Project Ara is no doubt one of the more exciting things to come out of Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility over two years ago. The Project Ara initiative started off as an experimental concept and design over at Motorola under the purview of the Advanced Technologies and Projects team and was later expanded thanks to a Kickstarter campaign with the same concept named Phonebloks. The project was transferred to Google’s Android division upon sale of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo.
So what exactly is Project Ara? Well, for those of us still unfamiliar, the concept behind Project Ara is, at its simplest, to develop a consumer ready device which can be upgraded by the consumer using interchangeable modules. What this means is that consumers will be able to purchase and change individual modules for the devices hard disk, camera, screen etc. and upgrade and customise the device as firs their fancy. The Project Ara device would come in multiple parts which consists of the skeleton/backbone (endo) and the modules which interface with the endos. Once interfaced, the modules will activate seamlessly as they are swapped. These modules while interfaced will be held in place by reversible electromagnets which are triggered by the user when they are swapping the modules.
Initially, Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) released nearly monthly updates regarding their Project Ara undertakings, however, information and updates regarding Project Ara became relatively scarce. This includes information on the developer hardware and also prizes for Developers who won them at Google I/O. Google’s ATAP division updated their Google+ page with an update late last month. In their post they highlighted a few important milestones.
Firstly, Project Ara has entered a new phase in their development which the Project Ara team refers to as their “second design spiral”. The second design spiral bring with it a significant change in the circuitry design used in Project Ara from the Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) design to the Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC). While the change doesn’t change the fundamental functionality, the main benefits for Project Ara in this change comes in the form of lower cost, increased speed and lower power consumption. This could possibly lead to cheaper modules and endos as well as better module and battery performance – benefits which will eventually trickle down to the consumers. Project Ara will still utilise the UniPro interface which will allow for the interchanging modules.
Following this announcement, the team addresses the concern of developer kits not being received by developers as well as the winners of their developer contest at Google I/O. According to the team, the boards of these kits were flawed due to the use of incorrect material being used in the plating process causing several weeks of delay. However, the kits should be out already as they stated at the time of posting, that they should be shipped within two weeks of the post.
The most interesting news comes in the form of a new partnership in the development of Project Ara with chip manufacturer, Rockchip. Rockchip has been engaged by Google’s ATAP team to create a new processor or System on Chip (SoC) with a native, general-purpose UniPro interface allowing it to function as an application centric processor in the modules for Project Ara eliminating the need for an additional bridge chip. This advancement has been heralded as “trailblazer for our vision of a modular architecture” by the team working on Project Ara as the SoC being developed will enable the modules of Project Ara to interact with each other without needing much programming as it will be able to be detected by SoC which will act as a networking chip as well. This means that detection and processing will be undertaken by the processor. These advancements are expected to be incorporated into Project Ara next design spiral.
Source: Google ATAP (Google+)