Google demos new Project Ara prototype, schedules pilot program

If smartphones are the new personal computers, Project Ara may be the future of the DIY PC scene. Google's modular handset promises to bring extensive hardware customization to a market filled with pre-baked designs. The firm provided an update on the project's progress at the Project Ara Developers Conference yesterday, along with word that a pilot program will take place in Puerto Rico later this year.

Here's the latest promo video, which resonates with my enthusiast sensibilities.

Google demoed its latest "Spiral 2" prototype at the conference. It sounds like the device is mostly functional, but the journalists who got hands-on time didn't really get a chance to use the thing. Engadget reports that the prototype has two modules up front, plus eight in the back. Processor options include Marvell's PXA1928 and Nvidia's Tegra K1.

Communicating with the various modules apparently requires a fair bit of power. Google attributes 20% of the prototype's battery drain to keeping module connectivity alive, a figure that will hopefully drop with the next Spiral 3 iteration. That upcoming prototype will have a custom Rockchip SoC with native UniPro support for module links.

Spiral 3 is scheduled for the second quarter, followed by a pilot program in Puerto Rico during the second half of the year. That program will run through local carriers, The Verge adds, and Google will be roaming the island in demo trucks to introduce folks to Project Ara—and to the novel concept of having control over the composition of their smartphone. Google expects to have 20-30 modules, plus a configurator app to streamline the customization process.

The latest schedule appears to have slipped from the "early 2015" launch projected in September, but things at least seem to be moving along. It will be interesting to see if the concept catches on.

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