Project Ara – Modular phone by Google

Project Ara is the codename for an initiative by Google that aims to develop an open hardware platform for creating highly modular smart phones.

Project Ara – Designed exclusively for 6 billion people

The platform will include a structural frame (endoskeleton that holds Smartphone modules of the owner’s choice, such as a display, camera or an extra battery.

Ara Smartphones

It would allow users to swap out malfunctioning modules or upgrade individual modules as innovations emerge, providing longer lifetime cycles for the handset, and potentially reducing electronic waste.

History

Google was exploring the concept of modular phones in 2011, and had acquired some patents from Modu. Motorola, while it was a subsidiary of Google, announced Project Ara on October 29, 2013 and said they will be working collaboratively with Phonebloks which was a concept announced by Dave Hakkens independently. Later Google sold Motorola to Lenovo but retained the Project Ara team.

A near-working prototype of an Ara Smartphone was presented at Google I/O 2014; however, the device froze on the boot screen and failed to boot completely. Globant also announced that they will make a Google Play like dedicated hardware store for Project Ara.

A market pilot for Project Ara will be launched in Q1 of 2015 with a target bill of materials cost of $50 for a basic grey phone.

Features and Structure

Ara phones have endoskeleton frame called endos. Modules can be swapped in and out of this frame. Google has planned to launch phones only in 3 sizes (Mini, Medium and Large) to reduce fragmentation as seen in Android.

Project Ara variants

FrameSizeRear module slots
Mini45 × 118 × 9.7 mm2 × 5
Medium68 × 141 × 9.7 mm3 × 6
Large91 × 164 × 9.7 mm4 × 7

Modules can provide common Smartphone features, such as cameras and speakers, but can also provide more specialized features, such as medical devices, receipt printers, laser pointers, pico projectors, night vision sensors, or game controller buttons. Each slot on the frame will accept any module of the correct size. The front slots are of various heights and take up the whole width of the frame. The rear slots come in standard sizes of 1×1, 1×2 and 2×2. Modules can be hot-swapped without turning the phone off. The frame also includes a small backup battery so the main battery can be hot-swapped. Modules are secured with electro permanent magnets. The enclosures of the modules are 3D-printed, so customers can design their own individual enclosures and replace them as they wish.

Modules will be available both at an official Google store and at third-party stores. Ara Smartphones will only accept official modules by default, but users can change a software setting to enable unofficial modules. This is similar to how Android handles app installations.

In conclusion it seems after the success of Android, Google is trying to reinvent the Smartphones. Can we expect Ara Smartphones to be the the Next Big Thing?