Motorola has begun work on technology that could allow individual components of smartphones to be replaced as part of a modular, build-your-own-device smartphone project named Ara.
Ara smartphones would allow users to upgrade individual components of their devices without having to buy a new handset every other year. They would be able to replace elements such as the camera, processor, storage or even WiFi hardware by simply removing one "block" of their phone and inserting another.
Writing on the Motorola blog, Paul Eremekno - part of the Ara team - said the firm had been working on the project for over a year, and had recently taken inspiration from Phonebloks, the modular smartphone concept which garnered widespread attention in September (see video).
Eremenko added that Motorola and the Phonebloks community would work together on the common goal of creating this modular platform. "Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones," he said. "To give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it's made of, how much it costs, and how long you'll keep it."
The project intends to allow anybody to create any kind of module they desire, as long as it fits into the Ara base "endoskeleton", which connects all the other components together.
"A module can be anything, from a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeter - or something not yet thought of," Eremenko said.
Further to the obvious cost savings of not replacing an entire smartphone every time one component falls behind the latest technological developments, there are clear environmental benefits too. Electronic waste is a growing concern, with phone manufacturers and the UN working together to turn the voluntary standard micro USB phone charger into a mandatory one.
The components of modern smartphones are generally very tightly-packed and securely contained, therefore rendering any attempts to replace components extremely difficult for anybody other than trained professionals. While only a concept at the moment, Motorola plans to begin shipping an alpha release of the Project Ara developer kit over the winter.
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