London-based Canonical has launched the most ambitious crowdfunding project in history, asking for $32m (£20.8m) of investment in just one month to create the Ubuntu Edge, described as the Formula One of smartphones.

Ubuntu Edge
The Ubuntu Edge will have an unprecedented 128GB of storage and a sapphire crystal screen.

Launched on 22 July, the Indiegogo campaign has already reached $400,000 from more than 600 contributors, and the company hopes to use the $32m raised to design, produce and deliver the phone by May 2014.

The Ubuntu Edge is hoped to be the most powerful and feature-packed smartphone ever made. Although plans for the phone have not yet been finalised, the Ubuntu team want it to have a 4.5in display - however they say pixel density does not need to go beyond 300 per inch - and be powered by "the fastest available multi-core processor," with at least 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage - more than any smartphone on sale today.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, said the Edge smartphone is "the ultimate convergence device - challenging established norms for PCs and smartphones. The crowdfunding approach is a new way to prove demand for cutting edge technologies and new classes of device; supporting the Ubuntu Edge is the best way to catalyse the next generation of personal devices from industry."

Announced at Mobile World Congress in February, the Ubuntu mobile operating system is designed to work on mid- to high-end smartphones, but also acts as a desktop environment when the device is connected to a large screen, keyboard and mouse - something no other mobile operating system does.

The Ubuntu Edge will also dual-boot so it can run Android and all apps downloaded from Google's Play Store.

Canonical says the Edge's screen will be covered in sapphire crystal instead of glass, making it stronger and much more resistant to scratches, while mobile connectivity will be enhanced by including dual-LTE bands, meaning the phone will work on 4G networks in the US and Europe with the same hardware.

Shuttleworth likens the smartphone industry to the motor industry, stating that while car manufacturers have Formula One as a testbed to try out new technologies, smartphone makers do not, so they hold back and only develop products which they know will be a mainstream success.

"It's like everyone is driving mass-produced sedans," Shuttleworth said. "We don't have a consumer testbed for cutting edge technologies, but we do have a new mechanism for driving innovation - crowdfunding."

Fans or investors looking to fund the Ubuntu Edge project can do so in five tiers: $20, $600, $830, $10,000 and $80,000.

The first level gets funders a place for their name on the Ubuntu Edge Founders page and can consider themselves a part of the community.

For $600 - but only on the 22 July launch date - funders will receive their own Ubuntu Edge once the device has entered production next year, while $830 is the regular price for the phone once the discounted initial offer ends.

Those willing to invest $10,000 will receive one of the first 50 Edge devices to roll off the production line, along with email access to the designers and engineers behind the project; they will also be sent a VIP invitation to join Shuttleworth at the Edge's unveiling event at a later date.

Finally, for $80,000 backers will receive 100 Ubuntu Edge smartphones for use in their company, plus access to practice workshops and 30 days of online support to help IT managers integrate Ubuntu for Android into the workplace.

Anyone can invest in the project, but devices will only be posted for free to those in the UK and US - postage to all other countries will cost $30 on top of the donation.

The company admits that if the lofty $32m target cannot be reached then the focus will switch away from making the Edge, and instead all of Canonical's efforts will be put into developing the Ubuntu operating system for commercially available handsets.

Shuttleworth concluded: "To make the future of mobile happen we'll have to smash every record in crowdfunding history. But if there are enough enthusiasts who want the ultimate in performance storage, screen, battery and bandwidth, Ubuntu Edge will be the catalyst for awesome innovation, and a taste of the future of the phone."