Project Ara Lives, Google Expects Modular Smartphone On The Market In A Year

When Google unexpectedly sold off Motorola to Lenovo after investing heavily in the Moto X and Moto G smartphones and owning the Motorola brand for less than two years, the fate of the Project Ara modular smartphone seemed doomed, but it appears that the project is very much alive and well.

According to Time’s TechLand, Google did not sell off a key department: the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, which is responsible for Project Ara.

So just how “alive” is Project Ara? The group announced that it’s holding a developers' conference on April 15-16 with a focus on the Ara Module Developers’ Kit (MDK). Further, the prototype will be ready within weeks, and the group expects to have a product on the market as early as Q1 2015.

Project Ara prototype

That product could cost as little as $50. The barebones smartphone will launch with WiFi only, a backup battery, and just enough processing power to run an app that will help the user select additional modules to add the aluminum “endo” frame.

There will be three sizes--a basic mini, a medium size for mainstream use, and a jumbo phablet-size device. The medium-size endo will have room enough to handle ten modules. The modules will be hot-swappable so you can change them out even while the phone is on. Front modules will be secured with latches while the rear ones stay put with the help of electropermanent magnets, and an app keeps everything “talking”.

Project Ara prototype back

Users will be able to buy these so-called “grayphones” in three ways: Quick and easy at a convenience store, using a friend’s Ara device and a helpful app, or at a special mobile kiosk.

Amazingly, the Ara team is tiny--just three people--although at least one of those people, Paul Eremenko, is formerly of DARPA and thus knows how to get serious things done in a short amount of time. That, and they’re relying on third-party companies such as NK Labs and 3D Systems to carry some of the development load.

We’ve expounded on the huge upside that the modular smartphone paradigm portends, and it’s incredible to see that Google, ATAP group is so rapidly making it a reality. Speaking of reality, there are still major hurdle to overcome, but considering that the resources of Google, the brainpower of former DARPA workers, and the informal blessing of the FCC are all moving forward, it’s a good bet that we’ll see a modular smartphone on the market in a year’s time.

All image credits: Google ATAP via Time