Google’s Project Ara Phone Could Have Launched with an Actual Aquarium Module

Feb 26, 2017

Last year’s cancellation of the Project Ara modular handset was disappointing to many who yearned for a radical rethink of the smartphone. It seems fans of tiny aquatic lifeforms also lost out—according to a fascinating new report by VentureBeat, one planned module would have been a miniscule aquarium.

The aquarium project was headed by the adventurous design studio Midnight Commercial. The tiny module would have contained a complete, sealed ecosystem, or biome, including algae, plankton, tiny crustaceans, and tardigrades—a very odd eight-legged microorganism with legendary survival capabilities.

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The aquarium would have included a magnifying camera to let you watch the tiny creatures in your phone. One of the project’s technical challenges was getting that camera to fit into a very limited space.

The camera also proved to be a challenge in another way, generating enough heat to kill the module's residents if left on for too long. By mid-2016, Midnight Commercial was at work on systems to limit camera heat, and figuring out the exact balance of creatures to create a self-sustaining ecosystem in a space just a couple of inches long.

They remain convinced they could have figured it all out, if Google hadn’t cancelled Project Ara entirely.

Having a tiny aquarium in your phone would have been “a way to access some of the thinking around the barrier between organisms, technology, and what the boundary of the human body really is,” said Jamie Zigelbaum, Midnight Commercial’s Creative Director. The project was weird, daring, and could have been amazing—the kind of big trick, just like Project Ara itself, that Google seems just a bit less interested in lately.

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