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.