At the beginning of the Project Ara Developers Conference, which took place in Singapore on January 21, 2015, Olivier de Weck (Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT) introduced the model of the two-sided market for Project Ara and explained modularity in details.
Model of the two-sided market for Project Ara
Two-sided markets have been around for a while. One of such markets are newspapers that place ads and mediate between people who place ads and the readers of newspapers. Another example of such market is а gaming platform, where the developers who develop games are on one side and consumers who use thеse platforms to play games are on the other side.
In the case of the Ara platform market is mediated by the Endoskeleton and is standard behind Ara platform. On the left side we have the users who join the platform, because they see value in it, because it offers something distinct and different from other products. On the right side we have the developer community. The key to enabling this mediation is the variety modules that are necessary to populate this platform. The more modules of different kinds are available, the more attractive the platform becomes to users and they are more likely to join. And the more users are in this ecosystem, than more developers will join the two-sided market. Modularity is the key to enabling this process (not just the initial start-up of this market, but its evolution over time).
What is modularity?
What is a module? It’s an easy question, but the answer is not so simple.
A module is a collection of parts which are defined by some intent to be a distinct (sub-)system. Modules are defined by the designers, makers or users of the system for a specific intent.
The intent of the module can be:
– To make implementation easier (ease of integration, product flexibility)
– To empower the users to take advantage of the modularity to configure their own devices and optimize the operations. So users can swap the modules to make their phones to be better adapted to what they are going to do.
– To enable better services, better evolution and better upgrading of the product rather than simply disposing and throwing away the product when it doesn’t meet consumer’s needs any longer.
Styles of modularity
There are three fundamentally different styles of modularity.
1. Slot modularity. In slot modularity the modules are put together in only one very specific way and there are no particular standards for assembling the modules. If you make one mistake while assembling the modules, the system doesn’t work. For example, an aircraft engine.
2. Sectional modularity. In sectional modularity we have a very specific interface standard, and every module can connect with any other module in an arbitrary ways. The classic example here is USM, a very well known modular furniture manufacturer.
3. Bus modularity. In bus modularity the modules can’t connect with each other directly, but they connect indirectly and communicate with each other through the common bus element. This is the type of modularity the Ara platform supports.
Benefits of modularity
Benefits of the modularity are the following:
– Greater product variety
– Module reuse and swapping
– Enabling evolution of consumer’s device
In case of Ara platform the modules have such downside as inefficiency due to power and packaging constraints. But the members of Google’s Advanced Technology And Projects (ATAP) team are pretty confident that those constraints can be overcome.