to bring what I’d be looking at into the Octo Design Studio, to share with the team.  

There were lots of good ideas to help me make Honey’s ideas.  I particularly liked the idea of using an existing plant pot as a base, and how we could create the generator in the trunk of the tree, like Honey’s sketch.  I’m hoping to add something to the generator that will show when the tree is generating electricity.

Reviewing Honey’s idea in the studio, was actually the last thing we looked at as a team in the studio before the lockdown.  I believe it’s still on the whiteboard now! 

Since then, I had to focus a little bit on getting things setup to work from home, but I’m now moving things forward again.  I’ll save those developments for another blog post!

Ideas made real