3D Printing

Project Ara to Host Developers Conference for 3D-Printed Smartphone Parts

As Rachel alluded to in her Inside 3DP NYC review, Project Ara, a collaborative megaproject between Google and 3D Systems, has been making progress. The modular smart phone would be the first of its kind, allowing users to completely customize their device’s hardware via blocks embedded with electronic components. 3D Systems will play an essential role in scaling up additive manufacturing technology to mass produce the parts of the phone. 3DS’ CEO, Avi (I will limit all words to three letters from now on) played the following video during his keynote at Inside 3D Printing in NYC last week, to get the crowd hyped up about the collaborators’ modular smart device:

The smart device is intended to launch sometime next year, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. As Project Ara is meant to represent the needs of all consumers (“Designed exclusively for 6 billion people,” goes the project’s website, unintentionally neglecting another billion people also on the planet), Google will be hosting the first Ara Developers Conference, April 15-16, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. The event will be accompanied by a live webstream and an “interactive Q&A capability”, so that non-developer Ara enthusiasts can participate at home. If you are a developer however, you’re encouraged to register for the event here.

prototype 3d printing

The Developers Conference is one of three to take place this year. This first conference is geared towards the alpha release of the Ara Module Developers Kit (MDK). The MDK is a kit that includes all of the information necessary to design your own Ara module, which will be released online this month. Here’s a bit about what this alpha version of the MDK will include: “a prototype implementation of the Ara on-device network using the MIPI UniPro protocol implemented on FPGA and running over an LVDS physical layer. Subsequent versions will soon be built around a much more efficient and higher performance ASIC implementation of UniPro, running over a capacitive M-PHY physical layer.”  See if you can decipher that lingo. If so, you’re eligible for attending the event! At the conference, attendees will be guided through a walk-through of Ara’s existing and planned features, followed by community feedback sessions.  Full details about the event are located here.

components 3D Printing

What’s exciting about Project Ara from a 3D printing perspective is that 3D Systems hopes to 3D print tens of thousands of identical components, transforming the rapid prototyping, short-run technology into something for mass manufacturing. Also, if I understood Avi correctly at the event, they hope to 3D print electronic parts themselves. As 3D Systems mentioned, when they joined the endeavour last year, before Motorola became Google: “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.

modules 3D Printing

What’s exciting about Project Ara from an ideological perspective is that giant corporations are seeing the importance of consumer participation in the development of products and, at least, feigning to implement it. After the success of the fairly open Android platform, Google seems to have realized that they become extremely popular when they give users access to the hardware and software of their devices. The Project Ara website reflects this understanding, “The smartphone is one of the most empowering and intimate objects in our lives. Yet most of us have little say in how the device is made, what it does, and how it looks. And 5 billion of us don’t have one. What if you could make thoughtful choices about exactly what your phone does, and use it as a creative canvas to tell your own story?

Of course, this small step towards consumer participation is a long way from true accountability to the community of humans in which Google is a part. The sentiment expressed above by Ara’s website is the sort of marketing speak Mike Judge is ridiculing in Silicon Valley. When companies like Google invite the rest of the community to have a say in their actual business practices – the conditions in which they (or their partners) manufacture devices, the rate that they pay their workers, the role the company plays in social welfare projects – then, they may have earned the image they project.

Source: Project Ara