With 3D Printing, Motorola’s Project Ara Puts the Power to Build a Smartphone in Your Hand

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Americans replace 130 million mobile phones annually, and not even 10 percent of those get recycled. Even those consumers that try to hold out from snapping up new technology immediately find themselves practically begging their phones to fall apart so they can make the upgrade in good conscience.

Google-owned Motorola is aiming to help the problem with its modular smartphone project, Project Ara. The company has just signed a deal with a South Carolina 3D printing company to create a modular phone production platform that can be scaled for mass distribution. The pieces only need to be snapped into a a frame if and when an upgrade is needed. 

The modular smartphones will allow consumers to decide what elements are most important to them. If it is the camera, for example, a higher-quality camera module can be bought and snapped into place. If it is a different kind of display, the consumer will have access to that as well. Information Week calls it “Lego-style customization.” Such a phone, of course, would mean that smartphone sales in general could go down and less phones would be wasted.[more]

But a lot has to happen before Ara ends up in consumers’ hands. “With Project Ara, we asked the question, ‘How do we bring the benefits of customization and an open hardware ecosystem to six billion people?’ That is our driving application,” Senior VP and advanced research head Regina Dugan said, according to AllThingsD. “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.”

Motorola has already gotten into the custom phone business with its made-in-the-USA Moto X smartphone that was released earlier this year. 

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