While most popular consumer technology has been moving toward simple, seamless objects that are hard to tweak or repair, Google is working on an ambitious idea to create smartphones that consumers can easily change and upgrade by themselves.

Known as Project Ara, these smartphones would begin as simple skeletons that owners would have to flesh out with everything from a processor and display to a cellular radio and camera. Each of these pieces would be sold as a small square or rectangular block, called a module, which can be slid into and out of a phone's skeleton depending on what its owner wants and needs — Google is even expecting to see some nontraditional cellphone parts pop up, such as an incense burner.

Project Ara comes from Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP). The project actually began while ATAP was still a part of Motorola, but it and Ara transferred over to Google after its sale of Motorola to Lenovo was announced. Google's plan as of early 2014 is to have the first Ara smartphones go on sale in the first quarter of 2015, initially targeting extremely low prices with the hope that people will buy them and improve them over time as they have the need and interest for more features.