Project Ara Demystified

  Nov 6, 2014 3:48:27 AM

Project Ara is a modular phone project announced by Google. Google started this after acquiring an Israel company named Modu (http://www.modumobile.com/).

This project aims at providing a free open hardware platform for building a modular smartphone. This blog gives details of the project, explains advantages and gives details of plans of Google.

Project Ara open hardware platform will include a structural frame to hold the hardware modules chosen by user as per his/her need. Google will to provide only the frame (called Endoskeleton) that will have slots for display on front side and other modules like camera, sensors, speakers, WiFi, processor on rear side. These slots can accommodate any hardware module of correct size. The modules are expected to be hot-swappable without powering o the phone. The Ara structural frame will have a backup battery to enable swapping of main battery.

Apart from enabling user to build their own smartphones based on his/her need or interest or budget, this project helps in increasing the lifetime cycle and reducing electronic waste. Ara is going to lower the price of mobile phone
further by allowing many users/developers to build smartphones instead of very few phone manufacturers now.

Google demonstrated almost complete prototype at Google I/O 2014 in which the device froze while booting. Google has released developer kit (MDK - http://www.projectara.com/mdk/) and release commercial frame in 2015. The frame is expected to cost 15 USD. Google is launching Ara hardware store similar to Google Play for Android applications. Though Ara frame allows only hardware modules available on Google store, users can use other hardware modules compatible with the frame which involve appropriate changes in the software. Though Google is talking about Ara project for Smartphones, it may extend building a ecosystem for generating frames for other devices like SmartTVs, STB, Auto IVI systems, medical devices, industrial automation, M2M, IoT devices and domestic appliances.

To support these devices, Android has to be customized to support modular & plug-and-play hardware modules. Google and Linaro are working to customize Android for Ara. Sasken is analyzing the Ara Developer Kit (MDK) and working on customizing Android to make it compatible with modular & plug-and-play hardware modules. It will be necessary for other mobile phone operating systems like Windows to follow this.

Authored by: Krishna Kishore

Posted by:
Krishna Kishore
Senior Architect

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