Google's Project Ara, the Modular Smartphone, Crashes During Demo

Google's Project Ara, the Modular Smartphone, Crashes During Demo

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Google has plenty to say about Project Ara even if the modular smartphone can't boot up the Android OS yet.

Google has come a long way with Project Ara, a modular smartphone inspired by Phonebloks, since we reported on it in early May. At Google I/O, the annual developer-focused conference, Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group took the form factor prototype off the workbench and attempted to boot it up. While the phone works when tethered to a laboratory bench, at the conference the prototype froze partway through loading the Android desktop.

Of course, the phone is an early prototype. Named Spiral 1, the prototype is the first build that actually resembles what Googles hopes will be available for purchase next January. The power switch needs to be physically shorted and the phone itself still looks raw, but the progress is impressive for only nine months of development.

There are some other problems the Ara team is tackling. The Android operating system in its current state isn't capable of handling the hotswapping of modules, but this will eventually be addressed. Another issue is the overhead of the modules themselves.

ara group

Overhead, in this sense, refers to the physical space taken up within each module that enables it to function as a module. The magnets that hold it in place, a processor, and power management currently take up two-thirds of a module, leaving only 30-35% of the space for actual module functionality. By the time the Spiral 2, the next prototype, is finished in October, the team hopes to reduce overhead to about a quarter of a module's physical space, leaving 70-75% for developers. The final goal is to reduce overhead to 10-15%.

Leaving the space on the module open for developers is crucial for Ara. Project chief Paul Eremenko expressed that Ara is the hardware analog of the Android app ecosystem. In order to encourage developers, Eremenko announced the Developer Prize Challenge. Development teams have until September 30th to submit a working module that would be used daily and does something that smartphones today can't do. A grand prize winner will receive $100,000, and this is only "Ara prize challenge #1", implying more contests in the future to encourage module development. So if you know what "MIPI UniPro protocol stack" means (or can figure it out), check out the newly updated Module Developers Kit (MDK).

Among other details and technical specifications given during the talk, Eremenko also shared some information about the battery. Given advancements in battery chemistries, Ara owners can opt for smaller batteries with three times the density of their lithium-ion counterparts. This will allows users more space for modules, but these smaller batteries have a shorter cycle life, requiring more frequent replacement.

More details are available in the presentation, and it's worth a view if you have been keeping an eye on Project Ara or are excited by the concept of modular smartphones. The Ara presentation starts at about the twenty-three minute mark and last for around twenty minutes.

To bring everyone else up to speed, back in September Phonebloks was revealed as a concept phone. The designers recognized that the growing e-waste problem was in large part due to people replacing their phones when a single component was no longer suitable. They realized a broken screen or a need for a better camera could be addressed by making smartphones modular. Google was inspired by this concept, and not having the full technical know-how or resources to make this a reality, the people behind Phonebloks helped Google get started on Project Ara.


Ara addresses a number of issues such as e-waste and questionable manufacturing processes overseas while enticing new users with exciting new potential in smartphones. Personalized functionality and appearance and the cool-factor of 3D printed components means Ara can deal with environmental and human rights concerns without being forced to sell the phone as a consumer activist product.

Source: Google Developers Youtube Channel

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All I can say is:
Amazing.

Google has really shown that if you put your money where your mouth's at in tech your work will bear fruit. I'm excited to say the least.

This is the sort of shit that helps redefine an industry. Not offering the iPhone in several new pretty colours.

I just hope they make the thing secure. When I had a Samsung Instinct, the thing's battery compartment would fly off and it and the battery would go in separate directions if you dropped it from more than like two inches. My Galaxies haven't been that bad, but that could be due to the cases I've used.

I could imagine such a phone being a disaster.

The power button has to be shorted and some guts are hanging out. Google knows too much about me. That's the usual state of my desktop since I have to mess with it constantly (both because of old age and that fact that I have to tinker with any electro-mechanical device that sits next to me for more than 5 minutes).

What's the chemistry of those new batteries? Lithium polymer? I will squee when they finally announce commercial quality super capacitors. (I'd bet that is still years down the road, though.)

Vivi22:
This is the sort of shit that helps redefine an industry. Not offering the iPhone in several new pretty colours.

If this takes off, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple cam out with their own line of modular gadgets. Their designers could figure a way around the "clean lines" design philosophy Apple mandates. Of course, with them being Apple, they'd charge 3 times as much as a regular phone and each module would be almost as much as a whole new phone. But Apple fanbois would buy one every year and buy new parts every quarter.

It's fine if it crashes right now. For such a short time in development that is nothing short of amazing. I am glad to see them taking the initiative. If they can get this working by the next time I need to upgrade my phone you can count me in.

That reminds me of something else...

To paraphrase the video:

That must be why we're not shipping Project Ara yet...

I actually find it reassuring the phone is in that state currently. They aren't afraid to say "Hey, look, we've got this new advanced type of phone here. Took this off the R&D floor last week, lets see if it works. Nope." Its reassuring that it wasn't a super staged, 'Vertical slice' to take a gaming term. At least when something breaks, you know its the real deal then.

been watching and funding this project from the beginning,
good to see evolve.

I cant wait for this to become a reality. Seriously, I was in love with this idea since its original creation. I was worried when I heard Google take the helm, but I see they're really putting their best effort forward. Hopefully when the phone is ready to go and has all of the components I could want, I'll grab one myself~

windows 98 crashed on the official unveiling presentation Bill Gates ran. didnt stop it from becoming the dominant OS. This sounds like a very neat idea and i would love to see it realized eventually.

Hairless Mammoth:
If this takes off, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple cam out with their own line of modular gadgets. Their designers could figure a way around the "clean lines" design philosophy Apple mandates. Of course, with them being Apple, they'd charge 3 times as much as a regular phone and each module would be almost as much as a whole new phone. But Apple fanbois would buy one every year and buy new parts every quarter.

Doubt it. Apple and costumization does not play nice. their idea was always: give no options, make it so simple even retarded monkeys cant kill it.

The parts in a smart phones is getting smaller and smaller, so the gain in a modular smart phone will decrease with time. It would have been better to expand on the concept of docking smart phones into display and keyboards, or concepts like Asus Transformer Book.

Strazdas:
Doubt it. Apple and costumization does not play nice. their idea was always: give no options, make it so simple even retarded monkeys cant kill it.

Ehrm, don't you mean exceptionally gifted monkeys?

I can see the advantages of it but all the same from the article, as positively written as it is, I still can't help feel the downsides still somewhat outweigh them.

I mean not only is each module much bigger than it has to be but it's also consuming much more power if each module has it's own processor.

Not that those can't be worked around but for the foreseeable future I'd put my money on this becoming a more niche technology rather than something that'll dominate the smartphone space. It'll be more expensive, take more power, likely require more frequent replacement etc.

Then again, this is coming from someone with a Nokia with buttons, that still works perfectly fine.

It sounds like a really cool idea, even though I'm yet to give a f*ck about Smartphones, but lets see how much battery life they can get out of it.

Vivi22:
This is the sort of shit that helps redefine an industry. Not offering the iPhone in several new pretty colours.

What are you talking about man, the Iphone's new version isn't just about different colours, it's also 0,5 milimeters thinner and 0,0000002 kg lighter! THE MOST INNOVATIONS

super_mega_ultra:

Strazdas:
Doubt it. Apple and costumization does not play nice. their idea was always: give no options, make it so simple even retarded monkeys cant kill it.

Ehrm, don't you mean exceptionally gifted monkeys?

Please do not insult exceptionally gifted monkeys

 

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