Magnetic toy maker Nano Magnetics announced a technology Tuesday called Nanoport, designed to let people link small phone displays into a single larger one, snap phones onto car dashboards, and easily link them to other devices.
Nano Magnetics hopes to license Nanoport first to smartphone makers and later to other tech companies, the company said Tuesday at CES 2014. Nanoport uses small neodymium (aka rare earth magnets), but it can be augmented with electromagnets for more demanding attachment situations, like car dashboards. It's also got wireless mechanisms for charging and USB-derived data transfer.
With Nanoport, devices could be stacked, tiled side by side, or collapsed like a zig-zag of fan-fold paper. Phone displays could be linked into a single larger one, or a phone could be augmented with a battery boosters, speaker, or external storage device.
"It effectively turns electronics into building blocks that can be combined to create new devices, then later collapsed for transport," said Chief Executive and founder Tim Szeto in a statement.
This marks a significant expansion for the 35-person company, which makes the Nanodots magnetic toys. That business has a big problem: the Consumer Products Safety Commission doesn't like powerful, tiny magnets that can be swallowed.
"The CPSC asked us to stop the sale of Nanodots until the industry and government could find a solution for the safe sale of small neodymium magnets," Marketing Manager Ashley Huffman said.
Connecting devices from different companies could be difficult if magnets don't align properly, but Nanoport devices will work on surfaces with ordinary ferrous metals, too, making the technology more flexible. Compatibility among devices isn't so big a deal if an accessory is made to work with a specific product, though, or if a company offers a modular device that uses Nanoport behind the scenes.
The company hopes to attract developers to the idea. At CES, the company will open up its hardware and software designs through its Nanoport Developer Program.