Feb.6, 2015 | By Alec

A simple phone that will only allow you to contact a handful of people, and that won’t let you surf the web every five minutes? What’s the appeal of that? It might not seem like much to today’s teenagers, but if you stop to think about the advantages the OwnFone offers, you’ll be surprised about how useful it actually is.

Launched in 2011 by the English designer Thom Sunderland, the OwnFone is a deviously clever and surprisingly single concept. These 3D printed phones are approximately the size of a credit card, and feature a set number of numbers it can dial, like a child's parents, health care workers and the emergency number. Each button has been programmed to phone the person mentioned on it (the 'mom' button only phones your mom), and can even be modified to feature braille, rather than letters.

What's more, their battery life is about a year (just about the mirror opposite of the common smartphone), they cost a fraction of the price of a smartphone too. All this makes them perfect back-up phones, phones for the elderly or even entry-level devices for children. Simply insert a SIM card, and you’re good to go.

Thom and his team have developing and expanding their company (recently opening an actual shop in London as well) in Britain in recent years, and have been quite successful – so successful that they were able to recently raise investments worth more than a million dollars. And as Thom recently explained to us, they have since been working on expanding their market and optimizing the flexibility of their product. Specifically, they are seeking to move into the European and American markets, while they have developed a series of clever and fun design alternatives, including a very flexible kit that will let everyone 3D print and assemble custom phones at home.

However, these new and exciting products do demand the development of the Seed 2, or a blank 3D printed phone that can be programmed to become an OwnFone. ‘Our existing Seed 1 only works in the UK. So, we are developing aSeed 2 that will work in America and all EU countries!’

But to make all of that possible, they do need your help to finance everything. OwnFone has therefore launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the sum of £200,000 (or approximately $305,000) to bring it all into production. While this might seem like an overly ambitious sum of money for a 3D printing concept, its potential market of the OwnFone is much, much larger than that of the typical 3D printing project, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they do manage to raise that type of money by 21 March.

And of course, should you choose to pledge some money to the OwnFone project, you can get your hands on one of these extremely useful OwnFones, and customize it to whatever shape you prefer. 2D printed buttons, raised 3D buttons, pre-made 3D printed exteriors that look like a lion or even skins made from your own drawings – whatever you’d like, chances are they can make it for you. Just take a look at their waterproof phone (perfect for outdoor exercising) or their Lego-cased OwnFone (perfect for Lego fans of any age).

The Lego and Water-Proof OwnFones

And to make things as easy as possible, you can even design your phone in the FoneBuilder App, and the London-based company will 3D print and assemble your phone. "We then print your OwnFone and deliver to you ready to use - nice and easy!" Or if you have an FDM 3D printer at home and are looking for a fun project, the right pledge will even get you a PrintFone Development Kit: "Using the the kit you can print whatever OwnFone design you can imagine. All you need is an inkjet printer or desktop 3D printer that prints with PLA filament made by companies like Makerbot, Printrbot, 3D Systems or Ultimaker."

This set is particularly interesting, as I believe it’s the closest anyone has so far come to a commercial 3D printed phone. Of course, a few electronics aren’t 3D printed, but these are effectively encased in a phone body in just a single print run. As Thom explained to us, ‘the process that we have developed effectively encases the phone circuit board in printed material. The phone in the video was printed with PLA but you can see on our Kickstarter campaign that we’ve experimented in printing in other interesting materials too like glow-in-the-dark and filament made of chlorophyll and wood. We are now working on printing with flexible rubber-like material which is really interesting and opens up yet more design possibilities.’

While Thom and his team were already successful in establishing the OwnFone as a very marketable 3D printed product, it certainly looks like they’ve made some excellent choices moving forward. Effectively, they’re appropriating the main advantages of 3D printing technology – design freedom, endless customization options and low cost manufacturing – for themselves, and that with a product that can appeal to a very large market. It would therefore hardly surprise me if their latest OwnFone generation becomes a big success.

Would you like to learn more about the OwnFone options or back their Kickstarter? Then check out their website here and their crowdfunding campaign here.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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