An early look at Project Ara demonstrates how electro-permanent magnets will hold blocks of the modular phone in place. This approach works both with and without power for the handset, which will be available in three sizes.

Project Ara shell

The first Project Ara developer conference takes place in two weeks to move Google’s modular phone platform effort forward. The project aims to offer a range of personalized phones made up from small bricks; each with different functions. Customers can choose the features of their phone and even swap out old blocks with new ones.

Project Ara isn’t just a concept, though. In this video from Phonebloks that introduces some of the Project Ara team members you can see how the group has engineered the blocks to fit together, making up a complete phone.

The blocks are held together with electro-permanent magnets which are a combination of electromagnets that use power and permanent magnets that don’t. This will allow the modules to stay in place even when the phone is not on.

One of the other interesting aspects I noted when watching is that Project Ara is looking at three different phone sizes that can be customized. That’s a smart move as there’s no “perfect” one-size-fits-all handset size. Of course, if you go with the smaller phone, you won’t be able to fit as many function modules in it so there could be some compromise involved unless multi-purpose blocks are made available.

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