Googles Modular Phone ‘Project Ara’ Uses 3D Printed Parts

by Matthew Wellington on June 10, 2014

Googles Project Ara PhoneWith plans for Google’s ‘Project Ara’ showing quite some promise, it may only be a couple of months before you have a fully customized 3D printed modular phone in your pocket.

These phones are not really expected to replace the conventional smartphones but more of show what 3D printing can do; plus they are also anticipated to provide a platform for the designing of better advanced products for our traditional phones.

Google entered into a contract with 3D Systems in November last year (2013), and now the two companies are working hand in hand to produce the modular parts for their ‘Project Ara’ smartphone project. The smartphone will be designed in such a way that it will be made of detachable components and parts so that users can upgrade the phone with whatever features they want.

Contemporary smartphones usually come with cameras, network equipment and batteries integrated into the gadget. The problem with this is that if you need an advanced camera for your current smartphone for instance, you are forced to buy another offering with that particular feature you desire.

The project Ara smartphone however will be providing buyers with virtually an empty phone frame. Now buyers will have the opportunity of attaching the hardware components they want on the back of the frame. So if what you really want are advanced camera options, you can choose to swap that extra battery with a new camera component.

Googles modular ‘Project Ara’ smartphone is all about one thing – Customization. Google wants every buyer across the world to have a totally customized gadget depending on their needs and preferences. But considering the potential 6 billion buyers across the world, the big question is how do 3D Systems plan to achieve printing of personalized phone parts for everyone? Is 3D Systems really up to the task of producing the ambitious new ‘Project Ara’ modular cell phones?

A New 3D Printing Technology

One of the main strategies that 3D Systems has put in place to make the printing of millions of customized modular phone parts a reality and beat the 2015 deadline, is using a new high-speed 3D printing method that is capable of fast and efficient mass production.

According to 3D Systems President and CEO Avi Reichental, the classical 3D printing method will just not do when it comes to the printing demands of the ‘Project Ara’ smartphone. During a keynote he delivered in the recent 3D Printing Conference that was held in New York; Reichental explained that the traditional printing process normally involves rapid acceleration and deceleration methods. As a result, the printing is often affected by the frequent changes in speed which ultimately result in a long print time.

To ensure that the flaws of the orthodox 3D printing method do not get in the way of handling the demand for ‘Project Ara’ phone parts which is expected to be in the millions, 3D Systems is coming up with a new printing method that will be carrying out the printing process in a “continuous motion”. The continuous 3D printing system will be using ‘Racetrack Architecture’ that will enable the system to print modular phone parts and components uninterrupted, thus incredibly increasing the printing speed.

The new printing method uses consistent (continuous/unchanging) printing speed hence is fast and reliable for handling the production of millions of orders for customized units. With the technology, it will be therefore easy to produce robust colorful modular phone parts.

Plans for Achieving Customization

Since customization is the main purpose of Googles modular phone ‘project ara’, 3D Systems has been forced to come up with feasible plans on how this can be achieved. Well one of the techniques they are banking on is their new 3D printing technology that is flexible and able to print at a steady speed without interruptions.

But that is not all! 3D Systems has teamed up with Carnergie Mellon University and X5 Systems to make conductive ink to print functional (working) shells and parts such as antennas. The system is designed in such a way that the modules will be printed in a full CMKYKWT spectrum of colors including cyan, magenta, white, yellow, black and transparencies/clear.

Buyers will additionally have a choice between hard and soft composite materials, giving them the power to decide and choose the ideal feel for their phones.

Concisely, buyers will not only be able to swap parts depending on the shapes and materials they fancy; but will also be given the chance to choose from a wide array of hues that they find aesthetically pleasing.

How Much Will the ‘Project Ara’ Smartphone Cost?

Apparently the handset of this ‘Do-it-yourself’ smartphone will only cost 50 bucks. Nonetheless be ‘warned’ that the original frame of the phone will come in a rather boring design. This is the main reason why the smartphone has been currently dubbed the ‘Gray Phone’.

However all this is just part of the plan. Google in partnership with 3D Systems wants to relinquish the designing task to the end users of the cell phones so that you no longer will be using a phone that has been already designed for you by the manufacturer but you will indeed be designing your own phone to look, feel and function as you wish. Of course this will depend on the parts and components you attach to the handset.

In the meantime, the search engine giant is said to be working with another company in programming the apps that buyers will use to design and carry out the overall artwork for their ‘Project Ara’ phone. The Project Ara team is also working on prospects provided by the Android Operating System so as to ensure that their Gray Phone hardware has all the functional support it needs.

Although there has been a fair share of skepticism on the feasibility of the ‘Project Ara’ smartphone coming into life, Google and 3D Systems have shown total optimism on the practicality of their modular smartphone with 3D printed parts.

With only a few months away from the main launch of the ‘Project Ara’ smartphone (January 2015), not long from now we will know the true fate of the already famous Google’s modular phone.

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