Project Ara

Google keeps Motorola's wild advanced technology team, melds it with Android

Although Google is selling Motorola's handset business to Lenovo, the search giant isn't letting go of Motorola's more ambitious projects.

Google plans to keep Motorola's Advanced Technologies and Projects division, whose work includes smart tattoos and modular smartphones. Regina Dugan, the former DARPA director who now heads the Motorola group, will stay with Google, and the entire division will become part of Google's Android team.

Motorola's stranger projects included a smart tattoo and an authentication pill, both of which could allow users to sign into Web services without a password. The tattoo, which Dugan showed off last May, includes an antenna and a handful of sensors for authentication, and can stretch to 200 times its original size. The pill, meanwhile, would be swallowed every morning like a vitamin, and would generate an ECG-like signal that can be read by phones or tablets for authentication.

Both of those projects dovetail with Google's own efforts to move beyond the password. Google engineers have written about letting users prove their identities with a finger ring or some other device that they're always carrying, and last year Google joined the FIDO Alliance, which is working on stronger authentication standards. A tattoo or pill would be more convenient than jewelry, though it'd also be a bit creepier.

Project Ara

Motorola's other advanced effort is Project Ara, a plan for modular smartphones where users snap on every individual component. Motorola wanted to create a free open hardware platform, allowing companies to sell screens, storage units, processors and other components straight to the user. The idea was to reduce waste and provide more choice by letting users update only what they need instead of replacing their phones outright. An alpha "Module Developer's Kit" is supposedly in store for this winter.

It's unclear when any of these ideas will actually come to market, and Google may be more interested in the talent rather than the actual projects Motorola was working on. Still, Google's decision to keep the division intact suggests that there's more than just vaporware here.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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