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Project Ara's working prototype to be finished next month

Posted: , by Luis D.

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Paul Eremenko, a project leader, demonstrates a prototype pulse meter module.

Paul Eremenko, a project leader, demonstrates a prototype pulse meter module.

MIT's Technology Review Journal paid the folks at Project Ara a visit. It seems the modular smartphone is really coming along, and its prototype form is completely true to the project's original vision. According to project leader Paul Eremenko, Google will be providing the so-called "endoskeleton"of the modular phone, which will initially have eight rear slots for smaller modules, two front slots for a display and buttons panel (for example), and on-board power and data modules based on MIPI UniPro technology - a high-speed interface for interconnecting integrated circuits. The modules will be fixed to the platform with electro-permanent magnets - there are no snaps, harnesses, or hinges.

The endoskeletons will be offered in different sizes, including phablet-size, and smaller ones akin to musical players. These aside, Ara's hardware ecosystem is completely open to interested manufacturers. And, as different kinds of components emerge, users will be able to combine the modules into a fully customized smartphone tailored to their specific purposes - such as photography, medical monitoring, experimenting with sensors, and vice versa. 

A working prototype should be finished this month, while the project's research and development process seems to be going full steam. MIT's reporter was shown prototype pulse oximeter for measuring blood oxygen levels, and thermal imaging lens modules in 3D-printed plastic enclosures, while an infrared camera lens was under development. When it's ready, users who need the functionality can attach it to the endoskeleton and go about their day. Good stuff! Talking about the plastic enclosures, Google has partnered with Andover, Massachusetts' 3D Systems to make these quickly, cheaply, and in many different colors and designs. Additionally, not only cases, but entire components as well, could be manufactured using 3D printing. Talk about potential!

Ara is already shaping up to be a significant breakthrough in design and user experience

We also learn that Google plans to test basic Ara devices including only a Wi-Fi module, chipset, screen, and battery in South or Central American countries where wireless hot-spots are common alternatives to expensive cellular plans. These modular phones will cost only $50 each to make, while the retail price is still under consideration. It looks like competition for the $25 FirefoxOS phones is already brewing at NK Labs, the place where MIT reported from. It's a contract manufacturer ran by electrical engineer Ara Knaian, whose name christened the project. There are several more labs, with over 100 employees working on the project simultaneously.

First-time smartphone owners aside, Project Ara will be sampled by a list of about 3328 registered companies, varying from medical sensor vendors to display suppliers, that signed up for the first Ara Developers Conference (April 15-16, Mountain View, CA). Google is tasked with convincing them to turn their technology into Ara modules.

The story of Project Ara becomes more and more interesting with each new announcement. Just looking at the photos gives us a fit of curiosity that only a tech junkie can experience. And, as today's manufacturers mostly opt for incremental power and design updates in their yearly flagship products, innovation grows increasingly rare. Ara is already shaping up to be a significant breakthrough in design and user experience, one that the phone industry hasn't experienced since it met the iPhone and iPad.

source: MIT Technology Review

Photos by David Talbot

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posted on 08 Apr 2014, 04:48 5

1. Duketytz (Posts: 534; Member since: 28 Nov 2013)

This got to be the best!

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 04:54 3

2. AppleHateBoy (unregistered)

Yeah. Enough with the flagships that always have some or the other Achilles Heel (S5 Build, M8 Camera, Moto X SoC, Nexus 5 battery etc.).

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 07:31

18. dbdrummer88 (Posts: 29; Member since: 24 Feb 2014)

Moto X SoC was the new and best part about the phone. It allowed the active display and made the phone "always listening". The others I can agree with, but the worst part of the Moto X from personal use would probably be the camera. Which compared to my Moto Droid 4, is an upgrade for me.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 09:21

21. AppleHateBoy (unregistered)

The so called Moto X8 computing system is nothing but MSM8960Pro (Snapdragon 600 1.7 GHz with 2 Krait 300 cores instead of 4) with 2 specialized cores strapped to it. Moto could have strapped the 2 specialized cores to Snapdragon 800 2.3 GHz (MSM8974AA v2).

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 09:27

22. dbdrummer88 (Posts: 29; Member since: 24 Feb 2014)

I agree with you. But I think that they chose the 600 over the 800 so that it was less power hungry and better on battery life. They did the same thing with the screen, choosing a 720p over 1080p. I thought it was a good move on their part. The phone is still fast for everyday use (as well as every new flagship is). The only need to have the 800 and above is for gaming, which is something I do not do on my phone.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 10:34 1

24. AppleHateBoy (unregistered)

Snapdragon 800 is more powerful (S800 has higher peak perf vs. S600) AND is more efficient than S600 (for the same amount of perf, S800 consumes less power than S600).

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 11:08

25. dbdrummer88 (Posts: 29; Member since: 24 Feb 2014)

Ah, I did not know that. I guess the only other exception could have been to save money.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 12:01

27. sprockkets (Posts: 1611; Member since: 16 Jan 2012)

SD800 wasn't available in time. Simple as that.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 16:00

28. UglyFrank (Posts: 1930; Member since: 23 Jan 2014)

Or just strap the contextual awareness core to it since the S800 can already handle speech.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 07:22

17. PunyPoop (Posts: 752; Member since: 18 Jan 2013)

This is the reason why Samsung make their own OS (TIZEN)..

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 10:02

23. sgodsell (Posts: 4762; Member since: 16 Mar 2013)

This is not the reason. In fact the goal of Ara is to get OEMS like Samsung to make modules.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 23:07

30. 777light777 (Posts: 63; Member since: 14 Aug 2013)

This will be the next gen Lego Nexus phone! YAY!


posted on 08 Apr 2014, 04:54 3

3. Domokun (Posts: 9; Member since: 27 Feb 2014)

i see motorola logo in pic 2

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 08:13

20. jackabood (Posts: 2; Member since: 06 Mar 2014)

motorola makes semiconductors and sensors

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 05:02 1

4. MacWiNux (Posts: 125; Member since: 07 Jan 2014)

dreaming of building your own phone

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 05:16 4

5. vincelongman (Posts: 5048; Member since: 10 Feb 2013)

I love building PCs, feels more rewarding than buying a console, also no compromises
Can't wait to one day build a phone, perfect for me with no compromises

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 05:35 2

6. mayur007 (Posts: 577; Member since: 10 Apr 2012)

this project will forth the mobile world ..

thanx moto n google

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 05:44 1

7. Sniggly (Posts: 7305; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)

I'm really looking forward to seeing Ara reach the masses. Sure, some might not go for it, but this has the potential to blow the smartphone market wide open.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 05:46 1

8. N-fanboy (Posts: 543; Member since: 12 Jan 2013)

Just like desktop PCs.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 05:51 1

9. Sniggly (Posts: 7305; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)

Except it'll be way, way easier for the average person to mess around with these and customize than desktop PCs ever have been.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 06:42

10. AfterShock (Posts: 3698; Member since: 02 Nov 2012)

The others will ride your coat tails.
Wtg Google.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 06:53

11. itsdeepak4u2000 (Posts: 3718; Member since: 03 Nov 2012)

Power of Aras to the consumers. We can get what we want. No more trade offs. Only the thing is that the modules should be affordable.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 06:59 1

13. nightfury (Posts: 71; Member since: 04 Dec 2013)

and also more choices of modules shud b available which takes us to the point that whether all manufacturers will go with it

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 06:58 1

12. nightfury (Posts: 71; Member since: 04 Dec 2013)

this a true innovation man u got it right google......awesome we can customize the configuration according to our needs :)

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 07:11 1

14. shuaibhere (Posts: 1986; Member since: 07 Jul 2012)

Soon I'll be able assemble my own smartphone...

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 07:19

15. antonioli (Posts: 200; Member since: 08 Sep 2013)


posted on 08 Apr 2014, 07:19

16. troutsy (Posts: 319; Member since: 17 Feb 2012)

This probably can't come soon enough if you're a cellphone thief. Make it 1000 times easier to dump stolen goods.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 07:35

19. dbdrummer88 (Posts: 29; Member since: 24 Feb 2014)

I have been very excited about this phone since the launch of phone bloks. Something I hadn't thought about until now (its obvious to me now lol) is that something such as the charging port can be changed out when you are not using it. I was still having the same mentality that the charging port would be a "permanent" piece while in use, when you only need it when you are charging the device. Then you can pop it out for a sensor or whatever else. Same goes for the camera, headphone jack, etc. As long as the pieces do not cost too much, this phone will be extremely successful.

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 11:09

26. SuperMaoriBro (Posts: 533; Member since: 23 Jun 2012)

Exciting concept. Only downside i can see is if it takes off it would increase cell phone thefts as the individual parts could be sold off. Even if a kill switch becomes mandatory in the future it wouldnt be feasible to do so on each module

posted on 08 Apr 2014, 20:40

29. garyII (Posts: 160; Member since: 26 Feb 2014)

i am thinking that what if i accidentally dropped my phone (i mean this project ara's phone) and it would be like "Holy S*** ! , my damn speaker module dropped into the drain !!!" lol

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