Project Ara, the codename for Google’s modular smartphone project, has been dead for months. Though originally set for a consumer model release in 2017, Project Ara ran into troubles apparently too great to overcome, and Google ultimately scrapped it. The idea of using modules to customize and upgrade a smartphone one component at a time was tantalizing, though, and many were thinking outside of the box at all the possibilities…including Google itself, which had planned a small aquarium module.
The Project Ara phone was the brainchild of the Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP), and it was forced into public view after a similar concept device, Phonebloks, went viral. The Project Ara phone differed from all other phones in that it could be continually upgraded and used for years thanks to swappable component modules.
The idea was that, for example, someone could upgrade to faster and more powerful hardware by changing a module or two; the same went for the camera, battery, storage and more. Though that initial concept was watered down in due time out of necessity, resulting in many components not being modular at all, the core design philosophy would have opened the doors for all sorts of interesting hardware.
During Project Ara’s time, we saw concept modules for things like blood sugar monitors, things you can’t find on any ordinary smartphone. A source said to have worked on Project Ara told VentureBeat about one particularly odd module, a tiny aquarium of sorts that would contain algae and tardigrades (water bears) visible through a small microscope.
The source describes it as a ‘little tiny biome’ filled with little critters which would ultimately be visible on the phone’s screen via an app and the integrated microscope. It was more than just an idea, though, according to this source. Google allegedly tapped Midnight Commercial, a Brooklyn tech and art agency, to build the module. Unfortunately, the module and others like it were scrapped with Project Ara’s demise.