Project Ara: Google wants to turn mobile devices into pieces of clever Lego

27 Feb 2014

Despite ditching Motorola, Google’s plans to disrupt the smartphone world continue apace, as it is intent on converting phones from closed devices to modular devices whose components can be stuck together to achieve outcomes.

Entitled Project Ara and stemming from the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group – the only part of Motorola Mobility the internet giant held onto before selling it off to Lenovo – the aim is to transform the idea of what mobile devices are.

Google aims to do this not only for the 1bn or so existing smartphone users but the additional 5bn it envisages in the coming years.

“The smartphone is one of the most empowering and intimate objects in our lives,” Google points out. “Yet most of us have little say in how the device is made, what it does, and how it looks. And 5bn of us don’t have one. What if you could make thoughtful choices about exactly what your phone does, and use it as a creative canvas to tell your own story?”

Google plans a series of three Ara Developers’ Conferences throughout 2014. The first of these, scheduled for 15-16 April, will focus on the alpha release of the Ara Module Developers’ Kit (MDK).

The MDK, also due out in April, is a free and open platform specification and reference implementation that contains everything you need to develop an Ara module.

The news of Project Ara and the developer’s conference comes hot on the heels of the reveal of revealed Project Tango, an Android-based 5-inch phone that comes with advanced 3D sensors that can build a visual map of the environment around it using 3D scanning.

A revolutionary chip designed by Dublin company Movidius lies at the heart of Google’s ‘Project Tango’ smartphone, a 3D-sensing device that maps and learns the world around it.

The Ara Developers’ Conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, in April will consist of a detailed walk-through of existing and planned features of the Ara platform, a briefing and community feedback sessions on the alpha MDK, and an announcement of a series of prize challenges for module developers.

“This first version of the MDK relies on a prototype implementation of the Ara on-device network using the MIPI UniPro protocol implemented on FPGA and running over an LVDS physical layer. Subsequent versions will soon be built around a much more efficient and higher-performance ASIC implementation of UniPro, running over a capacitive M-PHY physical layer,” Google said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years