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Google Releases First Development Kit for Project ARA, its New Modular Smartphone Platform

by Sergio De Simone on Apr 28, 2014 |

Google has released a Module Developers Kit (MDK) for Project Ara, an initiative that aims to develop a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. The MDK defines the Ara platform for module developers and provides reference implementations for various design features. Main goals of the ARA platform are being low cost and creating a rich module ecosystem.

The Ara platform basically consists of there parts:

  • an on-device packet-switched data network;
  • a flexible power bus;
  • an industrial design that mechanically unites the modules.

One of the key feature of the platform will be, according to Google, the availability of a rich ecosystem of modular blocks that users can pick and choose from, so that users would be able to select from an online marketplace modules such as a display, keyboard or an extra battery. Furthermore, it would allow users to swap out malfunctioning modules or upgrade inpidual modules, providing longer lifetime cycles for the handset, and potentially reducing electronic waste.

The initial Ara MDK release predicates the use of a single application processor (AP) module, although support for multiple AP modules may be added in a future MDK release. The AP will be running the Android software stack. Besides modules corresponding to particular device classes such as cameras, displays, and human interface devices, the MDK also mentions the possibility of novel, unique, or special-purpose modules not belonging to any device class.

The first model of the modular phone is scheduled to be released in January 2015 and is expected to cost around $50. Meanwhile, throughout 2014, the Project Ara team will continue releasing alpha and beta versions of the MDK and leveraging feedback from developers.

According to Wikipedia, initial reception to the earlier modular Phoneblocks concept was mixed, due to possible infeasibility, lack of a working prototype, as well as other production and development concerns. After Motorola got involved, concerns focused on potential issues with the modular concept, including a tradeoff between volumetric efficiency and modularity. The current prototype, reports Time is 9.7mm thick, slightly thicker than conventional smartphones.

The project was originally headed by the Advanced Technologies and Projects team within Motorola Mobility while it was a subsidiary of Google. Although Google had sold Motorola to Lenovo, it has retained the project team under the direction of the Android division.

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