Google ARA Waterbear Phone Module

I worked with Midnight Commercial and Google ATAP to produce a tiny biome and microscope to fit inside of their ARA phone.

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.

A tardigrade molting and another loping into frame (captured by Noah Feehan)

I was brought in to lead the industrial design and prototyping arms of a totally bonkers device that mashed up biology, microscopy, and personal electronics. I worked with Noah Feehan to turn his system architecture into physical hardware. I had the help of Jesse Gonzales on hardware prototyping, and Sam Posner on Android development. I led physical prototyping, testing equipment design, set and managed the goals for the biological research track performed by Genspace, and developed a custom microlens array with the help of MTF simulations and optics engineering expertise from Cody Daniel.

The POE (Precision Optical Evaluator) was my biggest engineering push of the whole project. It is a flexure-based system for sub-micron positioning and measurement for the elements that went into the optical stack: the light source, microlens array, and optical sensor. By getting these elements together along with laser triangulation sensors logging the distances between them, we were able to nail down the optical quality of the output based off of positions to get a scope of our eventual manufacturing tolerances.

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