Google Offers Early Look At Project Ara MDK

Eric Z
Apr. 10 2014, 10:03AM EDT

Google this week unveiled a first release of the Project Ara Module Developers Kit; Google is calling it an MDK rather than SDK. The kit is truly in an alpha state at version 0.10. Despite its far-from-finished status, Google wanted to offer developers a peek at what they'll be able to do with Project Ara.

Project Ara was first announced by Motorola last October (Google still owns Motorola). Project Ara is an initiative with the goal of developing an ecosystem that creates and supports modular handsets. When it was first announced, Motorola said it wanted Ara to do for hardware developers what Google's Android platform has done for software developers. Though Google is selling Motorola to Lenovo, Google will retain ownership of Project Ara.

Ara modular phones are based on an endoskeleton, which is the structural frame that holds all the modules in place. Device owners will be able to add modules - an extra battery, new processor, keyboard, display - to the endoskeleton to create their own, unique device. Motorola and Google worked on Project Ara for a year and already completed the technical work to make it a reality.

Google partnered with the Phonebloks community which helped develop this MDK. This is a very early version but our goals are to give the developer community an opportunity to provide feedback and input, and to help us ensure that the final MDK--anticipated at the end of 2014--is elegant, flexible, and complete," said Project Ara chief Paul Eremenko. Google is hosting its first Project Ara Developers Conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., next week and hopes developers will attend to offer their own thoughts about the MDK.

The MDK is a free and open platform specification and reference implementation that contains everything developers need to develop an Ara module. "This early alpha release of the MDK relies on a prototype implementation of the Ara on-device network using the MIPI UniPro protocol implemented on FPGA and running over an LVDS physical layer," explained Google. "Subsequent versions will soon be built around a much more efficient and higher performance ASIC implementation of UniPro, running over a capacitive M-PHY physical layer."

Google believes Project Ara will lower the barrier of entry for hardware makers and result in a vibrant, open community that will let people create unique and compelling devices. In November, Google entered into an agreement with 3D Systems, a company based in South Carolina, to back its Project Ara modular phones. The two companies aim to create a continuous high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfillment system for the modules needed to build Project Ara devices. 3D Systems will amp up its 3D printing facilities to include conductive and functional materials that can be used by Ara smartphones.

Google expects to release a 1.0 version of the MDK by the end of the year. In the mean time, it hopes developers are willing to jump in to see what they can create.

Eric Z I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for Programmable Web and other online properties.

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