Check out this ambitious modular laptop–tablet hybrid for kids

An Australian offshoot of the One Laptop Per Child project is developing a new device for children that will convert from a tablet into a laptop and can be upgraded through hardware modules.

The new OLPC device, named XO-infinity, aims for a “lifespan of 10 years, not obsolete in 2.” The modules and docking system developed by One Education are reminiscent of Google’s Project Ara, a similarly ambitious undertaking launching later this year which is developing a modular smartphone that could retail under $50.

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The XO-infinity can be used both as a tablet and a laptop. In addition to making the device easier to upgrade, repair and support, the modularity will also help the XO-infinity adapt to each child’s needs. To change modules, it looks as if you first have to pull off a silicone case that keeps the components underneath it safe, in the interest of durability. Planned modules include those for batteries, cameras, screens, and Wi-Fi connectivity. It sounds like based on the modules used, the device can run Android, Windows, or Linux.

“An ARM processor supporting Android may be right for children under 10, but a child in her last year of primary school could benefit hugely from the power to simply slot in a Linux or Windows supporting x86 module,” One Education founder Rangan Srikhanta wrote on Medium.

Before developing the XO-infinity, One Education created charging stations, online apps and teacher education programs for an One Laptop Per Child device, the XO-1, which is starting to reach the end of its useful life. OLPC is Nick Negroponte’s project started in 2005 to bring low-cost computing devices to children around the world.

The device isn’t ready to be tested yet, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. It’s being revealed now, but it’s only a prototype. The first working model is expected in August, with the first devices shipping to the public early next year. However, if you’ve followed OLPC devices in the past, you’ve found they are often delayed or initially over-ambitious. One Education has funding from the Australian government, but it clearly doesn’t have the resources of a tech giant like Google.

Tech specs aren’t available yet, but One Education is promising them in the “coming weeks.” I’m interested in seeing whether it’s building on top of Google’s open hardware designs (like Project Ara) or if it’s using a competing technology like PuzzlePhone.

“The concept stage is over, industrial design is well underway, and the electronics prototyping is being developed right now?—?using smart, open technologies,” Srikhanta wrote.

But in the meantime, check out One Education’s renders of the device. The OLPC initiative’s main goal is to ensure every child in the world has access to a primary school education that includes technology literacy, but it’s generating some cool technology ideas on its way there.ortho

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Before Project Ara launches globally, it’s headed to Puerto Rico

Project Ara head Paul Eremenko revealed that the first “market pilot” for Google’s ambitious modular phone is taking place in Puerto Rico later this year at the second Project Ara developers conference in Mountain View, California on Wednesday.

The market pilot will need to be successful before Google launches Project Ara globally. Unfortunately, the only Google-provided timeframe for the market pilot is “2015.” And there’s a lot of work to even get to that point.

The prototype Project Ara device being demoed at the conference is codenamed Spiral 2. Before the market pilot launches, the team will first need to hit goals related to “Spiral 3” — which include fixing a magnet issue, significantly improving battery life, and adding support for 4G LTE networks.

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According to Eremenko, a Spiral 3 prototype will “match or exceed the performance of a state-of-the-art phone.” One of the main goals is a daylong battery life, but the Ara team will allow itself one battery hotswap to get there. Currently, the Ara design team has developed 11 module reference designs, and by the time Spiral 3 is finished, Google hopes to have 30 modules that work with the platform.

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Eremenko offered a few reasons why Google chose Puerto Rico. It uses FCC regulations for radio frequency signals. It’s a “mobile-first” country, with the majority of its citizens accessing the internet through smartphones and tablets. Both major Latin American carriers and American carriers operate networks in Puerto Rico.

The initial Ara market pilot is partnering with [company]OpenMobile[/company] and [company]Claro[/company] on the carrier side so far. There are also a few interesting distribution strategies Google is planning to try in Puerto Rico. For instance, Google will have a “food truck” go around the island to give users hands-on time with Ara.

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According to Eremenko, the reason [company]Google[/company] is launching Project Ara in a small market first is to answer (major) questions ahead of a full, global launch. The data provided by the Puerto Rican market will help Google understand how to price, package, and sell Ara phones and modules on a larger scale — after all, nobody has ever tried anything like this before. For instance, Eremenko says that one issue that the pilot could address is that consumers think they want choice, but seize up when presented with choices and then later have remorse about making the wrong one. For Project Ara, which offers significantly more configuration options than, say, an iPhone, the paradox of choice looms large.

As had been reported previously, there will be an Android app used to configure modules and order new ones, with Google handling many of the logistic concerns about delivering modules to the user. Google’s even offering other concessions to early-stage developers, such as volume assurances, so they’re not holding the bag in the case of a failed pilot.

The rest of the conference (which is being livestreamed) will focus on the technical knowledge needed to develop a working Ara module, including information about the latest version of the protocols, hardware, and standards the Google team has developed.

 

 

 

 

 

Project Ara phones will have a dedicated app for managing modules

Google’s ambitious modular phone is inching closer to a public “market pilot” scheduled for later this year, and ahead of the second Ara developer’s conference later this week, Google has released the second major version of its toolkit for third-party developers to work on the new platform.

If you’re hoping to submit your own module to Google, you should read the included documents closely: Not only does the manual specify important things to know like tolerances, design best practices, and how much power your module can draw, but the new MDK also outlines what Google needs to know before it certifies that a module works with Ara.

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It does appear that Google will take a hands-on approach to certifying each individual module in the Ara marketplace, at least to start. Google’s review process asks for a lot from the developer, who needs to provide, among other requests, a CAD model, 2D drawings, power draw and discharge rates in XML format, and various performance specs.

Once accepted into the Ara Module Marketplace, Google will ship third-party modules directly to users via a logistics provider — so developers don’t need to worry about distribution; they simply have to get their batch of modules to a specified warehouse. Google will also collect the payment (much the way it does in the Google Play app store) and pay developers and vendors directly.

In addition, the MDK mentions that there will be a dedicated “Ara Manager” Android app for users to troubleshoot and configure the modules they plug into their phones. Last month, Two Toasters announced that it was developing the app. Although modules should be hot-swappable, it makes sense that Ara devices would have a hub for user interactions. From the manual:

An Ara Manager App will also be introduced to facilitate user interactions with modules on the device. The Ara Manager App will allow users to get detailed information on all the modules currently attached to their device and swap them by commanding the [electro-permanent magnets] in the Endo to release. The Ara Manager App and required module interfaces will be provided in a future MDK release.

The next big milestone on the Project Ara calendar is the Ara developer’s conference later this week. It will be livestreamed, and hopefully we’ll hear from [company]Google[/company] about the promised new application processor modules, as well as when Project Ara hopes to launch.

Project Ara will offer at least three chip choices, including a Tegra K1

Ahead of the second Project Ara developer’s conference in January, Paul Ermenko, project head, has shared a few more details about what to expect from Google’s ambitious modular phone on his Google Plus page.

One tidbit Eremenko revealed is that the Project Ara team has been working on a module that uses an [company]Nvidia[/company] Tegra K1 processor, which comes from same line of chips that are used in Google’s Nexus 9 tablet. [company]Google[/company] calls it an “application processor” or an “AP,” and it’s a module which houses the CPU, the GPU, RAM, cellular modem, and other core system components. There will also be an AP made with Marvell’s silicon, a company that makes decidedly lower-powered chipsets, including those that power Google’s Chromecast. The [company]Marvell[/company] AP will use the PXA1928, which is a 64-bit quad-core chip based on ARM Cortex A53 cores.

These two new chip module reference designs are in addition to a previously-announced Rockchip-based AP expected to be demoed in early 2015. These three chips will likely cost varying amounts, which fits in with the Project Ara philosophy of offering modular choice for devices starting as inexpensive as $50. But the Tegra K1-based AP indicates that there will be Project Ara options that emphasize performance, as well.

Based on job listings and previous statements made by team members, it looks like Project Ara is gearing up for a “market pilot” next year, although that doesn’t necessarily mean modular phones will be ready for mainstream consumers — not tinkerers — by next holiday season.

There are still several significant challenges that need to be addressed: The devices are still in prototype form, and only in the 2nd half of 2014 did the team demonstrate a Project Ara device successfully booting up in public. In addition, the key to Project Ara is the modules it will work with — whether they house improved processors, cameras, or even unusual sensors like blood glucose meters. The module store is in the works, but it’s still not a concept that’s been tried or tested before. Next year is shaping up to be a key period for Google’s modular phone experiment.