updated 03:24 pm EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
Modules for smartphone to use conductive inks, continuous 3D printing platform
3D Systems has provided more information about how it will handle the printing of components for Google's Project Ara modular smartphone, a deal it signed late last year. The company is working with Carnegie Mellon University and X5 Systems on conductive inks, which could allow for the creation of complete components, such as antennas, completely in the printing process and without needing to add extra parts.
A "continuous high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfillment system" is being created, in order to cope with high print volumes. Rather than a reciprocating platform typically used by 3D printers, the system will use a "racetrack" architecture that moves modules constantly and pushes completed parts to "off ramps" for various completion steps.
Modules created in the process will be created with "full spectrum, CMYKWT color support," and will be usable with both hard and soft composite materials, allowing for a high degree of module customization. "The combination of exponential creation technology with exponential information technology translates to unprecedented capability and adaptability for the consumer," advised founder and CTO of 3D Systems Chuck Hull. "The scale of this project and its practical functionality are an exciting step into the future."
Project Ara hopes to create a modular smartphone where consumers can select specific components to customize their device for their purposes. Developers have been provided with details on how to create modules compatible with the smartphone, with Google offering a $100,000 bounty for the best Ara module design. Current plans involve Project Ara being sold as low as $50 for basic components, and a possible launch sometime in early 2015.