When the inspirational concept video 'Phonebloks' went viral in 2013, serious questions were raised over the viability of its concept: a modular phone, made up of parts able to be hot-swapped out, allowing us to upgrade our phones on the fly. Many commentators believed that such a project would be infeasible due to the increased weight and size it would add to any phone.
In the time since then, Google has taken up the mantle of creating a modular phone under the title Project Ara. In order solve some of the problems posed by this radical new design, Google has turned to a number of radical new technologies. These include the use of lightweight 3D printing to fabricate block units, and electro-permanent magnets to fix these blocks in place.
Despite their progress, Google is still facing immense challenges. Among these is finding a way to manage power supply between the blocks, as well as finding improved ways for components to communicate with each other, no matter what configuration they are in.
These challenges became particularly evident during Google’s Project Ara demonstration at the I/O developer conference. The crowd had expected to see the first working prototype of the technology, but instead they watched in silence as the device failed to load past the simple Android bootscreen. Despite multiple attempts, the phone could not be coaxed into starting for the crowd. The video of these cringeworthy keynote can be seen below:
Regardless of these sort of teething problems, Google is still pressing ahead with a tight release deadline for Project Ara. It intends to have a proof of concept, bare bones “grey phone” ready for developers by the start of 2015. This product is intentionally made to be aesthetically boring, encouraging developers and artists to remix it in creative and inspiring ways.
It would seem that one way or another, we will get our lego-block phone, even if building it isn't child’s play.