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Google Shows Off Modular, Upgradeable Smartphone

At a developer conference for Project Ara,  Google's upcoming modular smartphone platform, executives showed off a prototype build-it-yourself handset and described a roadmap for future plans. The company also disclosed that the most basic version of the Ara will cost $50, but a release date hasn't been announced yet. 

While the prototype the company showed wasn't working due to unfinished code, its hardware appeared to be in good condition. During the demonstration, project head Paul Eremenko easily slid out a Wi-Fi module from the prototype and attached a pulse oximeter that measures your blood oxygen level. With Project Ara devices, you'll be able to swap out anything from batteries and cameras to displays and processors without using any tools .

MORE: Google's Project Ara: 7 Things You Need to Know

Your $50 will get you a basic endoskeleton on which you'll be able to attach modules such as cameras or fingerprint scanners. Each endoskeleton will carry a screen, processor and microSD card. The Ara phones will run Android, but Eremenko expects that developers will provide support for alternate OSes. 

A Module Developers Kit (MDK) was released today so developers can start working on creating modules from eye-tracking units to wrist straps with pulse rate sensors. This means we can expect to see a wide availability of parts when the phone eventually launches, although Google doesn't intend to produce the modules, just the endoskeletons. 

Many of Project Ara's parts, including antennae and shells, will be printed with a custom-built full color 3D printer that will use a racetrack-style architecture to facilitate high-volume output. Consumers will be able to use phone or shell maker apps to customize their phones and order modules. This is reminiscent of Motorola's Moto Maker program, but the 3D-printed shells for Project Ara should offer consumers much more design freedom. 

Eremenko expects to show a working prototype of the phone in the near future (potentially tomorrow) and hopes to make a call from stage at "a future developer's conference." Google's I/O developer conference runs from June 25th to 26th.