Paul Eremenko, а member of Google ATAP team and the head of Project Ara, provided overview of the Ara platform and described the progress of development.
Project Ara objectives
Paul said that users may think of Project Ara as of hardware analog of Android. Goal of ATAP team is to make mobile hardware ecosystem similar to the mobile applications ecosystem.
The key objective is to democratize the mobile hardware ecosystem. For developers it means that they may vote about the pace and direction of innovation. For users it means that they may vote about what they like and don’t like. Users may decide for themselves what their phone should do and what it should look like. This concept should enable developers to reach many people globally with the Ara platform.
The Avanced Technology and Projects group and DARPA
Further Paul told that Project Ara dwells within the Avanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group at Google. ATAP is trying to replicate the innovation DNA of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA is the organization that developed the Saturn V rocket, Stealth, GPS, Arpanet, which was the precursor to the Internet, and many other iconic innovations.
There is one unique attribute to the way that DARPA and ATAP do business. One big part of operating model at Google ATAP is to execute the projects with external partners: big companies, small companies, non-profit organizations and universities. This would give access to superstar talent around the world. Today ATAP has about 30 partners actively working on the development of the Ara platform. In Asia alone ATAP has members in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, China and India.
History of Project Ara. Spiral 1, Spiral 2 and Spiral 3 designs.
As all ATAP projects Project Ara has began with an analytic framework. It’s a quantitative assessment of the economic and technological tradespace surrounding the customization of the mobile devices. The analytic framework suggests that we might be at a technological inflection point (analytic framework showed ~25-30% modularity penalty, but the value of the functional and esthetic customization exceedes this penalty by an order of magnitude). So we’ve decided to give it a shot.
“In November 2013 we released the Ara industrial design as our opening conversation with prospective users and developers. Six months later just before our first developers conference we put out the first release of the Module Developers Kit (MDK) and introduced the first functional prototype, which we called the Spiral 1. It used field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) for the implementation of an on-device UniPro protocol stack. It was the first-ever implementation of an on-device packet-switch network in a mobile form factor. Today we will show you the Spiral 2 prototype and corresponding developer hardware as well. Our principle success criteria for Spiral 2 is to make 3G cellular phone call, to demonstrate module hot swap, and to improve the overall robustness of the device, so we can start dropping and performing other robustness test activities. We are not all the way there yet. We’ve manufactured all the hardware and we’ve shown basic boot functionality on the new generation of devices and that we’ll show you today.”
“In Spiral 2 we’ve replaced all FPGAs with a first version of UniPro switch application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) and as well as with two types of UniPro bridge ASICs. We’ve moved the electropermanent magnets from modules into the Endoskeleton frame to free up more room in a module for developers to produce functionality.”
“We added a 3G modem and an analog RF bus into the Endoskeleton that allows us to connect antennas and multiple modules to the same modem. We’ve created reference module designs for 11 different modules, all of which are included in MDK. These include two application processors from Marvell and NVIDIA.”
“In the coming weeks our focus will be on demonstrating key Spiral 2 objectives that I described, and assessing the scope of changes that will need to be made in a course of Spiral 3. We are aiming to make the Spiral 3 design robust enough to start putting those devices in user’s hands for the very first time.”
Market pilot in Puerto Rico
“We need a market pilot to understand how consumers relate to the Ara project. What do they like and what do they value about it. What do they find confusing, and what is missing. We need to explore pricing models: what is the price elasticity of demand for modules, endos, shells and for complete devices. Also what about secondary markets? What is the potential of the secondary market? The purpose of the pilot will be to answer these questions and to assess whether and how to launch Ara globally. We’ll share all data and findings with you.”
“For the market pilot we’ve selected the therritory of Puerto Rico with the pupolation of just 3 million people. We’ve selected Puerto Rico for several key reasons. First, it has a really diversed mobile phone users base ranging from an entry-level feature phones all the way to the premium smartphones. It’s absolutely critical that we learn from both groups in a course of the market pilot. Secondly, Puerto Ricans are gracious mobile users. In fact, three quarters of all internet access in Puerto Rico is via mobile devices. This is the global trend, and Puerto Rico is at the leading edge of it. Third, as the US territory, Puerto Rico is under FCC jurisdiction, so we can continue our work with FCC on a regulatory approach. Forth, Puerto Rico has designated free trade zones which we can use for importing modules from developers worldwide.”
“We’ve begun to work with our partners in Puerto Rico to set up the logistics infrastructure needed to receive modules from the developers as well as endos from our platform partners.”
“We also engage with two Puerto Rican carriers Open Mobile and Claro Puerto Rico (a subsidiary of America Movil, Latin America’s largest carrier).”
“For delivering our modules we are designing trucks, similar to food trucks, through wich we will deliver our modules and complete devices to users. The mobility of the trucks will help us to deliver the pilot to the different geographies and neighbourhoods withing Puerto Rico.”
At the end of presentation Paul showed the promo video and shared some inspiring words:
“Today we are making together something that’s never been made before. It’s different, part of it is a phone, and a phone is a part of it. It could reshape the mobile landscape. And in many ways it’s terrifying. But we are in this to make a better world. And we invite you to come along for the journey.”