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Project ARAYou love your phone but does it lack just one or two extra features the new model has? Well instead of upgrading to a brand spanking new model, how great would it be to just upgrade individual components?

Pretty good idea yeah? Well that’s exactly what Motorola and Google want to create with ‘Project Ara’, the world’s first fully customisable smartphone.

The Google led project aims to build a smartphone that can be upgraded by the user at any time using a series of modules.

If you think of your Smartphone like a desktop computer the concept is a little more believable.

All of your individual components are attached to your motherboard in individual bricks or modules; like processor, ram, camera, micro sim etc…

If you wanted to upgrade your desktop ram, you’d just go out and buy more ram- Same concept for smartphone ram… theoretically. It’s kinda like a Lego phone, but with real components.Phone Blocks - Component Blocks Layout

Waste

A huge problem with the phones we use now is waste. We throw away literally millions of devices which have become old, worn out or just out of fashion. Often the phones are actually fully-functional, it could just be one component causing the problem- A broken screen, faulty wiring or power cable.shutterstock_165759731

A number of governments and recycling agencies do recover parts of phone to re-use however much of the phone is wasted. We’re all pretty guilty of throwing away a phone “on its last legs”, replacing it with a new shiny model out of the factory.

However, if you had a component-built phone, you wouldn’t need to throw the whole device away, just because of one broken wire or a chipped case. Just replace the faulty module and keep 90% of the working parts.

Cost effective and good for the environment.

 

Miniature components

One of the major issues Google encountered with the project was manufacturing components that are, able to work independently and are small enough. Most phones nowadays are built from the board up, with all the parts designed to fit snugly together, without removing sections.

project ara parts

For anyone who’s tried to take a smartphone apart (not recommended), removing just one component almost always causes catastrophic failure when you try to power on again. A trapped wire here or a seal out place usually.

For Ara to work, each component needs to be both independent and robust enough to stand a bit of clipping on and off.

One of the last, and more complex components Google had to shrink was the processor, the brain of the smartphone- pretty important as you can imagine.

A few weeks ago the company announced it had secured a ‘custom-built’ processor for the Ara project from the Chinese CPU maker Rockchip. With the new processor on board Google can now plough ahead with development knowing that had a market challenging processor. There was no point in releasing a new phone if the speed and processing power was useless.

 

Phone for a day

The beauty with a customisable mobile is that fact that you could change your phone structure daily. Heading out for a long day of calls? Add a bigger battery in place of the camera module, going on holiday add Micro SD slot to store your movie.

 

Release and Costsproject ara phone

Last month, Google the shipped out preliminary hardware kits to developers to test out the concept and components.

According to Google, the release date for the first consumer Project Ara smartphone will be in the first quarter of 2015.

Costs are little more up in the air, initial suggestion were that Ara will only cost $50. However this price is little misleading as you’ll only get the basics of the phone, essentially an exoskeleton. To make a market quality phone you’ll need to buy more components, driving the price higher.phone tracking title

15 COMMENTS

  1. “We’re all pretty guilty of throwing away a phone “on its last legs”, replacing it with a new shiny model out of the factory.”

    If a phone is on its last legs, fair enough. The main problem lies with lots of people feeling the need to upgrade just for the sake of it, or because fashion dictates that it is necessary.

  2. Fabulous concept that would totally revolutionise the phone market. But how do you square the urge for individualism with the need to belong? How could multinationals allow users to repair or upgrade incrementally in a throwaway culture?

  3. Look up phonebloks.com

    Great idea and one I’d make use of. I’m still using a HTC Desire S from 3 or 4 years ago. Still takes a good photo, does social media, makes calls, sends texts perfectly well. I won’t change it until it no longer functions.

    I love new tech, but I don’t see any point in upgrading my phone every year just for the sake of it. It’s a device of convenience, not a fashion accessory.

  4. “removing just one component almost always causes catastrophic failure when you try to power on again.” utter rubbish. screens/glass can often be replaced successfully. all you need is a brain and some tiny screwdrivers

  5. To dismiss phones as fashion accessories is to ignore a huge market and massive opportunity.

    The fact is that large numbers of people WANT to upgrade, and the same can be said for many other things in all our lives – I’m sure we have all upgraded something for the hell of it, and why not?!

    For me this makes a lot of sense and is an ethos that could be applied to many more of our other consumer devices successfully. I would prefer to upgrade the motor in my car, reasonably easily, than get a whole new car just because the engine is shot.

    Not the best analogy, perhaps.

    Providing the driver is not only profit for the company that produces it, but an ecological impetus and a focus on the sustainability of the device then I would be happy to see this concept succeed.

  6. “removing just one component almost always causes catastrophic failure when you try to power on again.” I had an old smartphone with broken component. I had already upgraded so gave me a bit more confidence in ‘having a go’ to restore the value of the phone. I soon realised this would require a backwards approach in removing components from the back to get to the front. Camera out, Speakers out, soon time to get to the board and you realise how tiny tiny things are and needless to say this phone sadly ended it’s life there. This was despite myself knowing my way around electronics technology and computers, and being assisted by a helper who has dealt with larger scale electronics for may years and has repaired many ‘faulty’ goods along the way. Finally as for fixing screens, This is something that is getting more and more difficult along the way. Phones are becoming built with some needing the above back to front approach to get to. Some are epoxied together. Official repair centres ask for around a hundred, sometimes hundreds of pounds.
    Modules would make people lives so much easier.

  7. All I want is a phone that works… They have progressively become more and more unreliable … The latest Xperia SP I own has been my single worst experience to date. And what does it do differently to a phone I had 6 years ago? …slightly better photos. It plays MP3s and does messaging and has apps etc like all my older phones. Upgrading for the sake of it is a waste of resources unless your phone is broken, which mine seems to have been from the date of manufacture.

    I welcome this idea.

  8. I like the concept, and agree with previous post – just make it work!! I don’t want a phone which is slimmer than a sheet of paper, but then needs to be put in a protective case so that you can carry it around, and has a battery life of 8 hours, provided you switch off all of the useful features.
    I’ll be buying the extra thick chassis which takes the super long life battery, the “decent aerial” module which gives you cover even when you’re five miles outside of a city, the “sensible number of megapixel” camera module, and the bluetooth module that works properly with a Mazda. I’d go for the “really chunky but very robust accesory connector”, but I think I’ll be giving the “fashionable cover of the week” a miss.

  9. I think this is a brilliant idea. I have been using a Samsung note 2 for ages now, I love it, but I don’t want to continually upgrade, it took me 10 years to change the last phone, the idea of bolt on modules is brilliant. Keeping th ebasic hand set and updating as and when required will encourage people to think about the environment. Also the big manufactures need to watch this because it could impact on their businesses, because I think people will love the concept of self design.

  10. The problem I have with it, is the number of plug-in connectors that you need to make it modular.
    It’s always a point of failure when the connectors tarnish and go high resistance, that’s why most components are soldered and even then you can have problems.
    Also with Joe Public trying to push things in when the connectors are not inline or upside down.
    Also static problems when they stand on a Nylon carpet whilst handling the components.

  11. The one aspect of a mobile phone that seems progressively to be almost an afterthought is the making of phone calls. I do change my phone from time to time, but pass the last one on to family, so they have better phones. However, I’ve noticed that the facility for making phone calls isn’t getting any better phone by phone – and perhaps worse! My best phone in the sense of finding a signal was a ‘brick’ about 15 years ago, and my current Samsung S5 only seems to get a decent signal in city centres – and even then not its always able to run ‘maps’ via the phone signal – which makes searching on the run useless, and particularly it sat-nav. Maybe its an aerial problem?
    Please, please make that aspect better, rather than focussing on increasing the range of other facilities!

  12. A great idea but please give a choice of size in exoskeleton. This will allow for larger screens ( up to 6.5″) for those who watch movies or read books.

  13. I think that this is a great idea and it could bring more people to general machine development. we have 3 d printers, rasberry/banana pi, simple software development tools / languages and now we will have DIY phones.
    I do hope that this will come off and the various alternatives.

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