Product Design

DIY Cell Phone Is Clunky But Geektastic

At a recent open house, the MIT Media Lab debuted a prototype of a DIY build your own cell phone kit. (A “do-it-yourcellf” phone? I know…there’s a special place in hell for people who make puns that bad, sorry.) Engadget got to try it out and took some video, below.

The cell phone is unarguably a “stupid phone”—it can place and receive calls, but offers no mobile web capabilities. It runs off a 9-volt battery. It can’t store phone numbers. But geek street cred-wise, it’s unparalleled: its case is delightfully low-tech laser-cut plywood, and its old school blue and white command line-style interface will make you feel like a leet haxor ten times over.

Engineering PhD student David Mellis, who demonstrated the phone to Engadget, is part of MIT’s “High-Low Tech” research group—they’re behind such awesome projects as the piezo-powered tambourine and self-folding origami paper.

Using the DIY cell phone

Treehugger technology editor Jaymi Heimbuch’s commentary is spot-on:

While it’s not a practical option for a quality cell phone, it could be an interesting science project for students learning about electronic devices when the kit comes out on the market. Getting comfortable with electronics, including something as ubiquitous as cell phones, is important in getting people to repair their own gadgets when they break, rather than replacing them. And projects like this are just such a way to make electronics less intimidating.

As a kid, I made my own telephone and doorbell out of kits like this—and those kits definitely sparked an interest in electronics. Electronics kits have been teaching engineering to the unwashed masses at least since Heathkit‘s first kits in 1947.

It sounds like there may be some legal hurdles to overcome before this kit can be made available commercially, because the FCC rather heavily regulates cell phone airwaves. It’s not really any cheaper, either: the kit is currently priced between $100 and $150.

So, no, this phone is not (yet) a viable competitor to other phones on the market. But it demystifies “black box” electronics. It’s also fantastically geeky.

See for yourself!