Google’s Project Ara is one of the company’s most ambitious projects. It’s a modular phone, in which users could snap in new cameras, batteries, or processors as quickly as snapping together Lego.
Thus far, Google has been focused primarily on just bringing Ara to reality, and creating a piece of open source hardware that can squeeze into your pocket. But designers at the Russian firm Lapka–nominees of our 2013 Innovation by Design awards, who have their ‘environmental sensors’ on sale at Urban Outfitters–have imagined what Ara would be in their hands. Their vision, seen here, is a quirky, stylish, celebration of color and form that squeezes modules that detect air quality, CO2, blood glucose, light, and your heartbeat all into your hand.
Sleek and subtle? Not at all. This thing has vents. Instead, Lapka’s founder Vadik Marmeladov tells us his firm was inspired by the brash fashions of high-end sneakers–a collection of various fabrics and foams that assemble into a design forward accessory.
“Everything about Project Ara is five years ahead of the curve…well, except their design,” Marmeladov tells Co.Design. “I think the design should be a visual and cultural milestone as well.”
In an email interview, Marmeladov went on to suggest that Google needs to develop an Ara design language–what their Material Design is for software–for Ara hardware. To some extent Google, along with New Deal Design (a firm that’s consulted on Ara) has built some of that design language tacitly. In Google’s latest Ara marketing materials, Ara is becoming, something distinctive across its mosaic of hypothetical modules.
Even still, Marmeladov’s point is well-taken. The limits of what Ara hardware can be need to be established, and Lapka’s pocket-stretching, shoe-inspired design exemplifies it. Ara can’t be a shuriken of pointy hardware and also a smartphone as we think of it today. But at the same time, Ara’s truest potential live in its infinite possibilities, and the fact that it’s not constrained to one fixed shape.
“The Ara platform allows you to extend the shape of your phone to any dimension,” Marmeladov says. “Our concept, for instance, transforms the phone to desktop mobile laboratory. Imagine making a microscope as a module . . . or a chair.”
I’m not sure Lapka’s Ara concept is the perfect vision of what Ara could or should be, or even an entirely realistic one. But it’s asking questions necessary to the platform’s evolution. What are the limits on open-ended hardware? And how can we make an infinite collection of hardware modules practical and cohesive? Maybe high tops aren’t such a bad place to start.