MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Mod is back, according to officials from Google's Project Ara team. The module developers kit for the open-source, build-your-own phone was on display at the company's first Ara Developer's Conference, held April 15 and 16 at the Computer History Museum.
“We want you to see exactly where we are, exactly what problems and risks we face. so you can make intelligent, well reasoned, and well supported investment decisions,” Ara project lead Paul Eremenko told attendees.
Project Ara teardown.
Customizable Ara will be built on a set of 20x20 mm slip-and-click magnetic modules, stackable in various configurations for 4x7 inch, 3x6 inch, and 2x5 inch products. The prototype comes with Texas Instruments’ OMAP 4460 mobile processor, built on a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9, with a Melexis thermal image sensor and TI pulse oximeter. Should the Project Ara team develop another prototype for a different size, it may come with another type of processor.
Ara Knaian, NK Labs lead mechanical engineer and project namesake, told EE Times:
We chose [TI’s processor] because it was the only mobile phone processor that had a publicly available data sheet, and we wanted this to be an open accessible platform. The purpose of the prototype is just to prove-out the platform, and we’re hoping that everybody… produces 50 different AP modules with every processor that exists, and the same for every other peripheral.
The MDK provides developers with reference implementations, model templates, and sample code. Among the standards Knaian listed were 5 watts of power exchanged between modules and Ara’s aluminum endoskeleton, up to 5 watts of heat, and 10 Gbit/s of data transfer. All modules must accept between 3 and 5.5 volts of power.
NK Labs EE lead Seth Newburg said the Ara prototype has multiple batteries connected in parallel, which send “very high bursts of data communication, then move to a low-power hybrid mode” when one battery is low. While the prototype isn’t constructed for wireless power, it will allow for multiple batteries and chargers; any module can have a battery, and several chargers can exist within the phone.
Power supply diagram.
“It’s limitless, there’s a lot of opportunities,” said Arduino developer Conrade Wade, whose company Femtoduino.com makes prototyping boards. “All of the things [Google] came up with are just the start, the things that we come up with are where it’s going. The thought of customizing things is sort of a no brainer, for consumers and businesses alike.”
While Ara can be customized with sim cards and wireless for foreign markets, Google hasn’t yet developed a work-around for the US carrier-based market. Cellular communications are another module to be combined on a SoC, Eremenko said, adding that he expects his team to 3D-print antennas as a set of conductive layers by early 2015.
“This is meant to be a global device, and the carrier situation is different from region to region,” he said. “In terms of… the carrier as a fulfillment channel, our methods aren’t to exclusion of traditional methods. We’re exploring things that are technically challenging, but there are issues that need to be proved.”