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Google Project Ara Design Will Use Electro-Permanent Magnets To Lock In Modules 62

Posted by Soulskill
from the magnets-how-the-heck-to-they-work dept.
MojoKid writes: "Google's Project Ara, an effort to develop a modular smartphone platform, sounded at first as much like vaporware, but Google is actually making it happen. In an upbeat video, Dave Hakkens (the guy who created the Phonebloks design that appears to be the conceptual basis for Project Ara) visited the Google campus to see what progress is being made on the project. The teams working on Project Ara have figured out a key solution to one of the first problems they encountered, which was how to keep all the modules stuck together. They decided to use electro-permanent magnets. In terms of design, they've decided not to cover up the modules, instead making their very modularity part of the aesthetic appeal. 3D Systems is involved on campus, as they're delivering the 3D printing technology to make covers for the modules."

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Google Project Ara Design Will Use Electro-Permanent Magnets To Lock In Modules

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  • But neither the summary, nor the terrible overly "modern" designed marketing website, makes much attempt at explaining intent. It's like wave "we're replacing email" doesn't explain anything to anyone. "We're making modular phones" doesn't tell us, at the very least, what might actually be different, day-to-day for users.

    • I think that Google has a proven track record on delivering systems. Nor they do a lot of marketing. This phone will see the light of day, but how successful it's gonna be that is another story.
    • It allows you to build and upgrade your phone a piece at a time.

      I think the biggest draw for me would be "replace your screen after you drop it". Feature :)

      • For me it would definitely be "replace your SoC without needing to replace a still perfectly good, expensive screen and/or battery"

      • by HobophobE (101209)

        Or, "you're going to the Grand Canyon for the day, so why not rent a higher resolution camera module." If you don't do photography every day, maybe the cost would be too great for a high-res camera mod (i.e., over time camera will no longer be a discrete instrument, but will become part of the mobile kit (don't worry, you will still be able to get a camera-like platform for the usability it offers)), but if you're taking a special trip (or going to a wedding), it might make sense to rent the mod for somethi

    • by Anaerin (905998) on Friday April 04, 2014 @05:22PM (#46665053)
      Okay, here's the deal. You want a phone, so you buy a base unit (that probably has the screen). Once you've done that, you choose what CPU (Single-core? Dual-core? Quad-core? Octa-core?) you want, how much RAM (512MB? 1GB? 2GB?), how much storage (16GB? 32GB? 64GB?), what kind of camera (None, 2MP, 4MP, 16MP with telescopic zoom lens?), Location system (Cell Tower Only? A-GPS? GLONASS + GPS + Compass?), Radios (Bluetooth? Wifi (a? n?), cellular radio (None? CDMA? GSM/Edge? UMTS? LTE?), card reader, and battery you want.

      Want to update at a later time? Not a problem! Swap out that tired old dual-core ARMv7 for the latest dohexa-core 64-bit ARMv11! Running out of RAM too often? Throw another 2GB in there. Find you're taking more pictures than you thought? Swap out the basic 4MP shooter for a 28MP beast! Want to do work with 3D mapping? Add a second camera!

      The idea is to make phones as modular as (or even more so than) a home PC.

      • Location system (Cell Tower Only? A-GPS? GLONASS + GPS + Compass?

        Good luck using a compass near all these magnetic locks...

        • by Sabriel (134364)

          You can, it's just that the compass will involve a lot more than just a magnetised needle and a marked circle.

        • by chihowa (366380) *

          Modern magnetometers in phones are pretty robust. After calibration, the one in my phone works fine right next to a 500 MHz NMR (~12 T [for reference the earth's magnetic field is around 50 uT]). The magnetic locks won't be moving around much, so the field it sees from them will be pretty static.

          • Interesting, I didn't know they have such a wide dynamic range. I knew a small rare-earth magnet near my phone would max out the Hall sensor value, but never considered recalibrating it in that state.
            It's a bit difficult to test too, since it seems to use dead reckoning (accelerometer) as a fallback for rotation.

      • by hvdh (1447205)

        Nowadays, a quadcore CPU + GPU with LCD controller + LTE/CDMA/HSPA/EDGE/GSM modem + a/b/g/n/ac-Wifi + Bluetooth + GPS/Glonass/Galileo + FM radio + camera controller + Dual-SIM and SD card interface is a 3-chip solution (e.g. MT9565 platform). Mind those chips plus RAM and Flash should be placed directly together, not via contacts to pluggable modules.

  • Because a mechanical connector is too good for them and we're all anxious for new ways to waste battery power and wipe our mag stripes.

  • I have to put it back together again?
    Well, they'd have to actually build one first for me to be able to drop it. (Not that I'm one to often drop a phone.)

    A modular phone will never work. The masses don't want modular devices. They want a solid slate they can get laser engraved more than they want the ability to customize, modify, or repair things.

    • by Anaerin (905998)
      Yes, you have to put back together any sections that came off, and replace any parts that too catastrophic damage and broke. Unlike the current method, where you have to replace the whole damned thing.
      • by afidel (530433)

        Or, you could send your broken phone to phoneambulance or any of the other third party sites to have it repaired, or heck pay the manufacturer to 'fix' it (ie give you a recertified used one).

    • by Tumbleweed (3706)

      A modular phone will never work. The masses don't want modular devices. They want a solid slate they can get laser engraved more than they want the ability to customize, modify, or repair things.

      Has anyone stated this is even intended for the masses?

      • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Friday April 04, 2014 @05:19PM (#46665031)

        If it's not intended for the masses, then it's going to fail on all important points:

        - it will be bigger/thicker than current all-in-one phones because each module will be its own box with its own case and you need space for the magnets and inter-modular connections
        - it means it will cost even more than current all-in-one phones
        - it means it won't get manufactured in enough quantities to make a difference in the waste produced by all-in-one phones

        • by Tumbleweed (3706)

          If it's not intended for the masses, then it's going to fail on all important points:

          - it will be bigger/thicker than current all-in-one phones because each module will be its own box with its own case and you need space for the magnets and inter-modular connections
          - it means it will cost even more than current all-in-one phones
          - it means it won't get manufactured in enough quantities to make a difference in the waste produced by all-in-one phones

          Your reasons for it to fail (as listed here) are still reasons that would make a device _INTENDED FOR THE MASSES_ fail. There are products that are intended for niche markets that still succeed, and this project will succeed or fail based on those criteria, not your strawman criteria.

          • I never said it would fail on its own as a device, I said it would fail on the points I listed, the third point being the most important if it's not intended for the mass market.

            • by Tumbleweed (3706)

              I never said it would fail on its own as a device, I said it would fail on the points I listed, the third point being the most important if it's not intended for the mass market.

              I suppose if you think that is a big reason people want a modular phone, then sure. It's not even on the list of reasons why I'd want a modular phone. They should probably do some polling to find out WHY people want a modular phone before they make one. :)

        • That sounds like a false dichotomy. Your first bullet point would be true unless some smart engineer figured out how to make it a reasonable size. I hear they have some smart engineers working at google. On your second, you would likely save money on upgrades, not having to replace the whole phone, and probably going longer between upgrades. The third is wild predictions. If the design concept takes off and becomes the standard model, then it's going to save a lot of waste.

          Be skeptical, not cynic
          • My reply starts with If it's not intended for the masses, the rest of my comment is based on that assumption, which was from the parent post.

      • by dovf (811000)

        A modular phone will never work. The masses don't want modular devices. They want a solid slate they can get laser engraved more than they want the ability to customize, modify, or repair things.

        Has anyone stated this is even intended for the masses?

        Quoting the Project Ara website: "Introducing Project Ara. Designed exclusively for 6 billion people." That would qualify as "the masses", I think...

    • Only if you don't opt for the airbag or parachute modules.
  • Because nothing screams "this isn't vaporware" like "we discovered magnets stick together". As if keeping things in place was the major road block for this endeavor.
    • Actually, that has been one of the major roadblocks. Figuring out a strong method of locking the modules in is a great step forward. I could be remembering incorrectly, but I believe they were going to make it so you would run an app on your phone to "unlock" the module(s) so you could remove/replace them, then "lock" them back when you were done.

      I am very excited for this technology, just like I was for the original Android G1 on T-Mobile. I am sure it will be a little iffy at times, much like the G1

      • Were it technologically possible it would be a hit, yes. Unfortunately you can't just jam CPUs and memory into a matrix of pin holes where ever and how ever you want. Tight integration out performs modularity every time. Closer together, less interconnects to go through, etc. CPU sockets change faster than most high end phones' shelf lives.

        If any product ever comes out of this all I predict it will be is a modular camera (of which only one module will ever be produced). Possibly a storage module if they th

    • by TFlan91 (2615727)

      Are you new to electronics?

      • by bug1 (96678)

        Are you new to electronics?

        If he is new to electronics he would have already experienced many different methods of physically locking things in place, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

        Can you explain why you think physically locking things in place is NOT a trivial exercise for a phone ?

  • this reminds me of those micro 4/3 cameras with the interchangeable lenses, except surveys find that many of the consumers never switch lenses...

    • Even if you never switch modules, the ability to personalize the hardware in your phone is amazing. Even if I never even take a module out, being able to have a phone with 3x battery size than all others, and a much more accurate GPS would be amazing. (I play Ingress a lot)

      I believe another rudimentary idea was for a photographer to get a better camera module, and an extra storage module, that way they have a nice camera on them at all times in case they do not have their "real" equipment with them. Ag

    • You're not the target demographic. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea. These kinds of phones will be bought by tech nerds in their 20s. The same guys that built Ham radios, maybe hotrods, later the first pcs, and after that the who modular IBMPC / overclocking crowd.

      As a vendor, you can sell them an expensive phone, and then license the modules to other companies and rake in the cash as they make marginal improvements to a module yet charge double. There's always that guy that has the $3000 video card... why

      • by idontgno (624372)

        You're not the target demographic. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea. These kinds of phones will be bought by tech nerds in their 20s.

        Glassholes, you mean.

        modular IBMPC / overclocking crowd.

        Modular PC. [wikipedia.org] Not exactly the stirring precedent I'd go looking for.

  • by giorgist (1208992) on Friday April 04, 2014 @05:36PM (#46665171)
    I have an idea I should consider patenting, but I can't help myself An interchangeable battery !!
  • Why continue this while selling motorola?
  • Nice, MEMS, compasses, RF, batteries, inductive charging (in today's phone) and memory.

    Mix that with strong electromagnets and you will like have a Ara that could just a simple 5" LCD monitor (cause nothing else will work) once the magnets turn on.

  • Never play complex music/sounds over your voice. It is possible to accomplish, but extreme care should be taken. It distracts the viewer from your message.
  • From TFS: ""Google's Project Ara, an effort to develop a modular smartphone platform, sounded at first as much like vaporware, but Google is actually making it happen. In an upbeat video, Dave Hakkens (the guy who created the Phonebloks design that appears to be the conceptual basis for Project Ara) visited the Google campus to see what progress is being made on the project."

    How is this not vaporware? Kewl magnets and flashy app screens barely qualify as sizzle and are nowhere near steak.

  • Google has re-invented LittleBits [littlebits.cc], a family of electronics modules which are attached with magnets. With their new "Cloud" module and their Arduino module, you might even be able to build a wireless VOIP phone.

    This is a fun hobbyist concept, but you don't actually use things built that way. Either this will be bulky or the components will be fragile. You pay a penalty for all that casing and standard form factor.

    Somebody (Wyse, I think) built a PC like this in the early 80s. Each module looked like a

  • ... with tongue studs, lip and nose rings is going to be problematic.

    So much for the hipster market.

  • Will slipping this into your back pocket by those of use that don't use a wallet or purse, screw up your magnetic stripped cards?

    I'm sure this has been thought of but how would you stop it.

    From what I read you apply electricity to remove a component, otherwise it's going to be held fast by I imagine rare metal magnet's, else fall apart on an impact. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E... [wikipedia.org]

    • Magstrips on credit cards are extremely durable (besides the fact that they are outdated). It required a beast of an electromagnet to corrupt a bit on them. And those were written by a cheap USB card reader.
      Mythbusters Season 2003, Episode 3.

      • Magstrips on credit cards are extremely durable (besides the fact that they are outdated). It required a beast of an electromagnet to corrupt a bit on them. And those were written by a cheap USB card reader.

        Bad example(s) :} I have a bank card I use to make purchase that's strip is so weak it's hit or miss which scanners will read it (mostly miss). The ones that charge $3.00 a transition always work.

        I've seen all kinds of ways to get it to be read, the most popular is sticking it in a plastic bag and then running it though the readers. Yes I have a replacement coming and have many times in the past - without going into details accept the fact they never make it to me.

        But it is the only card that's ever been ba

        • While they only use a few data points that's more than most people use.
          Every experiment has a chance of incorrect results. The Mythbusters are not some kind of gods that do not suffer from that.
          If they find something to be impossible or improbable then that is only valid within their test parameters. They must choose narrow test parameters to prevent 3 hour shows that Discovery would not put on TV.
          However if they tested it and found it to be busted then it is improbable that it is not busted. If other data

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