Google ARA Waterbear Phone Module

Google ATAP > Midnight Commercial

Google ATAP requested a module for their modular ARA phone – something that couldn’t possibly ship in any other phone on the market. Midnight Commercial proposed a self contained biome complete with a digital microscope to view water bears (also known as tardigrades). The challenge was getting the biome, enclosure, image sensor, and magnification optics under the 5mm height restriction.


  • Micro Lens Arrays
  • Contact Imaging
  • Laser Interferometry
  • EDM Machined Flexures
  • Micro-Lasing
  • Micro-biomes

Duties Performed

I was brought in by Midnight Commercial to lead the industrial design and prototyping arms of a fascinating device that mashed up biology, microscopy, and personal electronics. Google’s ATAP team was developing ARA, a modular phone designed to be customizable and incrementally upgradeable. Midnight Commercial pitched a tardigrade enclosure, where these microscopic creatures would exist in a self-contained biome in your phone, where you could monitor their activity and ecosystem through an app interface as part of ATAP’s “this would be impossible to ship with any other phone but ARA” line of modules. My roles on the project included designing equipment to evaluate optical train designs, designing and 3d printing enclosure prototypes, developing measurement devices for evaluating our biome elements in our limited space constraints, working with the biology team to develop a systems-level schema for matching the biological constraints of the environment with the optical, hardware, energy, ID, and manufacturing requirements. Here are a few other features of my work on this project I’m especially proud of:

  • Design of sub-micron laser measurement equipment
  • Development of microlens array manufacture equipment
  • Custom lens design – Precision spatial measurement tool design – Low-profile flexure design

You can find more information about the project on Google’s ARA page, Venture Beat, and Midnight Commercial’s site.

The POE (Precision Optical Evaluator) I designed to measure the tolerances of our custom-made optical elements.
I created these printed test units to rapidly combine multiple chipsets, biomes, and optical stacks together to get an understanding of our optimizations as quickly as possible after the project was go.
Evaluating the image coming through the micro-lens array in the POE.
I designed this flexure plate as a component in the POE to hold a tardigrade biome planar to the optical sensor.
An early design I created for the ID on the module. This design is intended to highlight the unique optical elements supporting the tardigrade module while enclosing it enough to provide a high quality image in-camera.