When Android first launched, one of the exciting aspect the developer community loved to muse about was its open source nature and how the ability to put the OS on any device could deliver us a future of Android washing machines and Android ovens.
This future hasn’t quite come to pass yet ( well, there was that ONE Android washing machine) but it has come a few steps closer with the launch of the Android ADK. The Accessories Developer Kit, launched in May, allows Android devices to connect and interoperate with Arduino-based USB devices. In plain language, this means that Google has created a relatively cheap, open, and easy way for external devices to be controlled by an Android device.
How Android Can Top Apple’s Accessories
This isn’t any sort of new landmark, these capabilities are already there with iPhone. However, Apple has complicated hardware innovation with the MFi, or Made for iPhone licensing program, which requires a hardware device to meet performance standards. This hurdle has kept companies from openly innovating on iOS peripherals and opens a major gap for Android to fill. Today the Android ADK is completely open with no NDAs, fees or approval processes to create a hardware device or the software to go with it.
The ADK consists of a hardware and software component. The hardware is based on the well-known Arduino design, and is currently available from several manufacturers. The board is a USB micro-controller, with inputs and outputs are managed by an ADK Shield that attaches to the micro-controller. The software consists of a library based on the Arduino USB Host Shield, the firmware for the micro-controller, the Android Accessory Protocol library, and several third-party libraries that can, among other functions, drive sensors and servos, and the Android application that connects with the accessory.
What’s Being Created With ADK
Thus far there haven’t been any major breakthroughs in the use of the ADK, no one is quite telling the spin cycle to start or the broiler to turn on via their HTC EVO, but some exciting concepts have been born. At the ADK’s release, Google showed an Android game that would plug into an exercise bike and let the rider control his avatar via his peddling speed as well as the Android@Home system that could allow your phone to turn of lights and air conditioners.
In the same way Kinect hackers have been tearing the software apart, finding ways to help the blind and map streets**,** Android developers are only beginning to tinker with the ADK and find new applications. Some of the potential we see in the ADK includes:
- Home Automation: The device is the hub that controls environment (air-conditioning), lighting, entertainment and security systems.
- Medical Monitoring: The device connects to sensors in a garment to collect data around the clock without the patient needing to be in a facility. The device can then encrypt and transmit the data to the physician, or alert them in the case of data indicating a harmful situation developing.
- Personal Robotics: The device communicates with and controls a robot via an app on the device.
- Musical Performance: The device acts as a signal-processor, operating like a multi-effects ‘stomp-box’ to enhance a musicians performance.
- Remote Data Collection: a ruggedized device can be placed in a hostile environment to manage the collection of data – monitoring a volcano, or a waste-facility.
- Augmented Apparel: The device connects to a shirt or jacket that has an e-ink or other flexible panel attached. The device drives the display, allowing one to wear one’s Facebook status or Twitter feed (for just two obvious examples) almost on one’s sleeve.
Over the next few weeks we’ll begin working with the ADK in the Mutual Mobile R&D department looking at ways it could help medical companies gather data from Android-carrying patients, or allow a car manufacturer to have drivers turning on the ignition or the radio from their smartphones.
Look for followup posts as we learn more about the limitations and possibilities the ADK presents.