USB support for Android
While Google is trying to simplify the complexity of Android
releases, it is also aggressively extending the software to support accessories
and home automation. In this way the message from Google has changed.
In its early days, Android used to be focused solely on the
mobile phone. These days Google execs are quick to note Android is now reaching
out to tablets, TVs and a growing set of other devices.
Android will support USB for the first time on the next
version of its software for tablets, Honeycomb 3.1, and the smartphone version,
Gingerbread 2.3.4. The support includes a new Open Accessory API which includes
USB 2.0 support libraries from Google.
Android is unusual in that when working with a peripheral the handset is defined as a device, not a
host environment under Linux. Thus Android USB accessories will technically be
USB hosts. However, Andorid also offers a USB host mode. The Google USB libraries aim to smooth over the sometimes confusing distinctions for
The device/host situation means Android USB accessories will
not be able to get power over USB from Android handsets or tablets. Google is
not developing support for USB 3.0.
Google, Microchip and RT Corp. of Japan announced hardware
developer kits for building Android USB accessories based on the popular Arduino
board. The Microchip board uses a MIPS-based processor and will be available by
June for $79, and was demoed in an online video. Robotics developer RT Corp. showed two boards, an Arduino board
and a separate sensor board it will sell together for $380.
Google said it will also release support for Android
accessories using Bluetooth in the future. A Google manager contrasted the new
Android peripheral market to the tightly controlled one maintained by Apple for
its iPhone and iPad.
"There will be no NDAs or fees and no approval process
to build accessories, so go get started," said Hugo Barra, director of
product management for Android at Google.
Separately Google announced Android @ Home, an initiative to
link Android devices to a broad range of home appliances and home automation
devices over Wi-Fi or a new low cost wireless home control network. Lighting
Science (Satellite Beach, Fla.) an LED light and switch maker, said it will
release $35 LED light bulbs as well as gateways by the end of year that can be
controlled wirelessly by Android devices.
Google is expected to release late this year open source
code for a 915 MHz wireless mesh protocol that will be a low cost alternative
to Zigbee or Z-Wave. It could require as little as 16 Kbytes RAM and 32 Kbytes
flash, enabling a bill of materials 30 percent lower than Zigbee Pro. The
Google protocol will enable frequency hopping and ride on top of the 6LoWPAN
spec from the Internet Engineering Task Force.
The @ Home initiative includes a hardware reference design
for controlling home media systems, called Project Tungsten. Google demoed a
Tungsten box linked to the Web, controlling a stereo and capable of buying or
starting an Internet audio stream based on waving a device with a near field
"This combination of new cloud services, software and
devices enables a whole universe of applications," said a Google developer
giving the demo.
The Android @ Home software and details of its wireless
network support will be released late this year.
Microchip's $79 Android USB dev kit