Photobooth Mk II: The Engineering

August 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Now that we know the thought process of what we need, and what we need to change in our next generation, it's time for the (radical) redesign of the original Photobooth. Remember what we're after here: portability for a wider audience; easier setup and tear down; simplified electronics (which goes hand-in-hand with easier setup/tear down); and greater ability to sell the Photobooth at a competitive price.

In this post, we'll go over some of the decisions we've made in the engineering of the new booth. It will cover a bit of the last article, but with a bit more detail of some of our considerations. 

The current Photobooth shown in the back of my Ford Flex; small compared to when set up, it still takes a considerable amount of space Portability

First thing's first: Weight. As I mentioned in the last article, the wooden sides of the booth were there to give solid support to everything we needed in the booth. Wood, in a structural role like that, is heavy. Especially the base and top sections, which are 3/4" plywood, with 2x4" frames to hold it all together. We went that direction, figuring it would be less expensive. However, as we are researching material for the next generation, it turns out our new design - with a metal skeleton - is going to be about the same cost as the original, wooden booth.

The other downside to the wooden construction is how big everything is when we break it down. Wood obviously doesn't like to be folded up much, and, since it was structural, we didn't want to put any additional cuts into the wood itself. The metal skeleton design will allow for less overall structural material; that smaller amount of structural material will also break down to a smaller "stowed" footprint allowing it to take up less space in a car (and in my garage!). Add to it that we are taking out a couple electronic pieces, which allows the booth's footprint to be made even smaller. Smaller, lighter pieces allow for the booth to fit into more, smaller spaces, and be carried by more people. It's a win-win.

The last part of portability is the easy adaptation of fabric sides to the booth. While I still plan to have solid sides on my Photobooth, other versions could be optioned with fabric sides instead, allowing for an even more compact, "stowed" booth. Metal snaps welded onto the outer edges of the frame would make for a slightly less cluttered approach to attaching the sides, too (versus possible hardware to attach solid sides).

Setup and Tear Down

The last thing you want to encounter while setting up for an event is to not have the right tool for the job. To this end, my business partner's goal for the original booth's design was to make it's assembly "No Tools Needed." This has worked out well, because the only tool I really need for setting up is a small driver to attach the legs of my bench. This means I only have to keep track of one driver, one bit, and one charging cord, not double or triple all that. With Photobooth Mk II, we are mostly keeping the assembly no tools needed, because it's just that important to us. 

A Photosynth constructed photo of the booth, set up for a recent birthday party Instead of the tab-and-slot design of Mk I, we are going to have slightly over-sized joints that will let the metal tubes of the skeleton slide right in. That means the structure of the booth will be quick and easy to assemble. There are two places of structure, however, that will need some sort of fasteners and tooling to assemble: the support for the camera-light combo, and the support for our tablet computer that will stick out the front (more on that below). While the ideal would be for no tools, just some hardware (think a bolt and wingnut), there would be the possibility to substitute a phillips-head bolt to do the work. 

The other area that some tools may be required would be for the paneling on the outside of the booth. Right now we are looking at wing nuts to do the job (though I am not sure if I want the wings sticking out from the sides of the booth). In all, the changes make for much quicker setups, because of a) less weight, and b) not having to be quite so gentle with many of the pieces. With the current, wooden booth, one scratch can really stand out!

Electronics

When my cousin first saw the inner workings of the Photobooth, he marveled a bit at how the electronics went together. Him being the computer hobbyest he is, made the mention that, at some point in the future, I'd have everything running off a tablet computer, instead of the cumbersome computer and touchscreen monitor I have now. At the time he mentioned it, I said, "yeah, probably, but not today." 

Turns out, that point in the future came a lot sooner than I had thought.

I was looking at an update of my photo booth software where they mentioned updated compatibility with Windows 8. That got my brain going, since Windows 8 was designed to work on a desktop, laptop, phone and - most importantly for me - tablet equally well. (How well depends on your feelings about this newest Windows OS; mine are mixed so far, but I'm going to stay positive that things will smooth out!) Being able to use a tablet for my computer and for my viewing screen inside the booth eliminates a lot of complexity in setting up the booth. I am now able to eliminate one electronic piece, and three (!) individual cords inside the booth.

This one switch makes the Photobooth easier to set up, and able to have more compact dimensions, since we don't have to find room inside the booth for a computer. We're also going to mount the screen lower, and closer to the camera. Since the screen is so high right now, we get a lot of people looking up at the screen and not at the camera. While I'm not sure we're going to have fewer people looking at the screen, it won't look quite as goofy since the screen will be a lot closer to where they should be looking anyway. 

Otherwise, the electronics are staying the same: a great Canon DSLR, a high speed, high quality dye sublimation printer, and a studio-quality, ring light strobe. Why change what's working so well for us?!

Making it Saleable

Possibly the biggest problem facing us when we considered selling the current booth is cost. Because we built it out of non-standard dimensions of plywood, just about every piece needed fairly major cutting. And that's not to mention the addition of internal structures to guide the prints down to the pick-up, to hold the monitor, to hold the (quite heavy) printer, and a spot for the computer. All of which added a whole bunch of screw holes that had to be filled, sanded, filled and sanded again. Then we went and rounded many of the corners, and prepped for paint. Along with a seemingly endless bunch of other little modifications that take time to put in the right spots. This made our costs outrageous and huge, and it wasn't able to come down at all if someone ordered multiples, since the complexity of the build meant there would be little to no time saved building a few at a time. We figured that we were - at best - 50% more expensive than anyone else. That's too much. 

With this new design, we will be able to get much more out of "off the shelf" materials. There is much less modification to do to each piece, and we should be able to easily scale up our raw material buying if we need to build multiple copies. Not to mention that, since we don't have to modify each piece so heavily, we can see better usage of our time as we build, allowing us to build in more of an "assembly line" fashion if we get multiple orders, or orders for multiple booths!

The other big advantage we have is the portability. While I want hard sides (that take up a bit of extra room) on my booth, we also will have the option to have fabric sides to attach as well. This one small addition allows our booth to be hauled around by just about any small hatchback (think Dodge Caliber, Kia Soul, Scion xB or the like) or larger. Photo quality and portability better than the competition at competitive pricing is exactly what we set out to do, and I think we're there!

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So there you have it. The newly engineered Photobooth! We're getting close to going out and building our first one, which should happen sometime in early- to mid-October. Stay tuned for behind the scenes photos and blog updates!

Next up in the series: Design Enhancements


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