Robotics engineering student Ken Pillonel followed up his USB-C iPhone mod with a modified pair of AirPods with a USB-C port for charging, replacing Apple’s proprietary Lightning port. While the result was simple (USB-C cable goes in, power goes up), it was an engineering challenge that Pillonel said consumed “almost all my weekends for a few months.” This comes about a month after completing a project that brought a Lightning port to an Android phone.
Pillonel plans to release a full video explaining the project in the coming weeks, but for now he has released a short clip showing his modified AirPods being charged with the same USB-C cable as a MacBook and his previously modified iPhone. He plans to open the project like he did with the USB-C iPhone for others to follow in his footsteps.
In an email, Pillonel explains that he started by creating a proof of concept without regard to appearance (the results of which he published a few months ago), before gradually refining his work to fit into the case of ‘Apple. Eventually, the student says he designed a custom flexible PCB containing the necessary charging hardware, which he was able to bend to fit the AirPods case. In photos, the USB-C port looks almost as seamlessly integrated as the headphones’ native Lightning port.
Apple already uses USB-C ports to charge its laptops and a growing number of its tablets, but it continues to ship Lightning ports on its smaller, more portable devices like iPhones and AirPods as well as Mac accessories like his mouse, trackpad and keyboard. . That means even someone who’s fully bought into Apple’s product ecosystem can’t get away with just one charging cable. As mods like this prove, there’s nothing stopping Apple from moving to a more convenient universal charging standard, a choice that likely has something to do with the control that the proprietary Lightning interface gives Apple.
EU regulators are trying to turn things around with new legislation they hope will force companies like Apple to use the universal USB-C charging standard on phones, tablets and headphones, in a bid to reduce electronic waste. But until such legislation comes into effect, mods like Pillonel’s are probably the best we’ll get.