Years ago, IDEO projects were primarily completed inside our studios. No longer. These days, more and more IDEO designers are embedded with client teams around the globe and prototyping in the field.
This initially created some technology and infrastructure challenges. Things like storage (a file server), connectivity (the Internet, a wired and wireless local area network), enterprise grade server architecture (domain controllers, print servers, etc.) and protection (a professional-grade firewall) all had to be accessible in remote locations.
Basically, we needed to find a way to take all this stuff:
And put it in a container small enough for a designer to hand carry on a plane. Oh, and also make sure it works anywhere in the world, with whatever voltage is prevalent.
We codenamed our solution the CUBE:
Building on Learnings by First Responders
The CUBE is an advanced office-in-a-box inspired by the portable communication technology used by FEMA and the US military. Since 2009, the CUBE has undergone three revisions. It’s been user-tested by a project team in Delhi and deployed at places around the globe, including a rented warehouse space we used for a large architectural mock-up, startup IDEO locations in India and Japan, and pop-up design studios—one inside a client’s facilities.
To build the CUBE, we started with a Pelican(tm) model 1510 case with a form factor that was approved by the FAA for carry-on luggage. These devices are expensive to build (upwards of $8,000), so we wanted to ensure that the CUBE would stay with the team on the plane and not get “abused” by baggage handlers.
Then we got to work on a bill of materials for the various ports, plugs, exhaust fans, etc.:
We were very concerned about heat load, so we specified the largest CFM fan we could find that operated 110-240V. The rest of the electronics already operated between 110-240V, so this allowed us to use the CUBE in places like India and the UK where the voltage was higher than the US. All we had to do was send it with the right power cord since internally all the devices’ power cords were spliced together. This presented another “in the field” design challenge. Current pull was around 14 amps (total). In places like India, where voltage and building infrastructure can be erratic, this resulted in some tripped circuit breakers.
In V3 of the CUBE, we wanted to integrate a server architecture component so that we could have domain controllers, print servers, and any other server architecture we thought we might need for a studio environment. Our biggest problem was that we couldn’t find a server small enough that supported virtualization. Specifically, most fanless microcomputers don’t support more than 4GB of RAM, and we needed more than that to support a 2-4 virtual server environment. In the end, the only capable server we could find was a HP microserver:
But it was too big to fit in the Pelican case. Se we got rid of the chassis entirely and mounted the main motherboard, power supply, and HD sub chassis directly in the Pelican case with a healthy supply of metal standoffs and velcro:
Finally, all the mounting holes were drilled out and the ethernet bulkhead ports, keyboard and mouse UBS ports (for the V-host) fitted, and fan assemblies were installed.
After some more internal cabling and a bunch of electronic, software, and license installs and testing, we have our CUBE: ready to be deployed anywhere IDEO wants to conduct business, for however long they need it. Currently a V3 CUBE runs the Tokyo office with a employee count of 6 and has been in continuous operation for more than a year.
(left) This is a V1 CUBE deployed in our new Chicago studio when it was still under construction. (Here you see it padlocked to a wooden beam)
These are pictures of a V2 CUBE that was deployed with a project team for user testing in Dehli, India:
This is V3 CUBE in production at a former/temporary studio in Mumbai, India: