Jean Lievens: Motorola Project Ara, Building Smart Phones From Modular Open Source Hardware

Jean Lievens
Jean Lievens

Motorola Wants Everyone To Build Smartphones Like Lego Kits

Introducing Project Ara, an experiment from Motorola aimed to creating smartphones made out of modular open source hardware.,

Google has teased us before. Rumors swirled for months that Motorola would introduce a customizable smartphone that would let consumers decide what kind of hardware—a bigger battery, choice of processor, a better camera—they wanted. The notion of a consumer-grade open hardware platform quickened the heartbeats of geeks across the globe.

What we got instead was the Moto X, a smartphone that can be “customized” by picking your colors, getting an engraving on the back and adding a personalized message to the startup screen. This was not the revolution in smartphone hardware we wanted.

Still, Motorola’s engineers were paying attention. Today the company announced Project Ara, an open hardware platform where users can pick and choose what type of components they want to build their smartphones.

Click on Image to Enlarge
Click on Image to Enlarge

The Module Connects To The Endoskeleton

Motorola has been thinking about Project Ara for a year. It started the campaign with a project called “Sticky,” a truck wrapped in Velcro and loaded with rooted and hackable Motorola smartphone components and 3D printing equipment. The truck would hold “MakeAThon” events with engineers who would take the raw components and build their own smartphones.

Project Ara aims to take that concept to its logical conclusion. According to Motorola, Project Ara is a “free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones.”

The devices are built out of what Motorola calls endoskeletons and modules. The “endo” is the frame of the device, while the modules are the hardware, which could be just about anything that a hardware developer could dream up. Want a smartphone that specializes in barometric readings and air humidity? If someone designs and builds a module focused on sensor capabilities, you could add it to an endoskeleton—although with other modules like a CPU, storage, a camera, a radio and so forth.

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