Your Next Motorola Phone Just Might Be Printed

What if you could assemble or update your own smartphone? Google-owned Motorola Mobility has announced a partnership with a 3D printing company as the next step in its effort to create modular smartphones.

On Friday, Motorola announced it had signed a multi-year development deal with 3D Systems, which creates custom parts using 3D printing, and that the end goal was a continuous, high-speed 3D printing production platform in support of modular smartphones.

The undertaking is dubbed Project Ara, and the central idea is that consumers can create new models simply by swapping out modular components on top of a skeletal framework, such as a component containing a wireless antenna with a battery that could be exchanged for one whose antenna had a wider reach and whose battery was longer lasting.

'Free, Open Hardware Platform'

Project Ara was announced last month by Motorola as a "free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones" that would foster a third-party developer ecosystem. Essentially, the idea is to provide an open-source, adaptable hardware version of Google's open-source mobile operating system, Android.

Regina Dugan, senior vice president and head of Motorola's Advanced Technology and Projects Group, said in a statement accompanying the 3D Systems announcement that her company asked the question, "How do we bring the benefits of customization and an open hardware ecosystem to 6 billion people?" She acknowledged that getting there "requires technical advances in such areas as material strength and printing with conductive inks for antennas," not to mention production-level speeds and volumes.

3D Systems' President and CEO Avi Reichental told news media that the platform is intended to empower consumers "with customization for a product made by and for the individual."

A Truck Named Sticky

In the agreement with Motorola, Reichental's company has agreed to expand its multi-material printing capabilities to include conductive and functional...

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