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Quick reminder: the modular smartphone is a real thing that's really happening. Motorola blew our minds with the announcement of a plan to create modular phones not totally unlike the Phonebloks concept, and now the manufacturer is one step closer to making some real hardware. 3D Systems, makers of the Cube 3D printer and similar equipment, is Motorola's first partner on the Project Ara.


So what does that mean? Motorola needs some way of adding flexibility to a traditionally rigid manufacturing process, and 3D printing would seem to be a natural solution. According to the press release, 3D Systems will be Moto's "exclusive fulfillment partner" for both Ara enclosures/frames and the individual modules that make up the replaceable hardware components, assuming there are no major issues with the development phase of the project.

3D Systems says that they are investigating conductive and functional materials, but Motorola will probably need to outsource at least some of the parts and manufacturing to hardware suppliers. Also remember that the Ara platform is supposed to be open at the hardware level, meaning that other companies (or even individuals, if they've got the right equipment and skills) should be able to make modules that are compatible with Ara phones.

Time frames for something like this are always a bit on the nebulous side, but Motorola's original Ara announcement implied that an early version of the Module Developer's Kit would be going out to selected developers this winter. Perhaps these devs will be able to submit finished designs to 3D Systems and/or Motorola for production. Naturally, we'll be keeping a very close eye on Ara news.

Source: 3D Systems via The Verge

ROCK HILL, South Carolina –November 22, 2013 – 3D Systems  (NYSE:DDD) has entered into a multi-year development agreement with Motorola Mobility LLC, A Google Company, to create a continuous high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfilment system in support of Motorola’s Project Ara. Project Ara aims to develop highly-custom, modular smartphones that afford users the opportunity to make functional and aesthetic choices about their device.

“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,” said Regina Dugan, Senior Vice President and head of Motorola’s Advanced Technology & Projects group.

“Project Ara was conceived to build a platform that empowers consumers all over the world with customization for a product made by and for the individual,” said Avi Reichental, President and CEO of 3D Systems. “3D printing promotes a level of sustainability, functionality, and mass personalization that turns these kinds of global ambitions into attainable local realities. Project Ara combines two exponential technologies, and we expect that the resulting high-throughput advanced manufacturing platform will have far reaching implications on the entire digital thread that stitches together the factory of the future.”

As part of this agreement, 3D Systems plans to substantially expand its multi-material printing capabilities including conductive and functional materials. The company also plans to combine additive and subtractive manufacturing methods, and deliver an integrated high-speed production platform. Pending successful completion of the development phase, 3D Systems is expected to manufacture 3D-printed Ara smartphone enclosures and modules as Motorola’s exclusive fulfillment partner.

Motorola and 3D Systems, the inventors of the cell phone and 3D printer, respectively, have previously partnered on the MAKEwithMOTO tour, a series of make-a-thons at the nation’s top engineering and design schools aimed at exploiting the power of open, hackable smartphone hardware and 3D printing to begin seeding an open hardware ecosystem.

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • http://androidandme.com/ Taylor Wimberly

    Don't forget about the dscout app - http://dscout.com/ara

    You can join and become a part of Project Ara by completing special missions.

  • Ryan Lounsbury

    I do love this idea. Especially in a world where more and more devices come out in uni-body fashion that don't allow the user to change anything on their device.

  • bungadudu

    "benefits of customization and an open hardware ecosystem to 6 billion people"


    They sure look to revolutionize and change the whole mobile world!
    And they have every chance to do so!

  • slurivariv

    I love how a lot of people thought this idea would never work (Phonebloks) and now it's DEFINITELY a reality.

    • PhoenixPath

      No. Not really. It's not "definitely" a reality until it's shipping. Right now it's little more than a bunch of people talking about it.

      We don't even have a working base or components yet, ffs...

      I get that people are excited about this, and yeah; It sounds like a great idea. Let's wait and see what problems/roadblocks may arise before we call it a done job though, eh?

  • Alan Shearer

    Great idea to upgrade part of your phone instead of the whole. Course, will it all go in a case so that the innards are protected from dust sweat etc? how do they plan to protect that?

    • akshay7394

      Even a simple hard-case should do that job :D`

  • John Smith

    It's not all that exciting to me; I'm the type of person that just wants the top-of-the-line phone for 2 years. As such, I don't need to replace/upgrade anything until the next best thing comes out.

    • h4rr4r

      The next best thing comes out a lot more often than every 2 years.

      • PhoenixPath


        I've had the HTC One a while now. Haven't seen anything even on the horizon that interests me except *possibly* the M8, but we just don't know enough about it yet.

        • Walkop

          Nexus 5.

          Performance blows it away. You can't see that just in benchmarks; real-world performance is mind-blowing.

          • PhoenixPath

            I have not heard that, though to be honest I haven't much played with it either. It just didn't "grab" me.

            That, and I think I may now be a front-facing speaker snob. Not sure when it happened, but I've been not liking anything that doesn't have them.

            Seriously limits my options unfortunately...

          • Gandalf_Teh_Gray

            I really like the idea of them on the front, but I never use just the speakers except maybe in the gf's car.

          • jesuguru

            It would be my next phone, were it not for the less-than-"insanely-great"-camera

          • Robb Nunya

            Meh, it works fine for me for the times when I don't have my DSLR hanging on my neck. The camera's awfulness is highly exaggerated.

  • shadowdude777

    Hey guys, remember when the Moto X was supposedly going to be super-customizable? Also, look at the related articles: "Motorola Launching A 2GHz Android Phone Before The End Of 2010". Yeah... that totally happened. So why do we still believe this? I mean, I get that we WANT to. Believe me, I want this to happen too, but it just can't. Plenty of laptop OEMs tried to make laptops modular; what makes you think that an even smaller device can be made so?

    • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

      You're confusing rumors with official statements. Everything you just described about the Moto X was never once stated by Motorola themselves.

      When this was Phonebloks I raged against its impossibility. But Motorola outright saying it's happening and doing it in a more plausible way? Sounds real this time.

      • shadowdude777

        Did you actually read my post or not? I'm curious. Because this article is very real: http://www.androidpolice.com/2010/06/10/motorola-launching-a-2ghz-android-phone-before-the-end-of-2010/

        Look at all those downvotes on my post and upvotes on yours, even though your post is simply false. Motorola has made outrageous claims in the past OFFICIALLY and were wrong about them, and I even cited one in particular, and your response saying that those were all "rumors" is getting upvoted? The CEO of Motorola himself said that they'd have a 2GHz processor by 2010. This can't happen, and nobody with a shred of engineering knowledge would believe in it. But Android Police readers are apparently a bunch of morons.

        • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

          Apologies, your wording was rather iffy, implying the Moto X was rumored to have a 2Ghz processor, which WAS in plenty of rumors, but never once stated by Motorola.

          But I have a hard time holding boastful statements, based most likely partially on unfulfilled promises by chip vendors, made over three years ago by a Motorola not owned by Google against the current Motorola. They certainly didn't say it in the process of announcing specific manufacturers, partnering with third-party companies, and announcing major crowd promotions surrounding the product. Apples and oranges.

          • shadowdude777

            The 2GHz processor statement was made by Sanjay Jha himself. I don't know how much more "stated by Motorola" you can get. Project Ara is going to be a huge disappointment, just like that promise was. And I say this as a huge fan of Motorola, as someone who loves modularity, and as someone who desperately hopes to be proven wrong. However, there is just no feasible way to make anything like this.

          • Gandalf_Teh_Gray

            That article you linked said they didn't give specifics, they seem to be lining up a lot of specific details for this project.

    • Robb Nunya

      EDIT: Could you troll any harder?

      You deserve every down-vote you get for being the circle in which everyone is jerking, just for your edit.

      You can either trust Motorola in what they say or you can't. That's your butthurt showing with this ultra-emo bullshit post. No no... don't go cut yourself. It isn't worth it, honey.

  • Oobiewan

    a can already see the super-insane home-made parts like app-controlled motorized ear-cleaner stick or mini ventilator

  • my95z34
  • Matthew Fry

    "Also remember that the Ara platform is supposed to be open at the hardware level, meaning that other companies (or even individuals, if they've got the right equipment and skills) should be able to make modules that are compatible with Ara phones."

    This kind of thing requires some serious oversight. Either they need to develop and maintain some standards or this is going to be a monster.

  • David Margolin

    i can't help but think about the times i drop my phone and the back casing and battery fly out... What if the camera sensor, gyroscope, and CPU fell out too??? That would be a real pain in the ass.

    • Protoss

      there is something called "cases".

    • Yalloy

      Battery flying away means less energy going into deformation! = win

  • Tony Whack Jr

    I am definitely liking the sound of this. Can't wait to see an actual device.

  • black

    One problem with this phone concept is that the shape of the phone doesn't change much as you replace modules throughout the years. Sure you'll be making spec changes, but what about how the phone looks? Look at LG Flex or HTC One, those are phones people would want to buy because they look cool. Stuff like that will keep coming out and all the while you'll be stuck with you're rectangular phone. Why buy this thing if you can buy a regular phone and trade it for a newer one every couple of years?

    • Robb Nunya

      If you're buying a phone because "it looks cool" then you're doing it wrong.

  • saltyzip

    Good Luck Google Moto!

    I wish them every success with this new venture.

  • Luka Mlinar

    Most people i talk with say this won't work. Guess time will tell.

    • Robb Nunya

      A lot of people used to say we'd never fly, get to the moon, or sail around the world as well.