Back in September, we first learned about the Phonebloks concept, a bold idea centered around creating a truly customizable handset with swappable parts. At the time, we dismissed the idea as ‘cool’ but unlikely to ever happen. And then Motorola announced Project Ara.
Like the Phonebloks concept, Project Ara is about creating a modular smartphone based on an open platform that makes it easy to customize and upgrade your handset. When it unveiled the project, Motorola revealed that Ara had been in the works for over a year and that they would be partnering up with Phonebloks to popularize the idea.
It’s been nearly a month since we first heard about Project Ara, but that doesn’t mean Motorola hasn’t been working hard on furthering the concept. In fact, today Motorola has now announced that they have signed a multi-year deal with 3D Systems that revolves around Project Ara.
Under the deal, 3D Systems will work to create a “continuous high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfillment system in support of Motorola’s Project Ara.” As part of the agreement, 3D Systems will also be expanding its multi-material printing capabilities. In other words, the upcoming 3D Systems manufacturing process will be as advanced and unique as Project Ara itself.
With Project Ara, we asked the question, 'How do we bring the benefits of customization and an open hardware ecosystem to 6 billion people?' That is our driving application. It requires technical advances in areas such as material strength and printing with conductive inks for antennas. And those advances must support production-level speeds and volumes, which is a natural partnership with 3D Systems.
Senior V.P. and head of Motorola's Advanced Technology & Projects group
If all goes well, then 3D Systems will eventually end up as Motorola’s exclusive partner for fulfillment of smartphone enclosures and modules.
Although revealing one hardware partner doesn’t necessarily mean that Project Ara is guaranteed to become a commercial product in the near future, it does bring us one small step closer to such a reality. It also shows that Motorola is doing a whole lot more than just talking about Ara.
What do you think, do you like the idea of a modular handset? Conversely, do you feel such an idea will end up too expensive and impractical?