Google EcoNest

In a 1-month long competition in 2021 hosted by BioDesign and Google, teams were prompted to make a Google product more sustainable. Our team focused on creating a technically feasible recommendation for the Google Nest Audio, centered on material reduction and design for disassembly. Our team was selected as one of four finalists in the competition.
Team:
Jiwon Woo
Jenn Kim
Cedric Pascal-Sommer
Project duration:
4 weeks
Deliverables:
Industrial design, sustainability
Tools:
Adobe Suite
3D printing, EDS
X-ray, EDS
Solidworks
Keyshot
Project Goal
Envisioning a more sustainable Google Nest Audio
We set out to help the Google Nest Audio reach its fullest sustainablity potential. Currently, it is impossible to disassemble without damaging. We set out to enable users to repair the device as needed, in order to ensure a long product life. We also aimed to reduce materials and combine parts when possible.
Problem discovery
Analysis of current Google Nest Audio
We planned to disassemble the Google Nest Audio but could not find an entry point, and were worried about damaging the device. We used x-ray imaging to see the internal components and determine how to disassemble the product without destroying the parts. After disassembly, we identified the chemical compositions using an energy dispersive spectrometer (EDS). We saw an opportunity to create an intuitive disassembly and repairability experience, and reduce uncessesary materials.
Key Research learning
Material reduction, inspired by nature
We interviewed Dr. James Weaver, a Harvard researcher who specializes in bio-inspired materials. In nature, resources are always scarce; organisms cannot exploit raw materials in unlimited quantities. Therefore, species have come up with creative approaches to grow efficiently and still meet their performance requirements. One of the best examples of optimal material use can be found inside human trabecular bone, which maximizes strength with the least amount of material required.
User Interviews
Users need clear and thorough instructions to repair confidently
I conducted in-person interviews with users to understand their experience with repairing their electronics and disposing of them at the end of life. I found an opportunity to create clearer instructions to educate users about how they might do this.
Research Question & Design Objectives
Users need clear and thorough instructions to repair confidently
Vintage hi-fi systems are still sought-after today. High-end audio equipment lasts an entire lifetime, and can be passed down to children as an heirloom. While smart speakers have added functionality, they also have sensors that can wear out. Can we extend the product life of a smart speaker to be the same as high-end audio equipment?
Ideation
Exploring how to allow repairability and reduce materials
We wanted to combine parts that seemed redundant, namely the two back panels of the existing Nest. We also wanted to make it clear that the product could be opened using a non-proprietary screwdriver, to access the internals.
Ideation
Exploring topology optimization
To further explore material reduction we used a tool that could apply a Voronoi diagram to a 3D-scanned Nest part. This algorithm mimics the topology optimization of human trabecular bone. We 3D printed a part that could become the front speaker grill in our new Nest design.
Recommendation
Introducing Google EcoNest
Instead of replacing my smart speaker with a new one when a component wears out, what if I could repair it myself? The current Google Nest Audio is not designed to be repairable by consumers. Our new design embodies our framework of reducing materials via topology optimization, and designing for repairability.
Dimensions
Same footprint as the original
We kept the exterior dimensions exactly the same as the original Google Nest Audio.
Materials
Strategically reducing material
We noticed that the hefty weight of the Nest Audio gives it a premium feel, and helps it to stay put on the table, and we wanted to maintain that. We sought to minimize the use of plastic, reducing it by 74%, by repurposing an aluminum internal component as the main housing. A magnesium internal component was no longer necessary and we eliminated it. We left the internal components of the Nest Audio unchanged. By reducing material carefully and strategically, we were able to maintain a premium feel.
Materials
Designed for repair
We designed the device to be easy to open with non-proprietary screws. Components that are most susceptible to wearing out, such as electronic sensors, can be easily replaced.
Web interface
Clear and thorough instructions empower users to repair
We imagined intuitive illustrated instructions that will instill confidence. Users can easily click through to see how to disassemble, and reassemble, in order to replace worn-out parts.
Key Feature
Interchangeable speaker covers
The fabric speaker covers are magnetically interchangeable, so users can change the look of their speaker as tastes change. Covers are created using 3D printing, 3D knitting, and agile manufacturing techniques, allowing low number runs and limited editions.
References
  1. Mugge, R., Schoormans, J. L., & Schifferstein, H. J. (2009). Emotional bonding with personalised products. Journal of Engineering Design, 20(5), 467–476. https://doi-org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/10.1080/09544820802698550