Many companies, including Alphabet’s Project Ara, promise us that the future is modular, pieces of hardware added individual to create the exact gadget you need. Although Ara is still toiling away on its piecemeal smartphone, research from Columbia University’s computer vision laboratory is making that promise a reality for cameras.

This system is called Cambits. By connecting different colored blocks together—making up a base, sensor, flash, actuator, lens, and optical attachments like polarizers, or microscopes—you can create a colorful camera brick-by-brick. The blocks themselves are connected magnetically and transfer data, power, and control signals through spring-loaded pins.

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The video shows lots of different combinations, like creating your own microscope or setting up a two-lens system for stereoscopic images. The rotor attachments looks somewhat flimsy and the final Cambits would probably some commercial spit shine before it became something purchasable.

It makes sense that cameras would be a natural starting point for exploring a new world of modular devices. After all, camera lens are sort of modular attachments anyway. A few companies have toyed with more modular designs, and there are even DIY modular cams out there. But none goes as far or look as simple to build than Cambits, and damn, it looks fun.

[Columbia Engineering]

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Contact the author at darren.orf@gizmodo.com