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3/4/2008
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OpenMoko Offers Phone Case CAD Files For 3-D Printing

The company releases its CAD files to the open source community in a technology that can create unique plastic parts for a mobile device at home for about $3,500.

Hoping to jump-start the long foretold 3-D printing revolution, OpenMoko, a maker of open source mobile devices, is offering its phone case CAD files to anyone who wants them.

"We want people to create their own flesh for their phone," said Steve Mosher, VP of marketing at OpenMoko.

The OpenMoko CAD files have been made available under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.

In the past, said Mosher, creating a unique plastic part might cost $100,000. "But today, with desktop manufacturing, you can build parts on your desktop for $3,500," he said.

A commercial 3-D printer costs a bit more than that: The low-end Z Corp. ZPrinter 310 Plus retails for $19,900. But the open source Fab@Home Project Model 1 costs about $2,300.

The increasing ease with which 3-D parts can be fabricated is often likened to the desktop publishing revolution in the 1980s. But before 3-D printing takes off the way laser printing did, the software and hardware will have to become more affordable still and more intuitive.

"Your grandma won't be doing CAD files," Mosher conceded. "The goal is to reach the community of the people who know how to do this."

But it probably won't be long before tweens are "fabbing" new phone cases every week to keep up with the latest fashion trends.

Last year, OpenMoko released its Neo 1973 handset for developers; the phone is currently sold out. The company's first consumer release, the Neo FreeRunner ($450), is slated for release sometime this spring. A $600 advanced version for developers is also planned.

OpenMoko is an independent subsidiary of FIC, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer. The company was founded on the premise that devices should be completely open. "The thought was that if you freed the software up to people outside the company, you'd unleash an army of Davids, who had at least as much imagination as people inside the company," said Mosher. "The makers of things that are outside the company will help us create insanely great products."

He added, "You wouldn't see Apple saying, 'Here are the CAD files for the iPhone.' "

As Mosher sees it, mobile phone makers aren't nearly as open as they claim to be. What most companies mean by open, he said, is not completely closed. Even Google's Android stack, he said, isn't entirely open because the device drivers aren't under the GNU General Public License.

"If Android were truly open source from top to bottom, someone would put it on our phones," said Mosher. "We would put it on our phones."

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