Oct 4, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers in Canada and New Hampshire have used 3D printing to develop a modular 3-in-1 smartphone, ideal for lending to strangers. The prototype consists of three smartphones in a 3D printed case, giving the owner total control over how much access the borrower is permitted.

Although we often feel guilty about it afterwards, it can be very unnerving when a stranger asks you to lend them your phone. Nine times out of ten, they’re probably a lovely person who just needs to make a quick call, but what if they’re trying to steal information from you? What if they’re planning to call an expensive international number?

Researchers at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College and Canada’s University of Calgary and University of Waterloo have developed a solution to this very problem, with 3D printing playing a big part.

“The trouble is that it is difficult, or impossible, to control what content or functionality is shared while lending,” they say. “Personal information can be accessed or destroyed intentionally or accidentally.”

After conducting a study into the phenomenon of smartphone lending, the researchers have devised a 3-in-1 modular phone consisting of three individual smartphones connected by a 3D printed case made from a 3D printable resin.

The idea is simple: the lender gives the borrower access to a restricted phone suitable for calls or whatever app they specifically request. All sensitive information is contained within the master handset, to which the borrower has no access.

But it’s more complex than just three separate phones stuck together. The modular system runs a sharing-oriented version of Android which lets the master handset monitor the activity of the other two. This means the lender knows exactly what the borrower is doing, and can easily notice any suspicious behavior.

Moreover, different options can be chosen depending on the situation. Firstly, the lender can decide whether the borrower requires a medium-size lendable phone complete with a few basic apps, or an extremely simple handset that basically provides calling and texting functionality. Both lesser phones “pop out” of the 3-in-1 system, allowing them to be handed to the borrower.

With the medium-size device, the owner can set one of four modes: App Lending (single app), Guest Mode (range of apps), Full Access, or Screen Sharing, with icons representing these four modes visible when the phone is partially slid out from the 3D printed unit. If the borrower wishes to use another app while on the borrowed phone, the lender will receive a notification for an "app request” on their master handset, which they can approve or deny.

The system even allows the lender to monitor the borrower’s screen activity in real time.

Of course, the elephant in the room here is the size of the modular system, with the 3-in-1 device taking up about as much space as an elephant in a room. The team behind the project readily admit that the system needs to be smaller, but still believe their prototype showcases some useful capabilities despite its clunkiness.

Teddy Seyed, a graduate student at the University of Calgary working on the phone concept, thinks that a 3-in-1 device could be useful for parents lending their phone to kids, who should not be given full access to a smartphone’s functionality. He also imagines such a system being used to play multi-screen, multi-player video games.

While this 3D printed prototype took a year to develop, the researchers plan to make a new and improved version in the near future. Ideally, the finished device would be more like a regular smartphone but with very compact, “snap-on” display gadgets that would function as the lendable parts.

“Our work introduces the concept of a modular smartphone, designed to address issues with trust and convenience by lending only modular pieces of the device,” the researchers say. “Our concept may appear far-fetched at first, but we hope to have convinced the reader that there is some need and our modular strategy could be made practical.”

That practical future probably won’t include bulky 3D printed cases, but additive manufacturing has at least aided the progress of what is really quite a sensible idea.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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