At the 2014 I/O event, the announcement was made during the ATAP tech segment that Google’s Project Ara smartphone would be publicly turned on for the first time. Project Ara’s Chief, Paul Eremenko, provided a lot of technical information about the methodology of building a modular smartphone.
When you look back at October 2013 to when Project Ara was little more than some pretty funky concept art, it’s actually quite impressive to see how far it has come in such a short time. Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group have finally created a working prototype.
All going to plan, Google aims to launch the modular smartphone as soon as 2015. This will be a stripped back endoskeleton which you will be able to plug other modules into. The prototype, dubbed Spiral 1, was revealed to the public for the first time at this event.
As the images show, Spiral 1 looks very much like a finished device (ignore the power switch at the moment, it’s currently a jumper that needs to be shorted), albeit a bit blocky compared to other sleeker looking devices in the market, which has the potential to usher in a whole new wave of devices.
Paul Eremenko also provided a heap of juicy details about Project Ara from a technical perspective. Relying on Field Programmable Gate Arrays to implement industry-standard Unified Protocol Mobile Industry Processor Interface packet switched network protocol to provide a means of interconnection between the modules. Relying on the metal endoskeleton, the antenna modules are able to boost the effectiveness of the device’s reception.
The plans are to eventually be able to hot-plug third-party modules on the back of the Android operating system within Ara. When Paul Eremenkodescribed the Spiral 1 as ‘the hardware take on the analog version of the Android app’ this caused noticeable excitement in the crowd. The excitement might also have been fed by the announcement of a $100,000 prize for the design and implementation of a novel module.
Paul Eremenko discussed at length the barriers being faced by Project Ara through Moore’s Law with regard to electromechanical miniaturization of modular components, modern data protocols, and power consumption. Interestingly, there was also healthy discussion around batter technology and emerging chemistries; specifically, some that are much newer than lithium-ion batteries, which are capable currently of as much as three times the energy density. The only downside with these newer chemistries is that they currently are of a much shorter life cycle.
It seems that we are moving much closer to the utopian vision of upgradable smartphones with this release. As a technical possibility, these will hopefully be as easy to work on as PCs have been. Excuse me while I wrap this up and get the popcorn ready to watch the entire Project Ara presentation again from the I/O event, you should check it out – it only goes for around forty minutes and will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy about the latest tech developments coming our way.