Novena Laptop Computer Design

photo : Scott Torberg

photo : Scott Torberg/Crowd Supply

Novena Laptop Design

Several months back I was approached by friend and collaborator Joshua Lifton of Crowd Supply to consider working on a design for a new laptop computer case. It took me a moment to realize he was talking not about a carry case but the actual housing for a computer system. Since we were already working on a specialized keyboard project, it seemed like a natural fit. The only catch – I had about three months to get it ready to photograph!

He provided the URLs for details on the hardware and as soon as I began reading I was hooked. Renowned hardware designer Bunnie Huang was creating an open-source computer with amazing specs and had already received much interest and positive feedback on the project.

I had been designing bespoke cameras for the better part of 25 years and was looking for a new outlet for my skills and design philosophy. As an Apple computer fan and an even bigger fan of Apple design precursor Dieter Rams, I was game for a challenge in the electronic hardware realm.

Right side open view - photo:Scott Torburg/Crowd Supply

Right side open view – photo:Scott Torburg/Crowd Supply

I jumped in and began work with excellent feedback from Josh and his partner Scott. The original concept more closely resembled a tablet without a touch screen – it was strongly hinted that the target audience was not in the touch screen camp! Before long I began working more closely with Bunnie on the project and the concept morphed in the laptop direction with a twist – the keyboard would be removable. Bunnie’s hardware is a hacker’s dream and easy access to the inner workings was a given.

Cables! – photo Scott Torburg/Crowd Supply

I considered a variety of approaches and finally settled on very familiar territory – the combination of metal and wood. My camera designs utilize this classic combination but with a more modern design character than the more common rectilinear forms. They often incorporate a fabrication technique similar to that developed for the British Mosquito bombers of WW2 and carried forth by the Eames design duo in their classic furniture designs. It is an effective means of producing the curved forms I admire.

I began a series of experiments with material combinations. It soon became clear that an alternative to my usual “cross-banded” wood veneer lamination might be useful in this instance. Leaning on my camera design experience once again, this time looking to the composite fabrication techniques used for some of my panoramic camera designs, I pushed harder on the experimentation and finally landed on a combination that worked. A hybrid not unfamiliar to contemporary surfboard makers, the Novena composite consists of outer layers of paper backed wood veneer over a high-density cork core with intervening layers of 5.5 ounce fiberglass cloth all assembled with a high modulus epoxy resin. The result is a very stiff and light weight material perfectly adapted to the vacuum-lamination process used to assemble them.

With this new material option in hand, I went to work on curves. Perhaps due in part to my background in luthery (guitar building) and my father’s career with Porsche, I have a great fondness for curves. And of course, a great advantage of curves is their inherent stiffness – expressed in its purest form in monocoque structures. In the case for the Novena, the structure relies on additional elements, perhaps qualifying it for the moniker “semi-monocoque”.

The final configuration of the Novena case relies upon this wood-cork composite material for the flat LCD bezel, the bent-laminated lower housing and an additional feature – a removable panel behind the lift-off keyboard that, with the keyboard removed, provides for full access to the interior of the system. A key feature of the design is the wavy pattern across the bottom of the case intended to improve rigidity and cooling from the bottom of the case while providing a unique visual element in the design.


Wavy bottom curves – photo:Scott Torburg/Crowd Supply

Completing the structure are machined side panels in 6061 aluminum with a simple facet at the top and bottom to emphasize the port array and articulate the overall form. The sides fit flush with the top components and transition around the front and back to extend beneath the curved wooden case at the bottom to protect the wood finish.

Left side with ports - photo: Scott Torborg

Left side with ports – photo: Scott Torborg/Crowd Supply

The design considers the ergonomics of the bluetooth ThinkPad keypad in continuing the keyboards’s subtle front curve down the front edge of the case to provide a comfortable palm rest. A simple cutaway at the center of the palm rest allows for the removal of the keyboard.

Removable bluetooth keyboard – photo: Scott Torborg

In an attempt to carry through a simple, artisinal quality in the design, I opted to show the friction hinges in a fashion reminiscent of lidded wooden boxes. A straightforward mounting arrangement will allow for a low-impact replacement procedure in the event of a very active user!

Novena-1010 section

Hinge and speaker/cooling port – photo:Scott Torburg/Crowd Supply

I chose rift-sawn white oak for the prototype but have an eye on options for the final version. An unobtrusive, hand applied finish will compliment the bead-blast-and-anodize finish on the aluminum sides.

I will be posting further updates on the design both here and at the Crowd Supply site during the campaign.

Kurt Mottweiler
Portland, Oregon

Lensless in Portland


First Friday event at ADX in Portland
November 1, 6-9 pm
417 SE 11th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214


Thanks to all those who came out for the opening evening. It was a pleasure to work with these three friends on the event.
Remember that the show’s images will remain on display through the month of November. Unfortunately, the cameras were only on display for the opening event.
Be sure to check it out and have a look at the ADX facilities if you haven’t been there.

Phase two: Project Petzval

Petzval lens in its new mount

Petzval lens in its new mount

The next lens in the vintage lens / 5D Mk3 project is this nice vintage Petzval. we had an available bellows mount that just happened to fit the second EOS body adapter I had on hand. I fabricated an adapter to mount the lens to the front standard and bored a slight clearance in the rear standard to just reach infinity. The extant bellow sitting behind the rig is too small on the inside dimension to accommodate the lens so I will make a bag bellows to fit between the standards. It seemed not worth the effort to fab and fold up a new bellows.

Meanwhile the first project with a Tessar has been through some testing with revision to be made. I’ll post the revised version when it’s ready to rip.

In the interval, I’ll give a shout out to my favorite captain of industry – Elon Musk – and this amazing video of the Model S production facility. I do love Tesla . . .

Portland bike views and moving metal

Mt Hood on evening bike ride (with Zane)

Mt Hood on evening bike ride (with Zane)

I took my rascally Klein franken-bike and rode over to Rocky Butte for modest workout and some great views over the city. Zane (my African Grey parrot) is becoming increasingly proficient at bike rides. He told me to snap this iPod view of the Hood from on top.

Hacking a press brake

Hacking a press brake

I needed to use my pneumatically-enhanced Bonny Doone clone to bend some 1/4 SS so I welded up a shop made press brake attachment. The little beast did the job with ease.

“Air bending” is an interesting process. The gap between the two bending points determines the radius of bend.

I found that a piece of thin gauge sacrificial metal under the part took the scraping and preserved the surface on the part. Now I can make all sorts of 90 degree-ish things!


Camera projects

I recently made a pair of these cameras at the request of a friend who does architectural photography. The idea had been to do a shift camera but my friend finally came to me with the idea of using multiple pinholes instead. So I built this very simple 4 by 5 camera with short focal length that can either be shot as a shift camera or with multiple pinholes open at once. A steel lens board allow simple magnets to be used for shutters.

front view of Archicam

Magnetic pinhole covers

Archicam top removed

Removable top and lens board

Archicam multi-pinhole lensboard

Multi pinhole lensboard

bubble level in top panel

Bubble level

4 by 5 holder system

Simplified holder system

Wooden Camera Workshop

I am scheduled to teach a workshop in wooden camera construction at the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts in June. The online schedule and class description is here. It takes place over one weekend with a follow-up on the following Saturday to finish up any final details. The shop will be available during the intervening week.

The camera design is a simplified version of the roll-film camera I generally make. It will be a 6 by 6 format camera made from curved wooden laminations. Custom metal hardware will be provided.

It should be a fun project and an excellent tool to add to your photographic tool chest.

Contact me if you have any questions. kurt at mottweilerstudio dot com or 503.201.9326.

Design study for P.60

Design study for P.60 – dropped sliding back.

OCAC_Wooden Camera Design_062113_Mottweiler_Register_HR

Print this to hand out to your film geek friends!

CNC for sissies

If I had one of these:

  • I’d be the coolest guy in the neighborhood.
  • I would carve my house from one block of  . . .
  • I could probably sell the rest of my equipment.
  • I probably couldn’t afford the tooling.
  • I might spend some time standing in there also . . .

One-Minute Camera – working out a design

The One Minute Camera design process is moving from cardboard mockups to a wooden prototype. As a first attempt, it will no doubt fall short in some ways. But I’m anxious to get some experience with it to see how it might be improved. The wooden prototype is being made of quarter-sawn fir that was salvaged from my 1928 bungalow remodel. Fir would not be a first choice for building a camera but since this particular kind of camera is often cobbled together by an amateur for use in making their own livelihood, they often have a kind of folk art feel about them. So the reclaimed fir seemed appropriate for this first attempt.

The prototype in front of a cardboard mockup

I don’t know exactly how the various penetrations into the camera will play out so I chose to build it with box jointed sides and a frame and panel top. I’ll be cutting holes in the back and sides before the design is finished. Then I’ll have to decide how to proceed in the final version after this one has been tested. Among things to be included is the removable processing tank for the bottom of the camera. Various ideas are in play for a ground glass viewer/paper neg carrier.

Variable spacing box joints.

I dusted off my WoodRat joinery machine for this job. Since it doesn’t rely on hard spacing setups, I varied the spacing of the pins a bit as is sometime done with historical examples of dovetail spacing in camera design. I may end up sawing through some of these to hinge off a top section of the camera.

Billy and I found a couple of additional patents for this type of camera so there is now a bit more information on historical solutions to this camera design challenge. More updates will be posted as things progress.

A new addition for the loop trail?

trampoline sidewalk

What an irresistible idea! I saw this a while back an couldn’t help envisioning it along Portland’s Waterfront Park. Just imagine the stunned visitor to Portland peering across the Willamette and seeing people bouncing along the opposite shore. Of course, who knows what we would find underneath it after a while!

A group show in December

My neighbor and good friend Maureen asked me to participate in a fun concept show at the 12X16 Gallery. Maureen is a member of the gallery which is putting together a group show consisting of work from each of the members displayed along with a guest invited by each member. It’s called Member’s Choice. So I will be providing an image to be displayed with one of my own camera creations called the Pinoramic 120 V2. Maureen has chosen a piece of her work that we think shares a bit of the feel of my image. I’m looking forward to seeing the other choices and a fun evening on the gallery’s usual First Friday opening.

12X16 Gallery
8235 SE 13th Ave. No. 5
Portland, OR 97202

Opening – First Friday – December 7, 5 to 9 pm
Artist’s Reception – Sunday December 16, 2 to 4 pm


Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.