Jul 24, 2017 | By Tess

Building 8, an innovative research lab operating under Facebook, recently published a patent application it filed for a “modular electromechanical device.” In other words, a modular, multipurpose smartphone. The best part? It could feature a 3D printed chassis.

Graphic from Building 8 patent application

The device, which is aimed at providing a modular, adaptable alternative to short life cycle electronics, which the patent application describes as “expensive and wasteful,” is being worked on by a number of notable people, including researchers who previously worked on Google’s Project Ara—a high-profile modular phone project which was suddenly shelved last year—and most importantly to us, former members of the startup Nascent Objects.

Some of our readers may remember Nascent Objects, a California-based startup that was dedicated to developing modular electronic devices using technologies such as 3D printing. The company, which aimed to create an ecosystem of modular gadgets and to reduce e-waste, was acquired by Facebook in September 2016.

Now working for Facebook’s Building 8, it is hardly a surprise that Nascent Objects’ team members are now conceiving of a smart, modular electromechanical device, which is said to at least comprise of a speaker module, a microphone module, a touch pad, a GPS module, a display screen, or a thermometer functional module.

Recently tabled Project Ara by Google

In terms of 3D printed parts, the patent mentions that “in one embodiment,” the device would have a chassis made from a unitary 3D printed structure. The idea seems to be that users could attach and swap out different functional modules to the 3D printed chassis to give their device’s different functionalities.

As the patent abstract reads, “The modular electromechanical device includes a chassis and a plurality of functional modules that can be connected to the chassis. Each module is associated with a different functionality.”

It goes on to explain the impetus for the project, saying: “Typically, the hardware components included in the consumer electronics that are considered ‘outdated’ are still useable. However, the hardware components can no longer be re-used since consumer electronics are designed as closed systems. From a consumer prospective, the life cycle of conventional consumer electronics is expensive and wasteful.”

The idea, then, is to create a modular device which can integrate new modules to keep up with the quickly changing tech landscape rather than be thrown out or discarded for a newer model.

While the prospect of Facebook creating a 3D printed modular smartphone is exciting, it is always difficult to guess if or when a project will come to fruition based on a patent application. As of now, there is no concrete indication that Facebook will be releasing this proposed piece of technology, though we hope that it takes off, unlike its Google counterpart.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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