At the first Project Ara developer conference this week, project leader Paul Eremenko revealed that Google's modular smartphone is set for a January 2015 release. To come in drab gray so as to encourage personal customization, the device will start at a price of around US$50.

Project Ara comes out of Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division, which is headed by former DARPA director Regina Dugan. ATAP is the only division Google held onto after ending its brief foray into hardware production by selling the phone-manufacturing business it acquired with the purchase of Motorola Mobility in 2011 to Lenovo in January of this year.

Growing out of the Phonebloks concept developed by Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, the Project Ara platform is designed to provide an open structural platform to which various modules, such as display, battery, keypad, etc, can be added. This approach would allow users to customize the device to suit their specific needs and upgrade or replace damaged components without trashing the entire device.

At this weeks first Ara developers conference, Eremenko revealed that the team is aiming for a January 2015 release date for the smartphone, which will pose a number of hurdles that will need to be jumped if that date is to be met – and not just on the hardware side.

The Android OS doesn't currently support modular components so drivers will need to be developed to get everything to play nicely together. Eremenko told the conference attendees that such drivers are scheduled to arrive in December, which is only a month before the hardware is scheduled to roll out to the public.

Eremenko said the metallic Ara chassis is designed to last for five to six years, and will hold the components in place using electro-permanent magnets. Communication between the various components will be handled by the Unified Protocol (UniPro) standard that is used for interconnecting integrated circuits in mobile devices.

According to Phandroid, the roughly $50 price will include the Ara chassis, a display, a battery module, low-end application processor, Android OS, and Wi-Fi module. There are also three different sizes planned, including mini, regular and phablet.