Oct 15, 2014 11:19 PM EDT
Google's Project Ara to be release in 2015!
Project Ara is the codename for an initiative by Google that aims to develop a free, open hardware platform for creating highly flexible smartphones. The platform will include a structural frame that holds smartphone sections of the owner's choice, which are assembled into metal frames such as a display, keyboard or an extra battery. It would allow users to swap out malfunctioning parts or upgrade individual modules as innovations emerge, providing longer lifetime cycles for the handset, and potentially reducing electronic waste.
It started last September when Dave Hakkens; an industrial-design student from Netherlands, proposed a snap-together smartphone system he called Phonebloks, the very notion felt as contrarian as it did futuristic.
Hakkens was driven mostly by the ecological implications of a culture that has tech enthusiasts using a smartphone for only a year or two before throwing it away and moving onto something newer and shinier. After all, "If you have a bike and you get a flat tire," he reasoned, "you don't throw it away and buy a new bike."
Even if Phonebloks was an instant phenomenon, it remained a vision of a phone from a perhaps distant future, as far as Hakkens knew. "Maybe it'll take us ten or twenty years, but it's not impossible," he remembers thinking.
Still lot of people didn't just buy the idea of a modular phone. Fast Company's John Brownlee, for example, called it "a pipe dream," while Colin Lecher of Popular Science said that it would "fall apart faster than a Lego castle in the path of a toddler."
To prove the naysayers wrong, and to do so more quickly than you might think possible, Project Ara started its earliest explorations of the concept in the fall of 2012, and work got underway in earnest on April 1, 2013.
The project was firstly headed by the Advanced Technologies and Projects team within Motorola Mobility while it was a subordinate of Google. Though Google had sold Motorola, its phone-manufacturing business, to Chinese electronics giant Lenovo, it is retaining the project team who will work under the Android division.
With Project Ara, Google aims to lower the entry barrier for phone hardware manufacturers so there could be "hundreds of thousands of developers" instead of the current handful of big manufacturers. Anyone will be able to build a unit without needing a license or paying a fee.
Ara phones are built using modules inserted into metal endoskeletal frames known as "endos". The frame will be the only component in an Ara phone made by Google. It acts as the switch to the on-device network linking all the modules together. There will be two frame sizes available at first: "mini", a frame about the size of a Nokia 3310 and "medium", about the size of a LG Nexus 5. Later on, a "large" frame about the size of a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 will be available. Frames have slots on the front for the display and other modules. On the back are additional spaces for modules. Each frame is expected to cost around US$15.
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 back slots come in standard sizes of 1x1, 1x2 and 2x2. Modules can be hot-swapped without turning the phone off. The frame also includes a small backup battery so the main battery can be swapped. Modules are secured with electropermanent magnets. The enclosures of the modules are 3D-printed, so customers can design their own individual attachments and replace them as they wish.
If ever you're wondering, Project Ara's name is a nod to Ara Knaian, both to recognize his contributions and because he happened to have a name that sounded cool. Google hasn't decided what all this stuff will be called when it becomes a commercial offering.
Modules will be available both at an official Google store and at third-party stores in early 2015. Ara phones will only accept official modules by default, but users can change a software setting to enable unauthorized modules, which is also similar to how Android handles app installations.