Quite recently, nobody even thought of smart modular technology. However, the progress cannot be stopped; soon our life will be added by various electronic modular devices, a new subtype of mobile electronics: modular smartphones and tablets, modular watches, smart bracelets, “intelligent” belts, and other accessories.
It is worth noting that not only new companies enter the market with their startup projects on modular smartphones, tablets, and smart modular watches but also big corporations, the sharks of the consumer industry. The following modular electronics projects are worth the mention.
Puzzlephone: The Finns. Finnish development engineers from Circular Devices have stretched their claws to reach modular smartphones users in a relatively new segment. These guys managed to create a prototype of the modular smartphone consisting of three components: brain, heart and skeleton. According to the development engineers’ concept, the brain is a processor; the heart is a power supply and battery; and the skeleton is a combination of the device’s frame and display.
Phonebloks: The Dutchmen. The project is a kind of electronic Lego transformer – smart phone made of electronic devices – modules – easily replaceable by its owner in case of damage, upgrade or for some other reasons. This idea belongs to Dave Hakkens – a Dutch designer. This concept inspires manufacturers of electronic smart phones because they see a huge potential for extra customization of the already produced component electronic base with minimum business expenses.
Magic Cube: The Chinese. The project from the Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi with the code name Magic Cube was announced on the Internet and by mass media. It has tiny block design, namely: framework, processor unit, battery and photo/video camera. All the Magic Cube modules are supposed to be made of different colors. However, nothing more is known of this phantom project because no other information leaked to the press yet.
ZTE Eco-Mobius: Another Chinese company that has aspired to keep abreast of the modular smartphone industry in the future, has announced a modular smartphone which, apart from the slide frame, includes a display, processor core with the built-in camera module on magnet clips, and built-in power supply represented by the battery. Nothing more is known except that this exhibit was presented at CES 2014, albeit under the glass.
Fonkraft: The Austrians. Among the latest modular innovations in 2015 are the Austrian modular smartphone development engineers with their Fonkraft project. Its fund-raising campaign was recently launched on Indiegogo crowd-funding site. This development already became a multi-modular one, including the “chassis” or smart phone skeleton onto which inter-compatible modular units containing a display, a processor, a RAM, a data storage device etc. are mounted. However, soon after the launch and for unspecified reasons the project was removed from Indiegogo.
Nexpaq: a Hong Kong company. An international team of development engineers from Hong Kong, which raised over $50k in the first quarter of 2015 for their project on Kickstarter, may claim the nomination for smartphone accessories turning it into a modular smartphone. This device is easily adaptable to any mobile platform, operating with its modules placed into a special strap-on frame like an extra battery with the control via a USB port to the smartphone through the user’s software. A year ago, Intersoft Eurasia JSC signed an NDA with Nexpaq, but afterwards all activities were suspended.
Modular trend in electronics can be seen not only among smartphones but also in the segment of smart watches, which were introduced to the world some time ago by the monoblocks from the leading portable electronics vendors, now began to be converted into the various modular designs with a substantially wider functionality than a mere chronograph or even a telephone with a photo-camera.
Well, the first smart time device was a wall clock with a cuckoo, popping out of the house very much on time, but that’s a different story.
Blocks: The Englishmen. So, it would be reasonable to believe that a smart watch with its own processor, display and battery will attract other modules onto the wristband with the vacant place for something else! That’s how it was with the Blocks watch where every wrist band segment contains a complete electronic unit for the particular purposes and, if required, copies the wrist smartphone as a flexible uniformed band expanded by various functions for fitness and health diagnostics.
As it should have been expected, segments of the smart modular watches are a lot scarcer than their pioneers – modular smartphones, but still the world of gadgets does not stand still and moves along the history line of scientific and technical progress. Maybe it is for this reason that we are going to see new original fantasies of the portable electronics development contractors in the future.
ARA Project: The Americans. Certainly, Google Company could not ignore the fast-growing sector of the world modular electronics and started its own project – ARA – a modular Android smartphone with its own endoframe. Besides, Google executed this in a beautiful and elegant manner, claiming that every person must have his/her own modular smartphone. Simultaneously, all the world developers wishing to participate in the project were provided with publicly accessible documents on the Google ARA Project, granting comprehensive assistance in the fastest development of modules.
DO-RA.Module: The Russians. Intersoft Eurasia JSC (http://intersofteurasia.ru), Skolkovo Technological Park resident has also made its contribution to the modular world of mobile electronics by participating in the module development engineers’ competition with the prize fund of $100 k and having designed their own DO-RA Module for ARA Project (for the continuous environment monitoring by the redundant ionizing radiation). Hereby, the future ARA modular smart phone owner will be able to constantly monitor the radiation background around him/her including the following options:
– Measure ionizing gamma- and beta-radiation in the modular smartphone owner’s location, as well as identify hazard sources, represented by the fissionable isotopes in the foodstuff and drinks.
– Control the risks from the redundant ionizing radiation effects on all the human body organs and systems, saving information about the events at the user’s private account.
– Record (as geographic coordinates), take photos and register the sources of the redundant ionizing radiation on location and in 3D space.
– Inform its owner with a sound, vibration or voice signals about the identified ionizing radiation hazard source providing advice on the event.
– Post information of the redundant ionizing radiation in the mass people conglomeration locations on Google Maps as colored warning areas classified by the hazard extent.
Visual Solution. Probably, the first people to adopt the modular trend will be brutal bearded men – lumberjack style, for which deliberately bright color styles are combined with the individual independence and freedom of the choice of any option set in the electronic devices and with the capability of fast change of the modular accessories’ set! Thus, their checkered shirts will match the block elements of the modular smartphone, modular watch emphasizing refined taste of their owner and personal individuality.
Modularity in Everyday Life
Transformer Glasses. Smart glasses similar to Google Glasses or HoloLens from Microsoft will be able to expand our world image by extending the real life with virtual world. Hereby they will help us not to get lost in a new city, increase the driver’s concentration during long-range tiresome trips or help low-skill workers to perform more complicated tasks.
Modular Smart Wrist Band. Keeping in mind the fact that any of the modular smart phones developed will engage only some modules at a time whereas Google announced the launch of more than 30 modules for ARA pilot project, one will have to do something with the extra modules. Therefore, additional (not used by modular smartphone) modules’ “utilization” industry is emerging around a modular smart phone industry. And considering the fact that most of the currently developed modules are different sensors (temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure), radiation and other electromagnetic field detectors smart wrist band may take up some functions of the mobile meteorological station or be responsible for health monitoring like an electronic Dr. Doolittle.
Modular Belt. The next stage in the development of the electronic modular devices development and, obviously, fashion will become such a routine item as our pants belt with the modular belt navigation system in the customized buckle. The belt length, on average 70–80 cm will be sufficient for locating 30 to 40 standard ARA Project modules! This reminds of the famous phrase by the Greek philosopher Bias of Priene “All my belongings are on me”. All we have to do is to watch where this promising trend in the modular electronics is going to bring us in the coming years.
Button Line. Despite the fact that the electronic modules are just breaking through into the new domestic electronics industry and become more compact and power-effective, the next technology of the device miniaturization stage is snapping on its heels due to the use of nano-technologies of about 8 nm when the manufacture of the chips is becoming smaller in terms of not only linear dimensions but also low power consumption. The modern chip technologies now enable locating virtually any electronic device, like sound amplifier with a microphone, into a simple shirt button. So the new spy technology is at the back of the pack of modular electronics, which still has room to grow.
Fiber Line. But there is more to come. It is not in vain that the present-day technologies abide by the Moore law increasing their power and, consequently, miniaturization every 18–24 months! There are already chips thinner than a human hair and therefore they are capable of being entwined into normal fabrics and exist there for the entire life cycle of the clothes. So, the gadgets of the future may pass over from the modular grade to the fabric structures in the shirts, suits, jeans and other woven or knitted items from our everyday life. Moreover, the heat of our bodies converted into their supply electricity is enough to energize this size chips.
Film Line. Quite near there is the microchip film line, when special-purpose 3D printers now are able to reproduce electrical circuits including various detectors of electromagnetic, sound, heat and other waves as dedicated film coatings, for example, by placing them into ladies’ nails during manicure. It will be possible to change the quality and functions of these film gadgets. We can only guess where these technologies will bring the present-day world if they are used for our routine life!
– Modular fashion in the mobile electronics is aimed at the expansion of the range of the most wanted functions of the electronic devices and different gadgets for domestic purposes, environment protection, and human health care will more and more actively enter our life.
– Based on the most popular modules in the future such components will be able to take their place in conventional standard smartphones on structural circuitry level of the already developed modular solutions. Thus, in their time digital cameras, flashes and other components were integrated into absolutely all the smartphones and tablets.
– The whole industry of the devices, so-called module integrators, will emerge around the electronic modularity. When the modules of different purposes and design will be able to work with the smartphones and create unusual and useful capabilities.
– Modular technology is just an episode in the development of the modern technologies on the way of their nano-integation into more intelligent devices like communicators and smartphones …