Facebook’s hardware division known as Building 8 seems to be working on a modular device designed to incorporate a variety of modules with different functionalities into a single chassis. The product currently doesn’t seem to have a name but Building 8’s patent application for the mysterious modular device was recently published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The patent application refers to the product as a “modular electromechanical device” that can be paired with modules such as speakers, microphones, and even touch-sensitive display panels.
The concept of a modular mobile device, or a modular smartphone, is not entirely new. As a matter of fact, several companies so far have attempted to create a viable modular device, including Google who had previously worked on Project Ara for a few years after gaining inspiration from one of the earliest such projects called Phonebloks. However, at this point in time, it’s not entirely clear what type of a creation is Facebook’s hardware division working on. There are mentions of modules designed to fulfill certain functionalities, though the sketches sent to the USPTO don’t seem to reveal a form factor fit for a smartphone design. But interestingly enough, the patent application does mention a few uses for different “embodiments” of the modular system and exemplifies a speaker device configuration as well as a setup designed to work as a global positioning system.
In any case, it’s worth noting that Facebook’s Building 8 group which is responsible for this particular patent application employs a number of ex-members of Google’s Project Ara development team. In addition, the patent application mentions four Building 8 employees who have previously worked for Nascent Objects; a startup company acquired by Facebook last year, which had previously prototyped various modular devices using 3D printing technologies. Also interesting to note is that this modular device appears to have been designed to connect to the cloud and make use of different software applications depending on each module configuration. How exactly would this all work in practice is unknown, though Facebook’s Building 8 hardware development team may be able to shed more light on the nature of this product in the near future.