I am a great fan of using Android for vertical single-use purposes. I have worked on several projects on camera-specific and Android TV devices that stretch ways in which devices and the Android OS were originally intended to be used.
Today, I came a cross a new usecase – camera only (without phone). Imagine an Android-based camera that has 16 sensors, 10 firing simultaneously to achieve multiple focal lengths all at the same time. Imagine software that stitches the images together to achieve a 52MP image. This is the Light L16, which has effectively a 35-150mm optical zoom and an aperture of f1.2.
It has been said that this device has the potential to disrupt D-SLRs – all powered by a smartphone OS.
VIA Technologies have a new survey (pdf) of their customers from a range of embedded backgrounds asking them about their use of Android for embedded applications.
Up to now most low power Bluetooth beacons have been fairly limited devices that only transmit simple information that can be used for ‘presence’ based applications. Some can send extra information such as battery life to the phone and some you can remotely cause to beep or flash but most of the innovative ideas have revolved around using them to detect presence and trigger content to be shown, for example, in retail stores or museums.
TI have something interesting with their new CC2650 SensorTag that connects to Android or iOS (as an iBeacon) providing support for up to 10 low-power sensors for ambient light, digital microphone, magnetic sensor, humidity, pressure, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, object temperature and ambient temperature.
The possibilities suddenly become far more exciting and seemingly endless. For example, in sport you might attach one to your sports equipment (racquet, golf club or whatever) to analyse technique. In health, you might attach one to yourself or someone else (elderly?) to detect movement. In security, they might be attached to high-value items to protect in various (theft, dampness, extreme movement) ways or used as the basis for a home security system.
The CC2650 is available as a tag for $29 or the chip that does the work is available in large quantities, for use in your own hardware designs, for around $6.
Update: Looking closer at the one I have purchased, the $29 tag has a very restricted license that says you can’t use it in a finished product or production solution – presumably mainly because it’s not FCC approved . It’s for evaluation purposes only. That’s a shame as it’s a large step to have to integrate the chip in your own board, even if you base it on their ‘open’ hardware design.
Imagination have a new CI20 development board that can run Android 4.4. It uses a MIPS-based 1.2GHz dual core processor, includes 1Gb RAM, 4Gb flash and SD card support. There’s also HDMI, audio out, a camera interface, Ethernet, WiFi and Bluetooth. There’s also connection via 2 x UART, 25 x GPIO, 2 x SPI, I2C, ADC, expansion headers and the 14-pin ETAG connector. All for $65 (£50) inc VAT + delivery, available from the end of January.
I seem to be increasingly working for clients on custom, vertical, products made from general-purpose Android hardware. Over the last few years I have worked on five such projects. Android is a great way to program at a high level on a Single Board Computer (SBC). The only thing I would say is to program as little as possible that’s specifically for the board. Boards tend to be here today, gone tomorrow so if you do end up writing board specific code then abstract it away (separate into a particular code area/library) so that replacing the board doesn’t become so problematic.
A Kickstarter project came to fruition recently with the availability of the UDOO quad core 1GHz single board computer
that can run Android 4.3. The board measures only 11cm x 8.5cm and has 76 fully available GPIOs, HDMI, WiFi, Ethernet, USB, Mini USB and type A USB.
This board is great for experimentation and might even find itself used in Internet of Things (IoT) projects.
A long time ago, in 2007, I wrote about using Symbian as a replacement embedded development platform. In 2010, I again wrote about Android Beyond Phones and Apps, Apps for Phones that aren’t Owned and Embedded Projects on Android.
Roll forward to today and these things have started to become a reality. The current project I am working on is based on the Android Google TV platform even though it’s not for use as a settop box. A previous project I worked on, currently being trialed at London’s Morefields Eye Hospital, implements medical imaging using a high resolution Android camera phone.
All this has come about due to lower device costs and greater device diversity. Android isn’t just about phones. It’s also about USB pen based devices, hard drive based TV boxes, small tablets without a phone and even rugged devices.
Other examples of Android-based products include…
As I wrote previously, I believe such solutions offer longer lasting and potentially more profitable opportunities than the usual apps/services paradigm.
The University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland has a student technical report (pdf) on using Android in Industrial Automation. More specifically, they have created a spectrum analyser to demonstrate how to interface Android with external hardware.
The report is extremely detailed and describes how to configure the Beagleboard for Android, how to port libusb to Android and there’s even a schematic for the analogue front end.
I particularly like this project because it demonstrates how Android can be used for a much larger range of applications. It’s also great they have documented everything so that other people can more easily create Android embedded projects.
Why use Android rather than other embedded Linux platforms? As the report says…
“You will never find such a rich set of user APIs for Networking, UI, Bluetooth, OpenGL etc. Furthermore, since Android runs on a Linux Kernel, you can still use all your existing native C/C++ projects as you would with any other embedded Linux system.”