Project Ara phone prototype evolves into Spiral 2

The next Project Ara prototype gives developers more space to work with when creating blocks for Google's modular phone.

Google's Project Ara team has built a new prototype of the phone that's designed to be customised by consumers using blocks built by third-party hardware developers.

Preparing for its next Project Ara developer conference in January, Google's Advanced Technology and Projects team has given a glimpse of the what's next for Project Ara with a new prototype device.

The device, known as the Spiral 2, was unveiled in a new video from Project Ara's Netherlands-based partner Phonebloks, which visited NK Labs in Boston — the small company that’s been tasked with building the phone base.

Project Ara began designing the Spiral 2 in July and brought on board Taiwan-based contract smartphone maker Quanta Computers as a hardware design partner.

The idea behind Project Ara is that people should be able to not just customise their homescreen, but also treat their hardware like a "canvas" by clipping into place different components, such as the battery, a camera, speakers, or blocks containing sensors that don't ship in current phones. That's where third-party developers come in, which work with the Ara Module Developers Kit (MDK) in order to build for the prototype's specifications.

Besides getting the device to boot, one of the main challenges with the Spiral 1 — the first modular phone prototype Ara brought out earlier this year — was space. As NK Labs notes, fifty percent of space in the first prototype was taken up for the hardware needed to house the modules, which constrains what functions developers can package into their Ara bricks. Spiral 2 had the benefit of Toshiba building custom chips for the Ara board, leaving "most of the areas" available for the developer's function.

Project Ara's lead, Paul Eremenko, told Wired that the new prototype will also have improved electromagnetic couplings, which hold the blocks in place. While Eremenko has had troubles booting the device previously, the new prototype does actually boot up "running over an internal network, rather than just everything being connected to a CPU".

The teaser for the prototype came as Google's ATAP division announced its Project Ara Module Developers Conference, which will be held across two events with identical content to bring it closer to developers in around the world.

The first main event will be held in Google's home town of Mountain View on January 14, while it will run satellite events at its local offices in New York City, Buenos Aires, and London. A second event will be held in Singapore on January 21, with satellite locations at Google offices in Bangalore, Tokyo, Taipei, and Shanghai. At the event Google plans to release its second MDK, version 0.20.

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