Google ATAP Details Project Ara in Developers’ Conference

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ara1Earlier today, the Google ATAP team kicked off its first ever Project Ara Developers’ Conference. Although the conference and its first day of talks are still ongoing, we now have a clearer idea of what exactly will go into Project Ara thanks to several presentations by members of the Ara team.

After giving a brief overview of the Ara platform itself, head of the Project Ara team Paul Eremenko delved into the Ara program and a few of the innovations that have been created to allow for a more personalized experience keeping in line with the the Ara philosophy as a whole. At the heart of it all is the first ever 3D printing system that allows for commercial-level volume. Rather than being based on a reciprocating platform like most current solutions, the 3D printing technology that will be used in Ara will work with a series of tracks in order to provide higher output speed.

3dprinterThe Ara team intends on using this new 3D printing technology along with a shell maker app to create custom built shells that cater to the individual user. There is also the possibility to use Kinect-produced imagery to create what they are terming a “Physigram.” You can think of the Physigram as sort of a Instagram-like filter that can be applied to the Kinect images that can then be incorporated directly into the shell maker app.

3dprint2In addition to customization, the 3D printing technology that will be used in Ara has a few rather impressive practical benefits. One of these is the ability to print using conductive inks. This then allows for various antenna types to be integrated into the shell casting, rather than relying on separate hardware.

Next up, Project Coordinator for Ara David Fishman described the Configurator app framework and device personalization from a user perspective. Within the app itself, users can play with a spatial model that mimics the physical area of a real device. This then allows users to configure each element such as the endo base to the modules that slide into the endo, as well as the enclosures and shells that go on top.

In order to make the Configurator more user friendly, the ATAP team has developer a pinch-to-peel UI paradigm. This allows users to shift between different hardware layers with a simple gesture.

To prevent the paradox of choice, whereby an overwhelming number of module options then intimidates potential users, the Ara team envisions an extremely low cost device that features only the bare minimal number of components necessary to run the configurator app. Termed “Greyphone,” this device is being targeted at $50 for material costs. In addition, the team intends on having physical storefronts to help give a physical interaction with the products. These may incorporate heart rate and sweat biometric monitoring of consenting users in order to fine tune which modules are displayed to the user. A tad creepy, no?

Paul Eremenko then briefly touched upon the process of module creation, platform openness, and the realities of regulatory concerns. He then mentioned that naturally, any radio-capable modules will be subject to heavy regulatory testing. Creation of non-radio modules, on the other hand, will be much more open. And in fact, the team intends for the hardware ecosystem to be much closer to what we see in the Google Play Store versus something more curated.

In addition, Eremenko also mentioned one potential pitfall of having modules from various different manufacturers: the question of where to turn for user support. While an ultimate solution has yet to be developed, the team hinted at one centralized support center for Ara modules so that consumers don’t need to have a rolodex of numbers in order to service their devices.

So what about the proposed timetables? Eremenko envisions a 2015 release to consumers, with various key steps being accomplished along the way. Some of the key highlights include finalizing the capacitive data interface and electropermanent magnets by September, finishing the driver architecture and modularity requirements by December, and getting the 3D printing technology described above ready for commercial volume by January of next year.

Obviously, there is still much left to be uncovered about Project Ara. While we already know many details about the interfaces and technologies involved, much is still yet to be seen about how everything will work together, as well as how independent developers can be a part of this. Luckily, our own Dave Drager, who is onsite for the conference, will approach this question and provide a deeper look at the technologies behind Ara in a future article.


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