Just last month, Motorola announced their new modular phone development, Project Ara. Now they’ve just announced that their newest partner on Ara will be 3D Systems. The 3D printing company previously partnered with Motorola on their cross-country tour, which unveiled the 3D printed case for the Moto X. The deal is said to span multiple years with Motorola, and to concentrate on creating the modules of pieces that will be added to the phone’s list of components.
3D Systems are very specialized in 3D printing’s additive manufacturing. They are well-known for selling their consumer line of 3D printers, called the Cube. 3D Systems have been known to work with the aerospace industry among others in the past.
Some of the benefits of using a 3D printed component are the increased strength and the light-weight of the innovative materials and additives being used. New modules can be quickly designed and put into production. Other benefits are building inexpensive prototypes for show or testing. 3D printing also allows quick printing of circuit boards using a conductive ink that allows for the flow of electricity within the module being built.
The modular phone design was first made popular by a design student, Dave Hakkens. His video recently went viral with over 18.2 million views. The video is of Hakkens demonstrating his idea for a future generation of phones that would be built in blocks or modules. He named his innovative idea Phonebloks.
The quick benefit of his design was that instead of someone throwing away their old phone when they require an upgrade, the modular design will allow the user to only upgrade the module that requires that upgrade. For example: A user can just upgrade the camera or a faster processor if they wished, instead of upgrading the entire phone. One big difference is that Hakkens design incorporated modules connecting to the phone using pins, whereas Ara has plans to use sliding metal connections.
Motorola has supported and invited Hakkens to conduct his work alongside them on a social community. He is looking for donations, on his community site, to help fund his Phonebloks project. The project is separate from Google and Motorola’s Ara.
In order to attract modular developers, Motorola has announced the winter release of the modular developer’s kit. This would allow 3rd party manufacturers of modules to start research and development with some the upgradable modular hardware. They are hoping to attract vibrant developers to join them with the open-platform style and add to the speed of innovation, and ultimately spark shrinking development timelines.
The open-platform is hoped to lower the entry level to attract even more third-party companies. By attracting more manufacturers, Motorola hopes to make Ara a very consumer-friendly product with lots of modular options.
Another bonus for the consumer will be an affordable healthy second-hand market for the used modules. The used modules can be purchased at a high-discount and reused after another user upgrades his module.
When Motorola’s modular phone, Ara, will launch is anyone’s guess. But there is no doubt that it will be available a lot quicker, than if it wasn’t being 3D printed.
By Brent Matsalla