This week’s selection is a custom AirPod repair and upgrade by Ken Pillonel of the “Exploring the Simulation” YouTube channel.
Pillonel is a student working on his Master degree in robotics at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, but he also dabbles in 3D printing projects. He’s most well-known for a famous experiment where he somehow converted a standard iPhone to have a USB-C port.
Apple, which was the company that promoted USB-C most prominently, somehow still doesn’t use it on all their products, including the iPhone and AirPods. It’s likely they will at some point, simply because some jurisdictions are considering legally requiring standard ports on devices. That would inevitably end up being USB-C.
Pillonel turned his attention to the AirPods when his charging case’s battery expired. Batteries in such devices typically wear down after a couple of years, but unfortunately there is no way to replace them. You end up just buying a new set and throwing away the old ones.
This didn’t sit well with Pillonel, who sought a way to replace the expired battery in the case.
He quickly realized that the case is not openable. In other words, you have to destroy it to get inside. After some experiments, he was able to carefully saw open the case to reveal the battery and replace it with one that can be ordered online.
However, putting it back together was a problem, because the case was destroyed.
Enter 3D printing. Pillonel first developed a prototype using FFF 3D printing on a Prusa i3, which allowed him to get the dimensions correct. However, the surface quality was not great, and that’s particularly problematic for such a touchable item as an AirPod case.
To solve the surface quality issue, Pillonel then used an Anycubic Photon Mono X 3D printer, which uses resin to 3D print in far higher resolution. Pillonel was able to produce a replacement case easily that not only fit correctly, but also had a smooth surface that came close to the original AirPod’s.
Here’s the video of the entire journey:
There’s more. While Pillonel was inside the AirPod, he decided to make another modification: change them to use USB-C, just like he did with his original project with the iPhone.
This step turned out to be complex, requiring custom made metal parts, but in the end the project worked: Pillonel had successfully replaced the battery AND converted the AirPods to USB-C.
Open source hardware is definitely a thing, but you wouldn’t expect it to be the case on Apple AirPods, yet Pillonel was able to do so with the help of some custom PCBs, laser cutting and 3D printing.