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Mix-and-match mobiles: Google unveils Project Ara dev conference

Seeks hardware hackers for Motorola's modular phone

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Google says it is planning a series of three online developer conferences this year in support of Project Ara, the modular mobile phone design being developed by its Motorola Mobility division.

Announced last year, Ara is a unique concept that will allow users to build their own devices from a collection of snap-together parts. Customers who prefer a hard keyboard will be able add one, for example, while photo bugs will be able to upgrade their phones' cameras.

On Wednesday, the Chocolate Factory said that the first Ara Developers' Conference will be held from April 14 through 16.

Conference sessions will be conducted mainly online, including a live webstream and an interactive Q&A capability (we're thinking Google Hangouts), although a limited number of participants will be able to attend in person at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

The focus of this first gathering will be to introduce the Ara Module Development Kit (MDK), a platform specification and reference implementation that hardware tinkerers can use as the basis for building their own modules.

"The Developers' Conference will consist of a detailed walk-through of existing and planned features of the Ara platform, a briefing and community feedback sessions on the alpha MDK, and an announcement of a series of prize challenges for module developers," the Ara project homepage explains.

Ara modules interconnect using the UniPro protocol developed by the MIPI Alliance. For the alpha version of the MDK, Google says UniPro will be implemented in a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) running over a low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) physical layer. That means initial module designs will be run at less than ideal speeds, but future versions of the MDK will ship with a UniPro application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) running over the MIPI Alliance's M-PHY physical layer for better performance.

If that last bit sailed right over your head, then the Ara Developers' Conference probably isn't for you. You're welcome to tune into the live webfeed, but Google says it would like to reserve on-site attendance for actual, committed hardware hackers.

In fact, before the Chocolate Factory will even sell you a ticket to the in-person Mountain View event – at $100 apiece, or $25 for students – you'll need to submit a little essay on the conference's registration page explaining why you, of all people, deserve to attend. And if you do get the nod, which could happen anytime between now and the conference date, you'll have just 48 hours to cough up the cash.

Even if you don't make the cut, however, Google says the MDK specs should be available for download at no cost in time for the April event.

As for when the other two events in the planned series will take place, Google has yet to announce dates. ®

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