Google's aborted Ara phone was supposed to launch with an aquarium module full of wriggling tardigrades

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That only seems moderately weird. But then, I just watched Swiss Army Man.


Somehow this seems emblematic of everything that was wrong with the Ara phone.

From capabilities that only a vanishingly small number of uber-nerds care about, to gratuitous form-factor bloat in what’s supposed to be a handheld device, to difficult technical challenges that went unappreciated by people with no expertise in the problem they were trying to solve…the tardigrade module has it all.


It isn’t just the concept itself that sells it for me; the idea that the phone’s software helps manage the aquarium is fantastic.


“Google’s aborted Ara phone was supposed to launch with an aquarium module full of wriggling tardigrades”

So google really as going for a “kitchen sink” approach?


Just FYI, the speedy critter that zips in from the left and then leaves is not the tardigrade. The tardigrades are the two on the right munching on the clumps of stuff. The smaller one is harder to see.


So, kinda like a little Sea Monkey aquarium inside your phone? That’s pretty crazy. I wouldn’t mind having a tardigrade biome at home, actually. That would be fun for the kid. And probably a lot easier to maintain than something on the phone.

@Kimmo; good?


Yeah, forget the phone, I just want a tardigrade aquarium.


My first thought is: nearly everyone I know has a cracked screen on their phone. How long do you think that little aquarium would last?


Wait, you were supposed to attach physical modules? Like… telephoto lenses and aftermarket carburetors? And they go click?

I wonder why this didn’t catch on.


OK, imma let you guys in on a little piece of genius programming that I stumbled upon within the Play store a loooong time ago, and has since become my go to wallpaper on any android device.:

I bring you Swamp Water, the most perfect (imho, ofc) live wallpaper I’ve ever seen.

Seriously, if you think you might like magnified critters swimming accross your screen a la this rather tardy (sorry) idea for the Ara, then this is your best bet.


I know, right? Imagine the possibilities! There are all kinds of things that a phone cannot emulate with just software, but are super cheap to make.
Air quality sensors; measurement lasers; anything involving lasers; speaker enhancement…


I oversaw the optical and mechanical design on the tardigrade ARA module. It was a truly mad concept. A lot of the appeal of this project, and the ARA phone in general, was the ability to integrate peripherals with the phone no other manufacturer would even imagine shipping. In some ways the tardigrade module was to be the “least able to be integrated into a unibody phone ever” module. The eventual plan was to figure out how to get smaller players on board for things like science-specific or education-specific modules for your phone so you could load in all the modules you needed for, say, teaching your beginner electronics workshop in the morning, and swap them for your load out for trail riding in the afternoon.


Ha, that’s cool. I was thinking more along the lines of decentralized, depersonalized data gathering for things like climate change and such but that works too.


The hard thing to figure out for what would work best in the ARA ecosystem, was what actually belonged attached to your phone and in your pocket, and what would have a better time as a peripheral tethered via bluetooth, etc. For things like temp sensing, you actually need some sophisticated programming to be 100% sure you’re distinguishing indoor temp from outdoor temp from the temperature inside someone’s pocket.


You probably already have a very large number of them in and around your home.


Just put the tardigrades in a sealed, opaque container and they will remain in the alive, dead, and cryptobiotic states simultaneously.


It’s a neat idea, but what I hate about Android phones is that if you want a simple protosomia app to work, you have to give it permission to access the entire animal kingdom.

They say it’s because certain metabolic functions are common to all animals, and so a developer would never, for example, try to sneak an elephant in through a secret backdoor. Oh, how comforting, an anonymous developer somewhere promises not to do anything shady. But even if I believed that, any phone is just one exploit away from some Romanian script kiddie filling my house with wildebeests because Android couldn’t be bothered to limit permissions.


Sure, Moto recently came out with the same thing, clip on devices that change the back from a giant battery to a projector.


Sea-Monkeys were a disappointment too.