Google Gives Away 100 ‘Project Ara’ Modular Smartphones

The Do-It-Yourself mobile device platform is expected to launch by March 2015

Google has announced the first 100 lucky consumers which will receive free prototypes of its ‘Project Ara’ modular smartphone, including five from the UK.

The testers were recruited through the Dscout platform, which finds volunteers to help develop and refine new technology in return for cash and gift cards.

Meanwhile Dan Makoski, User Research lead and Design VP for the Ara Project, made public the fact that he will be leaving Google to work at Capital One.

Arts and crafts

Project Ara is developed by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP), the only part of Motorola Mobility, aside from its patents, that the search engine giant retained following the deal with Lenovo in January.

It is an open hardware platform that enables users to create highly customised smartphones out of a choice of modules attached to a metal ‘endoskeleton’. Such modules can include processors, displays, keys, sensors, cameras and batteries, as well as gadgets never before seen on the market.

google-project-ara-review-01The modules will be made out of various materials, available at different prices, and it is expected that the majority of them will be produced by third-parties.

Google showed off a working prototype of the smartphone last month at the Google I/O annual developer conference.

After announcing the project last year, Google launched the ‘Ara Scouts’ programme on Dscout [page available through the Wayback Machine], inviting potential customers to refine the design through ‘missions’ which focused on the ways people use mobile devices in their daily life.

Over 90,000 people applied to get their hands on the device itself, and Google said it chose the 100 most active Ara Scouts to test the prototype and provide feedback.

The company added that it expects to work on Project Ara for the next eight months, seemingly suggesting that the release date has been pushed back from January 2015 to March 2015.

One of the major benefits of Project Ara is it could reduce the amount of electrical waste from disused mobile phones, which are either damaged beyond repair or obsolete because outdated components cannot be easily replaced.

However, the launch of the device will happen without Makoski, who oversaw the work on the project since the very beginning. “Starting tomorrow, there will be no more free lunches, subsidized massages, weekly company meetings, ringing colorful bicycle bells, or working with the brilliant pirates at Google’s Advanced Technology & Projects team, or ATAP,” said the designer in a post on his blog.

“But starting tomorrow, I also open my next chapter as VP of Design at Capital One, with an initial focus on mobile commerce and payments.”

Google is famous for its tendency to release raw hardware to developers, hoping they will come up with use cases for some of its more unusual devices – that’s exactly what happened with Google Glass, which was initially distributed through the ‘Glass Explorer’ programme. Today, the high-tech spectacles feature a wealth of apps and retail for £1000.

ATAP also runs Project Tango, Google’s effort to teach smartphones and tablets to perceive depth through sensors. The first prototypes of Tango-enabled smartphones shipped out to developers in March, and LG is expected to release the first consumer device in 2015.

Project Ara

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Project Ara

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