TLDR - Heard about Ara through Reddit. Stayed up late watching sci-fi and drinking lots of beer, thinking about how a modular device and store would look like. Was selected, and now I'm giving back to Reddit. AMA on Project Ara.

Was browsing Reddit a little over a year ago and saw an interesting article about a Alpha program for Project Ara called dscout. It's an app, and basically Google invited the Internet to detail their concerns and desires for a modular phone. One mission was to build our own Ara phone out of crafting supplies.

Over 90,000 people participated from dozens of countries, only 102 were selected. I was one of the first 17 chosen at the last Dev Con. I believe they chose me for my love of building computers and comparing these future modules to current computer hardware labeling (660ti, r8-290x, i7 4770k, etc). Plus I predicted many aspects of Project Ara before the first Dev Con. Like various sizes for the endoskeleton or platform (small, medium, large) and the ability to use various modules in any port or socket. Plus, I focused a lot on how a family might interact with a modular phone. Like creating a case for multiple platforms and modules to rest in, since each module is technically a choking hazard for small children.

Basically, I told myself I'd overachieve this bitch through lots of sweat and weed. They told us to build one prototype, I built four. Every single question or mission I wrote paragraphs instead of sentences. Then after I was selected, I made it my mission to inform Reddit about Project Ara. In fact, I'm trying to make /r/ProjectAra the number one area for all Ara related information. I'd say our wiki is the only one of its kind regarding a list of all known and suspected companies developing for Project Ara.

Here's a link to another AMA within /r/ProjectAra


Comments: 121 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

DigiMagic23 karma

Will I be able to plug in two camera modules for 3D? A phone like Ara would be perfect for that because it would be the first one that supports changing interocular distance. Will anyone make a stereoscopic 3D screen?

Xtorting14 karma

Modules can communicate with one another, so I don't see why not. Project Tango cameras would be a cool module. If a developers wants to, they can build it.

zander155518 karma

How difficult is it to assemble/reassemble/replace modules? In your opinion, does the frame itself seem like it would allow for a relatively long device lifespan as far as basic design is concerned?

Xtorting27 karma

As easy as turning on and off mute. There will be a UI app that allows hotswapping modules while Android is still on. This is a new feature being added into Android in 2015. Replacing modules would be as easy as buying a game off of Steam, or ordering from Amazon. There is no official Google Store that is known to be selling these modules, so everything is going to be done through an online store for now.

In my opinion, I believe this phones endoskeleton (motherboard) is designed to live up to 5+ years. I'm currently searching various interviews where Paul Eremenko (project lead) explains this in more detail. Please look back on this in a few minutes for an update.

MacDegger6 karma

The modules recieve power ... but could they also provide it? What I'm asking is: is it possible to have a module be a (hotswappable) battery?

Xtorting3 karma

Yes it is possible.

Elbonio2 karma

Why wouldn't Google want modules on the Play store?

Xtorting11 karma

Because it's not an official Google product, yet. Google ATAP has to convince the company that Project Ara is a viable product. And the best way to do that is set up a separate module Play store specifically for Ara modules. If this independent app succeeded, then it's much easier to say it's from the popularity of Ara and not from someone surfing the Play Store.

Basically, it's a test by Google to see if Ara can survive on it's own two feet.

SYNTHES1SE17 karma

Do you think you should have waited until you actually had the device to do an AMA on it?

Xtorting7 karma

Yes I have thought about it. This is not an AMA about solely my device but about Project Ara in general. This was designed to be an introduction or a round of basic questions before the 2nd DevCon to inform people about the basics.

People requested an AMA in /r/Android and thought you guys might have liked the same opportunity as well.

SYNTHES1SE13 karma

Hmm. I suppose. I guess the title is a little odd then. Mentioning that you are one of the first recipients of the device implies you currently have one. And since you don't. Its odd to have that in the title. But I'm glad that others have the opportunity to ask you ara specific questions.

Xtorting-9 karma

I assumed since the device was still under R&D, stating "I'm one of the first recipients" meant that I was first in line basically. Was simply trying to give some accreditation.

Sweaty_Gooch_6914 karma

Do you currently have an "Ara" (an "Ara-phone"?), or are you going to be getting one soon? If the latter, when will you have one?

Xtorting9 karma

No I do not, and I also have no idea when it's arriving. My guess is around June-July 2015 when Spiral 3 is released. I personally believe Spiral 3 will be the final release version.

dustinlai12 karma

Is there a estimate time as to when consumers are able to try a phone for themselves?

Xtorting11 karma

None yet, but some say Q2 or Q3 of 2015. Hopefully by then Google will have announced Project Ara as a real Google product like the Nexus line and showcase Ara modules in Best Buys, Fry's, Walmart, Targets, etc.

More release date information is most likely going to be announced on Wednesday.

robershow4 karma

I'm afraid this will get canned and never become a real project.

Xtorting6 karma

Well, it can't be any worse than Google Glasses.

EpPart11 karma

If you drop the phone, will everything still be in place or do you have to look all over the place? Like do you need a case for the modules to be stable or is it possible that you pull out one of the modules by accident while holding it.

[EDIT] Grammar

Xtorting13 karma

Note: the market pilot version is still not developed and I do not have an Ara phone quite yet.

That being said, Google has drop tested the previous prototype (Spiral 1) and found that the modules did fall off after a high enough fall. So I believe they extended the magnets within Spiral 2 to allow a tighter bond. Plus each modules slide into place by their edges, allowing the modules to rest inside the ribs of the endoskeleton (motherboard). So modules wouldn't pop or explode our of the frame, but slide out.

There's no Google case, at least not yet for Project Ara. Modules will use an app to lock/unlock these magnets, which will allow them to be hotswapped anytime.

kilbert662 karma

and I do not have an Ara phone quite yet.

So this is just Speculation and Circlejerk: The AMA.

Xtorting15 karma

No, its a general AMA about Project Ara. I've been following Project Ara from the start and have been collecting every known bit of information related to the project. Take a look at our wiki, this AMA is not just a circlejerk with some rumors.

I've watched countless hours of Ara presentations and lectures on youtube, plus many articles which I link to in this AMA and in the /r/ProjectARA AMA. I believe if any redditor outside of Google ATAP is able to run an AMA about Ara, it's me.

Everything I detail can be backed up by presentations, lectures, articles, and other posts related to Project Ara. Information I'm detailing is credible.

FemaleMadness8 karma

Will the ARA be released in the US only (at first), or will it also come to Europe?

Xtorting10 karma

It's been stated that Ara will ship anywhere that accepts international shipping, so most if not all of Europe should be covered. Plus, Google was planning on constructing a floating showroom sailboat that I believe would have been used to sail the open seas selling Ara modules and Nexus devices. Unfortunately they were labeled a fire hazard and sent to a scrap yard. But still, Google was interested in creating a floating showroom sailboat that was designed to educate people on the internet and new silicon valley technology.

Google wants to sell these devices not only to current smartphone users in American and Europe, but to the other 5 billion people who do not share our indulgence of internet access. Project Ara is designed to be a international device that will be available in many more places than Europe and America.

conzorz3 karma

a floating showroom sailboat.

Only Google...

Xtorting2 karma

You should hear about their rumored tech museums

Google finally purchased NYC showroom property that has been heavily sought after "for months" by Google. Which is coincidentally right around the corner from a massive Apple store. As well as inside rumors of staff being trained and assigned to stores in S.F and L.A. There was even recent job listings for Google staff in L.A and S.F who specialized in retail. Google is also currently expanding their Chicago and Pittsburgh campuses, I'm specilating that these additions are not just for office space but for a retail experience unlike anywhere.

That same label has also been put on their recent acquisition with NASA, "creating an educational facility open to the public to teach them about the site and local tech advancements in Silicon Valley." That will probably follow the same structure as their other tech museums or retail Google stores, but in much larger scale.

lifeisledzep8 karma

I'm a bit lost, can you ELI5 what Project Ara aims to do/create, and what that creation will do?

Xtorting13 karma

ELI5: Current smartphones are consoles. Locked up hardware that expire every 2-4 years. Project Ara is a custom built PC that is designed to expire within 5-7 years. With as much price, performance, and cost variances as the PC hardware market.

Watch this, it's my favorite Project Ara interview

nickchuck6 karma

What are the required blocks/are there any?

Xtorting6 karma

I assume like a computer there would need to be a processor, storage data, input device (screen), power supply, Micro-USB, carrier module and potentially an optional antenna for wifi. So in other words:

Processor module

Battery module

Data Storage module

Input device (screen)

Micro-USB module for charging

With optional Antenna and carrier modules

listsave8 karma


Xtorting10 karma


UniPro is not memory mapped and as a consequence the speed required for a separate RAM module would require nanoseconds instead of milliseconds of data transfer within the endoskeleton. Basically, the latency is too high.

They talked about this last Dev Con: why a RAM module couldn't function outside of the processor.. Bit of interesting information, the main speaker in this video was the scientist that Google named Project Ara after, Ara Knaian

followedthelink3 karma

Couldn't you take out the micro USB module until you needed to use it? I would think it's needed, but not required to run

Xtorting2 karma

I believe so.

Wimpy_Anteater6 karma

How do you find the phone works performance wise? I'm really interested to see if it's comparable to any of the big flagship models such as the Samsung Galaxy or iPhone. Also, are there any current predictions for the price of the base model and any future expansions? Thanks in advance!

Xtorting3 karma

Project Ara is still under development and the consumer pilot I'm receiving has not arrived in the mail quite yet. But the nice part about modularity is that the device is as good as you want it to be. It's going to cost a bit to have a comparable Ara phone ($600) to say a iPhone or Galaxy ($500) with all the same bells and whistles. You could theoretically buy a $100 basic Ara phone, buy a very powerful processor, with a cheap camera, and have a comparable phone (performance wise) for half the price.

The base model or "Ara kits" will probably be around $100-$150. If it's any lower, Google will probably be using their Google FIber pricing model. Lowering the price extremely low to gain as many first users as possible. Pricing is going to be a main topic at this 2nd Dev Con this Wednesday.

Wimpy_Anteater2 karma

Thanks for the reply. On another note, how good do you think it will look as well as the availability of of cases/durability of the phone?

Xtorting5 karma

I think it looks like something straight out of a Star Trek episode, people are going to see these modules and think it's magic.

No idea about cases, but I believe the durability of each module was increased within the new MDK v2.0 update. They increased the size and location of the eletropermanent magnets, and seems like it addressed issues of modular strength.

HiDef904 karma

And the fact there's supposed to be 3rd party module developers that are 3d printing personal designs (possibly) in the future. Depends how consumers take on 3d printed materials in the near future.

In my opinion, by the time Ara gets out to the mass consumer trial stage, 3d Systems will be well on board.

Xtorting-1 karma

I hope so too. That assembly line 3D printer is probably my most anticipated aspect of Project Ara.

_GrinReaper6 karma

Is it true that it was named after its lead designer just because the team liked him that much?

Xtorting6 karma

Yes. He's also the main MIT scientist who developed micro Electropermanent Magnets in 2010. Essentially creating an avenue for self building nano robots and this Project Ara. They also hired the guy from Phonebloks because they liked his youtube videos.

Google ATAP are the tech trolls of silicon valley.

doovd2 karma

What is his name?

Xtorting3 karma

Ara Knaian

mecaenas5 karma

So you aren't a member of the project team, you aren't involved, and you don't have a device yet. Are you just a fan here speculating?

Xtorting2 karma

I'm a moderator over a /r/ProjectAra and have a lot of information regarding Project Ara. Simply sharing my knowledge about the current state of Project Ara prior to Wednesday. I am a fan, but I also was involved with the early development phase.

Questions like, what companies are developing modules? ETA for market release? And other technical questions that might be tough to find. Less speculation and more about regurgitating known Ara information.

banannabel4 karma


Xtorting1 karma

As corny as it sounds, I'd like a radio antenna module for FM/AM signals. A lighter module would be cool. USB, HDMI, Ethernet, and other PC inputs. Would be cool to plug in my USB gaming headphones into my "phone".

banannabel3 karma


Xtorting3 karma

Glad some people enjoyed my perspective.

FemaleMadness4 karma

Sounds exciting, thanks for the AMA!

What do you think the biggest challenge of Project Ara is/will be?

Xtorting3 karma

Getting carriers on board. Battery and magnetism issues are one thing. But if major carriers (like AT&T, Verizon, T-mobile, Vodafone, etc) do not support an Ara module for their networks, then it will be tough to sell to the public.

Rumors about Google expanding their Fiber service into a mobile data provider or carrier have been circulating recently. Essentially becoming an ISP and a mobile carrier through Fiber hotspots. Incorporate Project Loon balloons with these carrier ambitions, and we can see how "Google Mobile" might behave in the future. Having your phone connect to Google Fiber hotspots, Loon balloons, and rented cell towers when all else fails.

Here's a nice timeline of carrier ambitions of Google

And a recent BGR article about Google mobile if you missed it

McDavitt084 karma

Wasn't there a modular phone video on reddit a few months ago that got absolutely ripped on for not being possible?

Xtorting3 karma

Yup, Phonebloks.

Annoys me when people say Project Ara copied Phonebloks.

Well, it's a bit different from Googles point of view

McDavitt083 karma

I wasn't insinuating that they were copying just thought it was interesting that not so long ago this idea was ridiculed and now it's on the cusp of being reality. Heck maybe those solar freaking roadways will work after all.

Xtorting2 karma

Have you heard about Solar paint? I believe that is more realistic.

dranjo4 karma

If private companies want to produce and sell external modules, will they have to go through any kind of test or approval from Google? I'm afraid of malicious modules that do stuff like record phone calls and track your location against your will.

Xtorting1 karma

Sorry for answering this question so late.

Similar to Android authorization, developing the hardware is going to be free and open source to a point. Each module will be required to state their permissions (just like installing an app). Some Kernel protocols and HALs within UniPro will not be available for this specific reason. On boot, the Ara phone will check each module for authorization and comparability. After boot, when you change your battery module. You'll be able to see within a UI app what permissions this module is requesting of the endo board. This is very similar to how a PC would boot and check its system while hot-swapping devices.

However, I will say that malicious apps have a much easier time reading a keyboard or tracking locations through GPS. Since software permissions are much easier to negate than hardware permissions. Probably due to the seer amount of apps people download, compared to how many modules people might have.

This question of security features would be a great question tomorrow in #AraDev, if you have the time.

taH_pagh_taHbe3 karma

Biggest problem you can see with a modular phone?

Xtorting9 karma

Honestly, being a choking hazard for children. Everything else after that is secondary in my mind. Cases, especially lockable ones, must be a very important aspect of Project Ara for it to be a "family device". I hope the developers read my comments on the potential dangers of swallowable hardware.

Apart from that, old module software conflicting with a new version of Android concerns me a bit. Updating would be solely under the digression of that modules designers, so you better choose a company that is known to support their products after 3 years. Since this phone is designed to last 5+ years. But this is a minor issue, since apps already have to update on their own after a Android OS update. And that system works fine without too many issues.

dranjo3 karma

What's stopping private companies from making malicious modules that secretly track your location and credit card numbers, i.e?

Xtorting3 karma

Well, apps do a much better job at secretly tracking your location and keyboard inputs than a compromised module would. Since you gave that app permission to do it's snooping.

I'd say it could be done if the module was apart of a main function like a processor or radio antenna. All that would be required is that compromised module requesting your GPS location. Tracking keyboard inputs might be specifically difficult to do for a piece of hardware.

I'd be more worried about applications than hardware when it comes to security.

Wimpy_Anteater3 karma

Mac or PC?

Xtorting9 karma

PC and Linux

Punsire3 karma

How do you see this being recieved by the general smartphone user? think people will have the patience for it? How quickly can you be up and running after swapping modules?

Xtorting3 karma

Depends on how it's marketed. If Google associates Ara hardware directly with Android, then they might be able to market Ara effectively. At first, modularity will be a niche market. But as time goes forward, people will see the usefulness of a modular platform. Some people will and some people won't love Ara.

Depends on what module you switch. If it's the processor or data module, the device must be turned off and rebooted. Any other modules can be hotswapped while Android is running.

lucitribal3 karma

Will we see wacky modules like over-sized batteries, cameras with optical zoom, video projectors, large speakers, etc. ?

Xtorting2 karma

Hopefully we'll see hardware that was once thought impossible on a smartphone (USB, HDMI, Ethernet, etc). I'm more interested in "naughty" modules, like a lighter or taser module.

howsublime3 karma

Will I be able to play angry birds on it?

Xtorting4 karma

Yes, along with every Android app.

Afl02 karma

As one of the participants in the Ara project. I have to congratulate you in being a beta tester and keeping the rest of us updated. Now my question is ; How many modular extensions is Google Giving you to play with or is it just the Grey Phone you're getting ?

Xtorting1 karma

If only every comment was this nice.

But seriously, I have no clue what modules or even the size of endoskeleton I'll be receiving. It's been stated there's going to be a market pilot, which I believe are the BETA winners prizes, but that's an educated guess.

Coolmikefromcanada2 karma

What modules are you most hopeing to be available?

Xtorting4 karma

Apart from the already announced custom Nvidia Tegra K1 and Sennheiser speaker/headphone modules, I'm really looking forward to adding a USB, HDMI, Ethernet, and other input modules. Having the ability to plug your phone into a screen or tv. The ability to carry your favorite gaming headphones on the go as a type of bluetooth. Or bring along your USB keyboard or mouse. This is the future of smartphones, connecting dumb hardware and turning them smart.

Essentially, I'm really looking forward to how these modules will interconnect with other devices, cars, laptops, kitchens, and basically any other piece of hardware. A radio with the ability to add a wifi module to pick up internet, or further speaker modules for more sound.

Take a look at this Wiki for more detailed information of every known and suspected company developing modules for Project Ara:

alakazam3182 karma

Do we know how phone companies will treat the Ara on contract? How will the price be managed of something so flexible?

Xtorting2 karma

Nothing has been released about carriers and how Ara phones plan on being covered.

typicallydownvoted2 karma

why is your tldr so long?

Xtorting2 karma

3 sentences is long?

ukkoylijumala2 karma

I think the original reason for the idea of a modular phone is to not only combine the modules itself to fit ones own needs, but also to have a certain standard or form type, which enables other companies to produce new and novel modules as well.

What are your thoughts on that and do you have contacts to other companies who might want to participate with their own modules?

Xtorting1 karma

I've come in contact with a few companies developing for Project Ara, but nothing more than a short description and a hello.

That's one of the aspects I really support within Ara, a form factor that allows virtually any hardware company to enter into the smartphone ecosystem.

adamryd2 karma

How long do you think it will be before we see a Microsoft version?
Microsoft-Surface-Phone-Mini, where you can take the back case off and replace parts just like a laptop?

Xtorting3 karma

By 2016ish

babypeppermint2 karma

What is a module?

Xtorting3 karma

Watch this

Kinda tough to explain new technology without pictures for references. A module is basically each individual component of a smartphone broken down. There's a camera module, processor module, memory module, battery module, screen module, speaker module, etc. While the endoskeleton (motherboard) connects all of these devices or modules together.


In your details you mentioned you were good with hardware, but did you mean R9 290x where you put R8 290x?

Xtorting2 karma

Probably, I'm not an AMD card owner and took that number off the top of my head.

aviate4fun1 karma

As an American living in Russia, the land of wonderful cheap Chinese knockoffs, where we laugh at your overpriced crap phones like the iPhone and the Ara, why should I care about this? I can buy a smartphone here for $12 brand new, with a huge screen (think iPad mini), and a new sim card, and wifi monthly internet for $10.

What is the price you pay for it there?

Xtorting-1 karma

Enjoy buying a new device every 2 weeks, while throwing the old ones away.