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Awesome DIY cell phone has universal appeal

MIT's High-Low Tech group seeks to turn the cell phone into an object that's easy to customize and personalize without breaking the bank.

It's not a smartphone, but it is frickin' brilliant.
MIT Media Lab

This DIY cell phone created at MIT manages to have something for just about every major contemporary subculture or hipster subset I can think of.

Nerds and tinkerers? Check. Wooden case for the steampunk set? Check. Huge antenna for the retro, skinny-jeans-wearing set? Check. Big buttons for the fat-thumbed and Luddite crowd? Check. Rugged design for outdoorsy types? Check.

The folks at the MIT Media Lab created this prototype with an SM5100B GSM Module that takes a standard SIM card and a custom circuit board. The screen will take you back to the last century at 160x128 pixels and the laser cut wood and veneer enclosure is just one of many possible exteriors, given the availability of 3D printing. While far from a smartphone, voice, texting, and other slightly old-school functionality is possible. All told, the parts cost between $100 and $150.

While you might expect the folks at MIT to be producing things that are, well, a little more cutting edge, this project from the Media Lab's High-Low Tech group is all about encouraging "a proliferation of personalized and diverse mobile phones."

The idea is to take advantage of open-source designs and technologies like 3D printing to democratize one of the most ubiquitous devices on the planet. The project page explains the mission a little more passionately:

Freed from the constraints of mass production, we plan to explore diverse materials, shapes, and functions. We hope that the project will help us explore and expand the limits of do-it-yourself (DIY) practice. How close can a homemade project come to the design of a cutting-edge device? What are the economics of building a high-tech device in small quantities? Which parts are even available to individual consumers? What's required for people to customize and build their own devices?

That's quite a high-minded vision, but to me the most practical implication of widespread phone customization is obvious: the imminent advent of the low-rider phone. Expect to encounter numerous mobile devices kicking out excessive amounts of bass and sporting some sick flames on the case in your town in the not-too-distant future.