Open Letter to the Project Ara Development Team: 3rd Party Accessibility

Date  : 2015 Jan 15
Edited: 2015 Jan 15, 16:50

dear google ara team,

my name's luke leighton, i am a software libre developer and entrepreneur
who has turned to hardware design, including the development of modular
computing standards.  the primary focus of the standards that i create
are accessibility for 3rd party manufacturers, so that even a single
individual with a budget of $USD 15k may give serious consideration to
getting a fully working prototype up and running and thus gain access
to crowdfunding.

as you have access to the financial resources of google you may not be
aware of the fact that access to even the most basic of datasheets and
even some components is flat-out impossible when developing products.

the reason i say that you may not be aware of this - or may not have
considered it - is because by the very virtue of working for google,
manufacturing doors are opened to you, and that really is the end of
the matter.

everything however is not so simple for everyone else as it is for you:
you may have heard about the LCD Manufacturing Cartels for example:
several Executives of top LCD Manufacturing Companies were jailed a
few years ago.  many of the companies that welcome the project ARA
initiative do so because of the potential for profit maximisation,
leaving their current business strategies including near-monopoly,
exclusive relationships and cartelling practices not only intact but
actually *strengthened* by the innovation (exclusiveness) spurred
ironically by this amazing and exciting initiative.

so i am deeply concerned that companies such as FairPhone would find
it flat-out impossible to even *remotely* consider sourcing their own
ethically and socially-responsible components, for example.  their first
phone was "merely" a batch of 60,000 units, which is barely at the level
where certain component suppliers will even answer a phone call.

to make this point clearer: in looking at the Project Ara technical
overview, the back-bone is based on MIPI UniPro.  a quick search for
"MIPI UniPro" shows a wikipedia page, two pages of Fabless Semiconductor
"Hard Macros" from companies such as Cadence, Synopsis and Mentor, one
company that has been working closely to develop the standards... and
absolutely *zero* products.  no chipsets: nothing.can even *remotely*
be found that an intelligent experienced Hardware Engineer can find.

contrast that to searching for "LVDS IC" or "USB Hub IC" for example.

now whilst i appreciate that it is early days, the fact remains that
development of an entirely new standard is either a blessing (something
new and fresh, to learn from the lessons of the past and to plan for
the future)... or it is yet another accidental and unintentional cartel


my question to you, is: as the people who are responsible for this
exciting new development, what pro-active action are you taking to ensure
that cartelling is not - intentionally or accidentally - associated with
Project Ara?

i look forrward to hearing about this project's roadmap to guarantee
that *all* chipsets and components are readily accessible to even the
smallest entrepreneurial hardware engineers.
"I want to know how small time developers are expected to implement MIPI UniPro in their Ara modules. * How to purchase small runs of UniPro ASICs (how is a hobbyist supposed to from aloof suppliers) * How the module would communicate the UniPro bus (I heard it was something involving the open source greybus, but documentation is sparse...) * How a custom CPU module communicates with hardware (so one day, we might be able to implement your FLOSS CPU as a module)" Something along that line. That's what I'd like to know, at least. I have ideas for Ara modules, but I won't be able to construct them if I can't get a UniPro controller.