Design your own modular electronics with Nascent Objects

Many of today’s electronic products contain high-quality components that are lost after the product has reached the end of its first use. Think of a smartphone, for example. Many parts like the camera, processor, speaker and microphone remain in working order throughout the lifespan of the device, and are only damaged when the phone is sent through a destructive recycling process.

Principle 2: Optimise resource yields by circulating products, components and materials in use at the highest utility at all times in both technical and biological cycles
— Growth Within: A Circular Economy Vision for a Competitive Europe, 2015

What if these components were more easily accessible and could be repurposed for a less demanding application? We hear about material cascades in the biological cycle of a circular economy, but could this also work in the technical cycle, with consumer electronics?

That’s the thinking behind Nascent Objects. This proposed hardware ecosystem uses a software platform that enables users to 3D print devices that are modular, designed for disassembly and easy to upgrade. These devices are made up of two parts. ‘Nascent Shapes’ offer the form or framework, with ‘Nascent Modules’ providing the functionality. The company says that swapping these modules for different applications is “as simple as changing the batteries in your remote control”.

The flagship product offered by the company is ‘Droppler’, a device that tracks water use in the home. However, funders of the Droppler crowdfunding campaign will also be able to repurpose the key components into a wifi speaker or an HD video camera. Other products such as a drone, baby monitor, bicycle light and smart garden sensor are said to be coming soon.

Nascent Objects proposal is the latest in the emerging ambition for more modular devices. In 2013, PhoneBloks made waves online with a modular smartphone concept, which was progressed as Project Ara under Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group. Puzzlephone and Blocks smartwatch  are also pushing innovation in this space.

Nascent objects differs from these examples as it appears to be the first to offer interoperability between different types of device. This could encourage greater re-use of electronic components, reducing energy and material use yet providing the customer with “more consumer electronics for less.”


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The Author

Joe Iles

Joe Iles

I'm Editor in Chief of Circulate and Digital Architect at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

When I'm not discussing the circular economy, I also love talking about digital media and online trends, memes, music, bad films and good beer.

You can find me on twitter @joeiles or email joe[at]