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Google’s Project Ara: Build Your Own Phone with Bits Held Together by Magnets

On Wednesday, Google revealed a prototype of a component-based phone held together by magnets, at the Launch Festival in San Francisco.

The device, labeled Project Ara, aims to reinvent the shape and packaging of smartphones as we know them. Rather than force consumers to purchase and discard a gadget after its technology has grown old over a year or two, the phone was invented to be an ever-evolving body of removable modules, which can be continually customized and updated by size and feature.

The frame of the phone is made of electropermanent magnets and provides a local network for all the bits that go inside, which include batteries, screens and antennas in different sizes. Not to mention CPUs, WiFi, cellular and camera components as well. On the low end, a phone with just a screen, WiFi and a base processor could run about $50 in materials.

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As Time reports, Google first mentioned the existence of Project Ara on October 29, 2013. Today the public was able to lay its eyes on the prototype for the first time.

The company hopes that the nameless contraption will be in stores by next year, along with a Google Play–like marketplace that allows developers to contribute their own components for the phone.

According to Paul Eremenko, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency alumnus who heads Project Ara, the company anticipates that the phones will come in three sizes: mini, medium and “phablet.” It also hopes that the phones will be modified to work in much less mass-market ways. Personal medical diagnostics or a screen for rapid analysis of fluids were just two of the suggestions Eremenko came up with at the Launch Festival talk. 

Alyssa Bereznak can be reached at alyssabereznak@yahoo.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @alyssabereznak.