Feb.27, 2014

A work-in-progress functional prototype of an Ara phone, and 3D-printed module enclosures | Credit: Google ATAP

Google is working with 3D Systems to develop new high-speed continuous 3D printer capable of mass-producing modules for their future modular smart devices.

In October 2013 Motorola reveals an ambitious plan - Project Ara - an initiative that aims to develop a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. The platform will include a structural frame that holds smartphone modules of the owner's choice, such as a display, keyboard or an extra battery. Since then, Google has sold the phone maker to Chinese electronics giant Lenovo and it's been unclear if the project would end there.

But now, Google is releasing more details on Project Ara. It turned out that Google was holding onto one organization within Motorola: the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, headed by Regina Dugan, the former director of the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The Project Ara which aims to reinvent the smartphone that consumers can configure as they choose, is expected to have an alpha version ready at the beginning of April and a commercial release about a year from now, Paul Eremenko, the head of the project told Time Magazine in an interview.

By allowing users to swap out malfunctioning modules or upgrade individual modules as innovations emerge, providing longer lifetime cycles for the handset, Project Ara's creators hope to make smartphones a whole lot more interesting.

"We want not just to create something that's custom, and not even just something that's unique, but actually something that's expressive so that people can use this as a canvas to tell a story," Eremenko said. "So that you can set your phone down at dinner on the table next to you, and it becomes a topic of conversation for the first fifteen minutes of dinner."

Credit: Google ATAP

Google is also keen to let consumers print their own Ara phone enclosures. Google and 3D Systems team up to create a continuous high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfilment system in support of Project Ara.

The next generation 3D printer is capable of printing enclosures for Ara modules in volume. It will be able to print 600-dpi color images on module enclosures made out of multiple types of materials. The printer will even be able to treat the enclosure as a surface for one-of-a-kind sculptures, according to Eremenko.

Google expects that eventually, users can print electrical elements such as the antennas using 3D printing.

An experimental 3D-printed antenna | Credit: Google ATAP

Currently Google is also working on Project Tango, another ATAP project, which is a smartphone equipped with a variety of cameras, vision sensors and software designed to allow it to track its motion in full 3D, in real-time, as you hold it. The company will distribute development kits to software developers in the coming months.

Watch the video below showing "the story behind Ara", created by Phonebloks.

Posted in 3D Printers


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Ramon wrote at 2/27/2014 1:30:55 PM:

I'm particularly curious about the material choices, will ABS plastic be the choice for such modular phones? What are your guesses? http://www.absplastic.eu/importance-of-abs-plastics-in-3d-printing/

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