April 15, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
Earlier 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.
The 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.
In 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.
April 9, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
Few things have been as exciting in the mobile tech world as the promise of a fully modular smartphone. Project Ara, which was first announced only a few short months ago by Google’s ATAP team, seemed like an unrealistic dream at the time. But over the past few months, that dream has slowly been solidifying into something increasingly concrete thanks to hardware partners and next week’s Project Ara Developer Conference.
Now, Google has released version 0.10 of the Project Ara Module Development Kit (MDK). And inside, Google sheds light on the Ara platform itself and gives examples of reference implementations of various hardware parts.
This first public release of the MDK starts off by providing details about Ara’s industrial design such as its front- and rear-side parceling schemes and hardware design language. The former consists of module sizes and placement, and the latter involves how to maintain a unified “smooth, flat, pebble” design. The MDK then continues by discussing module assembly, including module dimensions, required materials (module base must be a single piece of machined 6061 aluminum), prototype PCB layouts, electronic interface, and its locking electro-permanent magnets. Finally, Google talks about how it all ties together, using things like MIPI UniPro, as well as the software stack and Hardware Abstraction Layers (HALs) required for Ara to work.
Needless to say, the release of MDK goes to show just how close we are to seeing Ara come to fruition. This is a very exciting time to be a tech fan. To learn more about module creation, head over to the Project Ara MDK site and download the version 0.10 of the Ara MDK Then, be sure to head over to our Project Ara development forums and the comments section below to share your ideas on exciting module possibilities.
February 26, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
Ever since the former Googorola’s ambitious Project Ara was first announced back in late October, many have been impatiently waiting for modular smartphones to make their way into consumer hands. Since then, we’ve talked a bit about some of the project’s potential pitfalls, as well as the first steps towards making it a reality. We even created a forum for Ara (and MDK Hacking and Development in general) in order to help encourage would-be developers to get started with module development.
When Googorola became Motonovo, many were worried about the future of Project Ara and the ATAP team as a whole. Luckily, we soon learned that ATAP would trade hands into Google’s possession. And now, the ATAP team has announced that they will be holding a Project Ara Developers’ Conference on April 15 and 16.
Those looking to start developing modules for Project Ara should register for the Developers’ Conference. The event will be streamed live via an Internet webcast, but a few lucky registrants will be invited to attend in person. Head to the source links below to learn more, and don’t forget to visit our Project Ara forum to get in on the MDK Hacking discussion!
December 7, 2013 By: Will Verduzco
Remember that ambitious modular smartphone platform project that Motorola announced a little over a month ago? Despite the backing from Motorola and now a 3D Printing hardware manufacturing partner, many have written off Project Ara as technically improbable and realistically impossible. Well, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to downplay this potential game-changer.
According to Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside, Project Ara is very much real. So real, in fact, that Dennis stated in an interview with YouTuber Marques Brownlee that a working prototype is just around the corner. While not much was revealed about the device will function, he reiterated the goals of the project:
There is a prototype, and it is pretty close. The idea is you have a skeleton that holds together a set of components, and the components slide in and out. If we have the interfaces and the protocols that enable the speaker to speak directly to the CPU, then this would all be possible.
While vague, this hints at an interface protocol in the MDK, which will be used to standardize all input directly interface with the device processor. Unfortunately, no such standardized protocol currently exists, so there are some large technical hurdles to be overcome. Furthermore, with modularity and standardized interfaces generally comes added bulk. And given recent hipster trends, an extra millimeter or a fruity logo can mean the difference between a device that is considered cool and one that is not.
In addition to the technical challenges, the rest of the increasingly disposable mobile technology industry may not be ready to adopt a user-upgradeable and user-serviceable alternative. This could potentially limit OEM and ODM adoption, as well as keep prices prohibitively high.
Finally, Dennis Woodside also briefly touched upon the success of Moto Maker for the Moto X, and the consumer demand for customizable devices. As such, it’s not unreasonable to anticipate that if and when Ara comes to fruition, it will be launched through Moto Maker. As stated by Dennis:
Moto Maker was the beginning of a more exciting and longer term story, which is how do we involve consumers and give them more choice. Ara is much further out, but you can see how those two things tie together and how as we introduce new materials into Moto Maker we’re gonna pursue that theme across our product line going forward.
What we’d like to eventually get to is functionality within the device, and that’s where Project Ara and Moto Maker may converge.
What are your thoughts on Project Ara? Are you hopeful about its potential or are you too skeptical that its lofty goals will see fruition. Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below, and also be sure to make your way over to the MDK Hacking and Discussion forum to get in on the MDK action.
The full interview can be found below, and it is definitely worth your watch if you have any interest in the future of Google-owned Motorola, its upcoming products, or Project Ara and customizable smartphones.
November 22, 2013 By: Will Verduzco
We first broke the news on Motorola’s ambitious Project Ara a little under a month ago. Not too long afterward, we gave it a special place in our forum. This is a place where potential module developers can talk about the Module Developer’s Kit (MDK) and building add-ons for the platform, as well as discuss the viability of Project Ara as a whole. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard much about the project since then.
Now, Motorola has taken the first steps in bringing Ara to life by partnering with 3D printing manufacturer 3D Systems. The company’s President and CEO Avi Reichental believes that the technology is particularly suited for the task:
Project Ara was conceived to build a platform that empowers consumers all over the world with customization for a product made by and for the individual. 3D printing promotes a level of sustainability, functionality, and mass personalization that turns these kinds of global ambitions into attainable local realities. Project Ara combines two exponential technologies, and we expect that the resulting high-throughput advanced manufacturing platform will have far reaching implications on the entire digital thread that stitches together the factory of the future.
Head over to the source link to read the full press release, and don’t forget to head over to the Project Ara forums to share your ideas for modules and get in on the discussion. Are you excited for Ara? Do you think this will actually come to fruition one day? Let us know in the comments below!
November 4, 2013 By: Will Verduzco
Not too long ago, we covered Motorola’s ambitious Project Ara. The project is centered around the idea that a smartphone can be an open and modular platform, and one that end users can upgrade and repair at will. While there are still almost countless logistical hurdles to overcome, the project and the similar Phonebloks concept by Dave Hakkens both promise many potential benefits if executed properly.
Alongside the project’s unveiling, Motorola also stated plans to release the basic building blocks, the Module Developer’s Kit (MDK), this winter. The MDK is intended at letting developers create modules for the Ara platform. As such, we’ve created a new forum where users can discuss Project Ara, as well as modules and module ideas.
To get started talking about your module creation plans, or to simply talk about what you’d like to see in Project Ara, head over to the newly created MDK Hacking and Discussion forum.
Remember that far-reaching and seemingly unrealistic Phonebloks concept by Dave Hakkens from early last month? The vast majority of us shrugged off the idea as unrealistic.
There are many reasons why one would think an idea such as Phonebloks would never come to fruition. After all, there are quite a few hurdles getting in the way, not the least of which is the fact that given the current model of smartphone production and planned obsoletion, it is not in an OEM’s best interest to produce something that can actually last. As electronics are becoming cheaper and cheaper, they are also becoming increasingly disposable.
Furthermore, smartphones are designed to be small, lightweight, and make efficient use of their limited physical volume. Because of these key issues, modular interfaces similar to what we’ve seen in the desktop computing realm have not extended over to mobile. Although it’s important to note that these aren’t so much technical hurdles, as they are implementation setbacks.
Well, it looks like despite the apparent roadblocks, Motorola has been conjuring up something similar in their Advanced Technology and Projects group for over a year. As a followup to their cross-country MAKEwithMOTO project trip, Ara is about developing a free and open hardware platform for the creation of a modular smartphone.
In their words:
After the trip, we asked ourselves, how do we bring the benefits of an open hardware ecosystem to 6 billion people?
Led by Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, Project Ara is developing a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.
Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones. To give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it’s made of, how much it costs, and how long you’ll keep it.
Motorola anticipates that the basic building blocks, the Module Developer’s Kit (MDK) will be available this winter. This will allow (presumably hardware) developers to create modules for the Ara platform. And to help bolster the effort, the Project Ara team has been working with Dave Hakkens (the Phonebloks guy) to leverage the Phonebloks community because in their mind, “The power of open requires both [hardware and software].”
Despite how unrealistic this all seems with current technology and implementations, this has the potential to be quite interesting—especially if there is sufficient developer and OEM support. We can’t help but feel a bit skeptical that OEMs would be willing to commoditize their offerings and then only compete on raw specs and price, rather than value added feature and marketing buzzwords.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think this is realistic? Would you buy a modular phone, even if it meant an initially higher investment? We are highly excited to see what the future holds for Project Ara, even if we are a tad bit skeptical about how practical it will be, as well as how it will compete with regards to physical size.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!
[Many thanks to everyone who sent in the tip!]