Google empowers hardware hackers with the Android ADK

Google wants thousands of peripherals connected to Android devices; if you don't see what you like, you can build it yourself

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Of course, if you don't want to build the hardware yourself, you can buy it. Google I/O attendees received a free version of the reference hardware built by RT Corp., a Japanese manufacturer of robotics equipment.

The base board of the ADK hardware is derived from the popular Arduino open source electronics prototyping platform. Attached to that is a second board that provides the Android interface, along with a range of sensors and input devices, including a joystick, three buttons, three LEDs, a light sensor, a temperature sensor, a touch sensor, two software-operable relays, and three connectors for servo motors.

The variety of components available on the reference hardware should give you an idea of the breadth of peripherals that can be built to interact with Android devices. Google envisions a world full of Android Accessories of all kinds, from toys and robots to tools, sensors, and even household appliances. As Google engineering director Joe Britt said at the conference keynote, "We'd like to think of your entire home as an Android Accessory."

To that end, Google is developing a new framework it calls Android@Home, with the aim of extending Android interactivity into areas not normally associated with computing. To demonstrate, Britt showed off an app running on an Android handset that could dim the lights onstage.

Has ubiquitous computing arrived?
Google isn't the first company to have this vision. "Ubiquitous computing" has been the Holy Grail of computing vendors for years. As far back as 2001, HP Labs launched the Cooltown Project, aimed at developing "systems that support the users of wireless, handheld devices interacting with their environment, anywhere they may be."

Back then, however, handheld devices were hardly ubiquitous themselves. Palm PDAs had generated a lot of buzz, but they were still used mostly by white-collar tech workers. What's more, they had no broadband wireless data capability. (Cooltown actually proposed communications between devices via infrared pulses, like a TV remote.)

Today, smartphones are becoming commonplace, with mobile carrier subsidies pricing them within the reach even of lower-income consumers. And with the near-universal availability of high-bandwidth wireless data networks, the ways in which smart handsets can exchange data with smart appliances and peripherals are virtually unlimited.

There's a third piece of the puzzle, though, and that's the advent of cloud computing. When smartphones can connect not merely to peripheral devices, but also to powerful computing services that can store and process data and make it available wherever you go, it enables an entire new range of applications that yesterday's ubiquitous computing initiatives never imagined. As such, Android is rapidly becoming one of the most important tools for ushering in the post-PC era, and the ADK is just the next step in its ongoing advance.

This article, "Google empowers hardware hackers with the Android ADK," originally appeared at Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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