Google Project Ara Reaches Phase 2 Ahead of 14 January Conference
22 December 2014
In June 2014, Google announced to very little fanfare outside of the tech community, the most adventurous mobile phone project ever known. A modular hardware eco-system, allowing you to put the phone together yourself, made in a modular form, and offering a more custom and future proof phone that allows you to update, components as required, creating bespoke high end or low end phones. Using the same components (called ‘modules’) in any of 3 size frames or endo skeletons (endo for short), all will greatly reduce electronic waste for Google (about 25%), and allowing for the production of phones that cost only $50 and up to produce, depending on the specification. Modules such as CPU, screen quality, Wi-Fi, battery, LEDs, speakers, night vision, health sensors, even Pico projectors and more are already available, most are available in different specifications as they are in phones today. The phone is targeted to be used by 6 billion people, 1 billion smartphone users and 5 billion ‘feature phone’ 3rd world users. This is no small endeavor, 20 partner companies, 150 people across 3 continents, universities, chip designers, industrial engineers all within Google ATAP (advanced, technology and projects division), and some members of ATAP are ex DARPA Innovation employees, and it is their methodology they are following for the project. Originally part of Motorola Mobility, Google kept ATAP on the sale of Motorola to Lenovo and they work under the Android team. Developers work on a common MDK (Module Developers Kits) to keep the development within certain common parameters.
The first prototypes are out, and are made up of the endo that via a ‘passive magnetic system’ binds all the parts together. (This means you can add extra parts such as more batteries, perhaps instead of a camera or other sensors as the technologies becomes available, on the surface of the modules are individual ‘cases’ (called shells) that can potentially even be custom printed on 3D printers so custom covers are a simple process. There are also 3 sizes , a small one 45x118x9.7mm (about the same size as an iPhone 4, ) a middle size 68x141x9.7m (about the same size as the iPhone 6) and a phablet model 91x164x9.7mm (larger than the Nexus 6, Note4 or iPhone 6+) The modules come in 3 sizes, 1×1 (none released yet) 1×2, and 2×2 (usually for battery). The Project Ara phone, is thicker than the new iPhone 6 but thinner than the even newer Nexus 6.
Even the modules are swappable between the 3 sizes of phone, allowing you to have 3 different endo skeleton sizes, all using the same components. The consumer pilot will be announced in Jan 2015 by Google but not likely to be offered until mid to late 2015. For developers the phones will be available in Jan 2015. The phone is uniquely targeted for the high end as well as the 3rd world. Leading to hopes some variations of the phones will be very low cost.
New Low End Chips
Since September 2014, Intel is working with Chinese chip manufacturer Rockchip creating new low end chips to compete with ARM, that will also be used in the lower end Ara modules in Spiral 3 or Project Ara in March 2015.
Project Ara is entering the 2nd phase of development (2nd Spiral) currently and Spiral 3 is likely to take place around April 2015. Each ‘spiral’ addresses the next phase in technology advancements that are way ahead of the old Moore’s law observation, (that the advancement in technology originally transistors doubles every 2 years). Developers for project Ara are also working on 2 separate ‘reference designs’ for the best of breed models. The PXA1928 by Marvell, is a quad-core 64-bit system on a chip (SoC) offering communications of 2G- 3G- 4G. On the other high end the fastest mobile phone chip on the market is
the NVIDIA Tegra K1, this chip is part of the new modules google just announced is offering for developers. As technology is evolving this means the more software on a chip means, the unit can be smaller. However, the many lower spec modules are what google is most excited about as they openly target, the next 5billion users offering various health sensors and other similar heath modules as well. Google #AraDev even is being live streamed, and is at multiple live event sites on 14 January 2015. More Information is available from the Project Ara website www.projectara.com or you can sign up to the live stream here http://bit.ly/stream-ara , you can see the latest build of Project Ara here http://bit.ly/ara-video .
Google is Not Alone
Google is not alone, leaked in November 2014, by CEO Jun, Chinese phone manufacturer Xiaomi that hired ex Android VP Hugo Barra away this year has also announced their own modular phone and shown photos as well. However the ‘magic cube’ phone only allows the camera and battery modules to be switched out currently. That will be interesting to watch as well.