Product idea: Framework Flashlight utilizing Expansion card format

TL;DR: USB-C powered light heads in an expansion card form, for use as a modular flashlight, bike light, headlamp, work light, power bank, and more.


This is my concept drawing to make the idea clearer - for more info see the bottom of the post!

Now, this is not a super high volume or high waste consumer electronics category. Mobile phones, printers, and ebikes are naturally a way higher priority - I see that FW has decided to stay out of printers, and I imagine given their skillset that phones might be their first field to branch out into.
With that said, I think this is a brilliant idea that works well with Framework’s technology. If this is something you’d like to tinker with, whether you’re Nirav Patel of Framework, Hank Wang of Emisar, or an enthusiastic Framework modder, please feel free to offer any thoughts in the comments! Many I’m happy to make some concepts of how the design would look and function, but I don’t have the time, equipment or skills to experiment with hardware myself.

To start I have to introduce readers to the current reality:

  • Replaceable batteries are becoming extremely rare among consumer lighting products

  • Every light has tradeoffs and it is often impossible for someone to find a light that meets their exact needs, leading to massive collections, expensive purchases, and devices that become obsolete after a few years. Bike lights using MicroUSB are a great example.

  • There is only one company that allows you to custom order a multi-emitter flashlight with an open source user interface: Noctigon Emisar. They have a huge following, no competition, are confined to basically one shape and layout, and their buyers buy many lights in order to try emitters and combinations they like.

The many features of modern lights:

  • A light is made up of four main things: Frame, Li-ion battery, Emitter (LED), Circuit Board.

  • A flashlight can include: UV light, laser pointer, warm or cool white LEDs, red LEDs, RGB LEDs, reverse charging (powerbank) functionality, indicators for battery and brightness state, and more.

  • The light source can be positioned: at the end, at a right angle, on the side, on a rotating head, and more

  • Their beams can be: floody and diffuse, throwy and high candela (a fantastic harmless, legal self defense tool available to everyone), adjustable, lantern-like, or flat cut-off like car headlights

  • Their shape can be: circular or rectangular, large or small, thick or slim, grippy or smooth

  • Their buttons can be: mechanical or electronic, located on the side, tail, or head, rotating rings or sliding toggles, depth sensing buttons, and more

  • Their batteries can be AA or AAAs, 14500s, 16340s, 18650s, 21700s, integrated LiPo batteries, and so on

  • The user interface can be like a bike light (hold to turn on/off and press to cycle through modes), the opposite, a simple rotation, mode memory, or a complex one-button UI like Anduríl 2.

  • You can use your light at any brightness, with any combination of emitters active, steady on, flashing in any way (such as bike strobe, tactical strobe, emulating a candle, acting as a flashing locator beacon, in a manual mode for morse code, and more)

The Opportunity:

One could design modular light heads around the Framework Expansion Card format. The light heads could be within the card size, or extended like the Ethernet port to accommodate large optics. They would contain the button(s) emitter(s) and necessary circuitry. Emitters could be located on the narrow side pointing forward, or at a right angle on the face of the card. The light heads would draw power over USB-C and could also be programmable by plugging the head directly into a computer, allowing you to customise the light modes and user interface. The light heads would be accompanied by a separate battery/handle. They could be slim, providing room for two heads, or large, allowing for hot-swappable batteries and extra space for heads, allowing a two-slot head to be used alongside a slim head, and so on.

You could use the handles as a USB-C powerbank, or power light heads off of any existing powerbank, or even power light heads using your phone’s USB-C power delivery. Your bike light could draw power from the USB charge port on your ebike battery, you could run a headlamp off of an external battery inside your jacket so it stays warm in freezing conditions, you could store extra light heads inside your framework or one of the many expansion card cases available. You could have a tiny battery-holder for your EDC light and pop the emitter on a larger battery bank when you need long runtimes, instead of buying a large flashlight. You could have a bike light, headlamp, powerful searchlight, EDC pocket light, roadside beacon, lantern and more, all with the appropriate hardware, your preferred UI, all using the same universal power system, for the right amount of power, at the right size and weight, in the right place, whenever you need it.

For inspiration and to learn more about flashlights, see Wuben’s designs, Emisar, the Wurkkos HD01, KNOG’s discontinued PWR series, the Luxwad channel, and Toykeeper’s Anduríl firmware.

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I’m pretty sure that you can buy 18650/21700 flashlights and battery chargers and scavenge battery cells from used laptop battery packs and from power banks. but how can you put that into the expansion card slot

I heard as a scam nitecore and alike rewrap 18650/14500 cells(possibly refurbished) and sell them at 500% price compared to original battery from known manufacturers.

how can you put that into the expansion card slot

This is where I need a better visualization!

The expansion card compatible light heads would contain the emitter, button and circuit. The power source would be whatever they plug into. There would be separate ‘holders’ that take the expansion cards and contain the power source for handheld use. Given the dimensions of expansion cards, a holder could be say 12mm thick and 3.5cm wide, and accommodate two light cards stacked back to back at the end of it. This holder would have two female USB-C ports, rails to support the cards, and a battery behind that. A thin holder like this could use a flat battery that is only replaceable by a screwdriver, just like the Framework’s battery. A slightly thicker one might be able to accommodate user hotswappable batteries, such as a pair of AA-size 14500 cells, and two AAs as a backup.

I’ll work on a concept drawing since a lot of people have looked at this thread : )

The expansion cards are 6mm thick and 30mm wide and 32mm depth into the port and that includes the casing.

As for torches with µUSB ports etc. there are adapters they are perfectly usable.

Some have batteries that in themselves have USB C ports so you can remove them and charge them separately. I haven’t come across a torch in 30 years that can’t be charged.

I’m pretty up on that as I reside off grid with solar and 12v so use various chargers and adapters etc.

Thanks for the measurements, I took the same numbers from my expansion card and already factored that into the design. And yeah, it’s easy to charge old devices and removable cells, I do, but many people like to “move with the times” and buy new products for that reason, or because their needs change. That’s a big part of where Framework appeals to people.

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The wording of this post could use a little update, but overall it gets the idea across.

For specific details on the handle and emitter formats, and the usefulness of USB power, please check out my post on r/flashlight: https://www.reddit.com/r/flashlight/comments/1doed62/a_gamechanging_idea_for_flashlight_design_i_had/