Android OS is one of the leading OS across the globe due to several reasons. One of them is that it’s easy to customize, user-friendly, and has massive numbers of users. So, can Android be used for embedded systems?
In this article, we are going to discuss whether Android can be used for these systems and several other topics that revolve around this.
Android OS for embedded devices
As you read this article, you will agree that in this era, such devices are all over the place. If your intention is to find a device that doesn’t have one, then, you will have a hard time finding one.
Besides that, there have been campaigns in favor of such systems since they create several new opportunities by exploiting all the Android functionalities.
These systems are simply perceived as those that act as the entire brain of a complicated mechanical or electrical system. Merging computer equipment is done to come up with a logic center that is tasked with controlling the entire device operations. The device operations being dependent on the device or the machine.
Besides that, it could also perform a number of tasks ranging from activating a drawbridge all the way to triggering your ice machine.
You need to know that the entire set of electrical components such as signal processors, RAM, resistors, capacitors, COM ports, and even microprocessors are all managed by an embedded software OS. Alongside that, you also need to know that such operating systems have been traditionally tuned to certain tasks and are unfamiliar with the technical community.
The fact remains that embedded technology is seen to have slowed down the computer world in feature advancements. However, a standard embedded system is tasked with a specific function. It’s not built to be a platform for many uses, but only that given task that it was built for.
Currently, there have been many developments of embedded technology that are using customized versions of the Android OS for embedded systems. At first glance, many might think that using an Android Operating System is a mistake for an embedded system, but what they may be overlooking is that Android is already an embedded OS. When carefully traced, its roots lead all the way back to Linux.
The place where Android fits as an embedded operating system outside of mobile devices, is mainly for devices that need a user interface or even multimedia capabilities. Besides that, you also need to know that Android OS for embedded systems provides several benefits over proprietary embedded OS, putting aside the smallest one, which is the global knowledge on how to build the platform.
Apart from that, the many advantages that you need to know of are not limited to:
- Stable and reliable kernel
- Lack of licence fees or even royalties
- Huge library of open-source code and device drivers
All the components mentioned above are merged to form a complete embedded system that becomes more accessible to developers and even manufacturers.
As much as embedded Android is vouched for, it has drawbacks as well. Like other general-purpose embedded operating systems, the code base comes along with processing overhead and a huge memory whenever weighed with other proprietary embedded operating systems. There is also an essential task that is perhaps not relevant or not related to the embedded systems on devices that go beyond mobile phones.
You should also know that the greatness of an open-source operating system such as Android is that firms can get rid of, alter, and add the needed source code to meet their business goals and even the standards that they want.
As opposed to ancient components such as buttons, LEDs, and even character LCD modules that were more useful to embedded systems of the past, the future embedded systems are believed to be a plus in that they will be more intelligent, configurable, and linked thus the need of a new design to the user interface. In this technology era, users are used to more complicated and advanced user interfaces - the ones that have touchscreens, and on-screen keyboards.
Again, LCDs and even touch screens only add unnecessary costs to building embedded system products in areas such as board costs and in software support. Fortunately, there are other better, more cost-efficient ways when developing your embedded system with an easily programmable user interface.
So, instead of developing an embedded system with an LCD and touchscreen, why not choose to exploit the benefits of the LCD and touchscreen that many people carry alongside them in their pockets every day?
In other words, these are Android-enabled smartphones and tablets. The Android OS for embedded systems offers several features for interfacing with future embedded systems.
Can Android communicate with embedded systems?
The right answer to this question is a yes. Below is a list of ways that system engineers can use Android-powered devices in development:
- Universal Serial Bus
The Universal Serial Bus (USB) acts as the connector used when charging Android smartphones and tablets, and also syncs them with a PC. The same connector can also be used to enhance communication with an embedded system. Besides that, you also need to know that this process will only function on Android phones but not others such as iPhones since they use proprietary communications on their ports. This interface method is being pushed by Google in the form of The Accessory Development Kit (ADK).
ADK was built by Google to help in the interfacing of Android products with embedded systems. Whenever an Android device is linked or connected to an embedded system, the Android device becomes the user interface of the embedded system. When using the Android device, the users enjoy complete access to a touchscreen, and enjoy benefits such as touchscreen gestures like zoom, scroll, and even pan alongside other features of the device interface to configure and also control the embedded system. When the user completes everything, they simply unplug their device.
When using this method, the user also enjoys having his or her phone charging when being used as an interface with the embedded system. Bringing along the USB technology takes the user interface experience to another greater level and adds close to $5 to the total cost of the board.
- Near Field Communications
Near Field Communications (NFC) is considered the easiest way that can be used to leverage the Android interface with embedded systems. You also need to know that the NFC is a license-free, bidirectional communication system, with also a wide range of approximately one foot. It can also be brought along in the embedded system for a cost that doesn’t go beyond one dollar, making it not only the simplest but also being the least expensive way to go.
This method is a plus when it comes to configuring an embedded system. The amazing graphics, GPS positioning, complex calculations and internet communications present on the Android OS are all implemented as a part of an application on the smart device.
Here, the users only need to operate the application on their smart device, fill all the needed parameters through the Android user interface, and then only need to hold their personal smart device near the embedded equipment. The smart device then uses NFC to send all the configuration information from the device to the embedded system.
Upon completing the transfer, the embedded system is configured, and will begin to operate immediately; from here the user can then feel free to move away from the embedded system with their smart device. After some time, when the user needs to send any stored data from the embedded system, all that they need to do is to again move their smart devices near the embedded system and use the NFC to transfer the wanted data or information.
Another alternative to connecting an embedded system with a smart device is by adding Wi-Fi to the embedded system. In the old days, adding Wi-Fi to an embedded system was always very expensive, unlike today when one can easily add Wi-Fi at a lower cost of $10.
Even though this is the most expensive option that we have discussed in this article, you still need to know that it’s considered to be cheaper than opting for a touch panel LCD. An embedded system having Wi-Fi can be used in several areas such as serving web pages and allowing interface with any of the smart devices or tablets.
Being supported in several smart devices, Bluetooth is also seen as an advantage that can be used in embedded systems since it's cheaper when fixed on the embedded system. At a similar cost of adding a USB of $5, you can also add Bluetooth.
Bluetooth also boasts of better performance, such as having better ranges when compared to NFC and not as that one offered by a Wi-Fi connection. The only drawback that you are likely to face with Bluetooth is that it has compatibility issues.
Android may not currently be the main Operating System for embedded devices, but it is definitely best suited to the task. Android has already taken over the mobile sector for various reasons, and the niche that is embedded devices will soon follow.