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Universal Port

A proper use for Pin Sculpture
  [vote for,

I am thoroughly bored with having so many plugs on my computer. Serial, parallel, DVI, monitor, firewire, USB, RJ45... many's the time I've scavenged bits of hardware, only to find I then need an adaptor to be able to connect the thing up. What's more, all these different plugs are ugly-looking and ruin the lines of my nice sexy laptop (or would, if I had one).

Enter the Universal Port. Basically this is a smooth array of fine pins, cunningly retractable in a cunning, friction-loaded kind of way and connected (also cunningly) to a particularly cunning bit of hardware (I won't confuse you with details, as teachers sa when they don't kno the anser).

To operate... let's take an example. I want to plug in my USB scanner. By opening up my iPlug software, I can drag and drop a USB icon a picture of my Universal Port. Then, I can simply shove the USB plug into the UP, and the UP's pins retract to accommodate it. Since it knows what signals to look for, the hardware can first isolate the 5V and earth connections, then knows where to look for the signal pins. Then, it can start booting up the scanner and away we go. Then, I can drag and drop something else next to it and plug that in, too.

Cleverer people than me will know if this is possible to do electronically, but mechanically it shouldn't be too tricky. The pins would have to be very small - say, 0.1mm diameter - and they'd have to be cleverly insulated, but since they'd be closely packed and mutually supporting it might even be a benefit if they were really thin and flexible, more like hairs than pins. When you've finished, a mechanical reset mechanism would sweep up and push all the pins to the front again.

Admittedly, D-connectors (parallel ports, etc.) would lose the ability to screw into the back, so it would be more use for temporary connections than permanent ones, but it would still be dead useful to be able to reconfigure your laptop to accept any sort of input...

moomintroll, May 28 2005

Universal socket http://www.amazon.c...hildASIN=B000065CJ8
Same idea, but for unscrewing things [omegatron, May 28 2005]


       a cunning plan, huh?
po, May 28 2005

       I thought that this was what USB was intended to do. While the idea is of merit (both yours and USB!) you will always have some form of legacy or aged equipment that will not be supported or will at least require an old style connector or port. If you are lucky, the company will develop a driver for the new universal port/ This has happened to us recently in the controls/BMS environment due to new laptops coming out without an RS232 port - most comms applications used good old Comm1 - now we have to buy the USB to rs232 (or RS485) converter.
gnomethang, May 28 2005

       Well, the idea would be (hopefully) to catch _all_ legacy connectors. The port itself would be totally reconfigurable, so (assuming it all works) as long as you can find the software, you can drive whatever port you like. Off the top of my head I can't think of any that need anything more than straight in-out sort of pins, so in principle it could do any old connector. With a bit of luck, some otaku somewhere will take it upon him/herself to write drivers for _everything_.   

       [po] As cunning as a... well, you know. A very cunning thing.
moomintroll, May 28 2005

       You'd probably have several actual pins per each hole on the connector. What about connectors with pins, though? That might be trickier.   

       Also these pins would probably bend and/or break, just like the real thing, when too much stress is put on them, since the port would apparently have no other mechanical connection mechanism. What might be better is a blank wall full of holes. You place the connector against it, grippers slide down and hold the connector firmly in place, and then the pins move OUT into the connector instead of being pushed in.   

       It's certainly possible electronically, but would cost a lot. Especially with high-speed connections you'll have to worry about transmission line effects and stuff. It would be helpful if the computer knew what kind of port it was interfacing with first.
omegatron, May 28 2005

       //It would be helpful if the computer knew// ...hence the drag-and-drop bit in the posting. Great link, btw, thanks!   

       I chose the pin sculpture thing (a) because of that self-same socket wrench you posted a link to, and (b) because it's mechanically nice and simple . You could get additional security from clamping the whole pin area (easy, all you need to do is bring one of the boundaries in a bit, and hey presto all the pins are locked together). Pushing stuff out might be more tricky.
moomintroll, May 28 2005

       //well, you know//erm,yeah...
po, May 28 2005

       I think mechanically it would be vulnerable, but it's a great idea.
A compromise would be to have a port which is keyhole-shaped, with a long 'tail'. The plugs would all have to have the wide bit (fitting in the wide part of the hole), but could have longer or shorter tails as needed, to accommodate more or fewer pins. The port would then 'probe' the device as you describe, to figure out what type of socket it needed to be electronically. This would not be backward compatible, but at least the next generation of devices could all use the same hole, regardless of whether they needed fewer (mouse) or more (monitor) pins.
Basepair, May 28 2005

       I think the main problem with fibre optic cables at this level is cost; it is expensive compared to other cable options and also requires a specialist to terminate in a box at each end. The boxes tend to be on the large side (although with not much in them so they could get smaller!). I think it would cause problems for a laptop.
gnomethang, May 29 2005


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