Google's Project Ara Could Mean a Hardware Revolution

If you've been pinned under a particularly massive boulder for the past month and haven't heard about Google's latest reveals at its annual I/O conference, you missed out on the biggest gamechangers in tech. But, while much of the focus has been turned to Android M and Google Glass and other software releases, there hasn't been nearly as much press on Project Ara, and that's just ridiculous. Here's what you should know about Google's underrated project and why it's set to change the future.

Project Ara is a smartphone platform with swappable modular components.

Want a better camera? Pop it in. Need a heftier battery for a long flight? Slide it beside the camera. Faster processor? Boom. The platform "consists of an on-device packet-switched data network based on the MIPI UniPro protocol stack, a flexible power bus, and an elegant industrial design that mechanically unites the modules with an endoskeleton." And swappable parts means some pretty funky design possibilities, too.

Take a look at the parts swap in action:


If that isn't enough to get thinking, consider that Google plans on making the platform start at just $50.

With that kind of price point, Google estimates that the phone could reach 6 billion people, far surpassing any smartphone sales records. Ara's modular smartphone is gearing up to be not only adaptable, but affordable. But it's not just speakers and batteries that run on the platform: the phone could also test for clean water or analyze a heartbeat. It could act as a car key or send out a distress call or monitor air quality--the options here are limitless. And, thanks to Google's commitment to synergy, Project Ara makes it easy for developers to get involved.

The Modular Revolution

What does it mean for engineers? Google's Ara opens the door for hundreds of thousands of phone hardware manufacturers, not just the handful that currently dominate the market. But this modular design is a far cry from the PCBs of today. Future products could be built in modular components, since it could potentially eliminate the built-in obsolence that big-name brands bank on for a continuous revenue stream. Not only does modularity mean overhauling a mentality of inevitable obscurity, it also means relying on less buying an entirely new product and more on relevant components as technologies emerge. What would happen if updating an iPad were as easy as swapping out its processor?

With the possibility of swappable components comes the possibliity of future proofing platforms. Is the industry ready for that kind of upheaval? If Project Ara is successful, we'll have our answer.