Google (GOOGL -0.55%) is making big news with its recently announced sale of its Motorola Mobility unit to China's Lenovo (LNVGY 0.67%) for $2.9 billion. The price was nearly a cool $10 billion short of the $12.5 billion that Google paid in 2011 for the early cell phone maker and current manufacturer of the Moto X, Moto G, and DROID smartphones.
The headlines have largely been reading something to this effect: "Google sells Motorola, but keeps most of its patent portfolio." If you're following the hot 3-D printing space and, most especially if you're an investor in 3D Systems (DDD 0.49%), your first thought upon seeing the headlines was likely the same as mine: BUT what about Project Ara?
Well, 3D Systems' shareholders can rest easy, as Google's not only keeping most of the Motorola patents (which should be useful in helping fend off patent infringement claims related to its Android operating system), it's also keeping Motorola's advanced technology and projects group. This is the group working on Project Ara, and led by former DARPA head, Regina Dugan.
The goal of Project Ara is to create a large-scale 3-D printing manufacturing platform capable of producing customizable open-source modular smartphones. Motorola had been working on customizable smartphones for about a year before it teamed with 3D Systems last November. Naturally, Project Ara's mission entails integrating the 3-D printing of various types of materials into this platform, including conductive materials to produce electronic circuitry. This is a capability 3D Systems doesn't yet possess, but most surely will be working on developing and/or acquiring.
Google's too smart to let the top team it's been assembling at Motorola's advanced technology and projects group get away and lose the opportunity to be involved in what could be a watershed moment for U.S. manufacturing. If successful -- and with Google's megadeep pockets, I'm betting it will be -- Project Ara seems like it has the potential to be a landmark moment in the transitioning of 3-D printing from a technology used primarily to make prototypes and produce small-run production batches to one that will be used in large-scale manufacturing, as well as "micro-manufacturing."
The fact that Google has shed the rest of Motorola means it will have more time and financial resources to focus on this key group and its projects, which should speed things along with Project Ara.