Motorola taps 3D printing firm as first Project Ara partner

Motorola has firmed up how it plans to proceed with its modular smartphone future, Project Ara.

Announced last month, Project Ara purports to make obsolete smartphones a thing of the past by allowing users to upgrade components piecemeal. Of course, the feasibility of such an endeavor is still up for debate — the cost of the individual components may end up being more expensive over time than replacing the entire device — but the project is still riveting, in part for its sheer ambition.

Motorola has teamed up with a 3D printing company, South Carolina-based 3D Systems, as the first manufacturer of its components. The “multi-year development agreement” taps 3D Systems’ facilities to quickly deliver custom, modular smartphones, and provides the small manufacturing company a mandate to expand its printing capabilities to include “conductive and functional materials,” according to a press release.

Once the expansion phase is complete, 3D Systems will create the enclosures and modules that Motorola will use as part of its modular smartphone parts.

One of the most interest aspects of this partnership is the “road trip” nature of 3D printing hackathons that Motorola and 3D Systems will co-organize. Called “make-a-thons,” Moto and 3D Systems will tour the best engineering and design schools to “exploit the power of open, hackable smartphone hardware and 3D printing.”

[source]3D Systems[/source]