At Spotlight Android FITC on Saturday brought together some of the best local minds in the city about Android to inform and educate developers on concepts and tactics they can use in their everyday jobs. Pearl Chen of Karma Laboratory or @androidsnsheep on twitter came by to talk about how to use some Arduino with your Android device.
Arduino is as open source electronics hardware platform that is great for rapid prototyping and is primarily for artists, designers, hackers and anyone interested in creating interactive objects. Her talk at Spotlight Android was unique because it focused on not just software development but also on hardware and experimentation.
With these types of technologies becoming more widespread and cost-effective they are starting to converge. Using unique software, innovative hardware, and online access Pearl believes that the factory of the future will be for mass customization instead of products that are all the same. She calls this the third industrial revolution that we are still just at the beginning of.
Part of that process is experimentation and when you think of Android, you think of the little green robot and the deserts that give Android its different flavours. Pearl brought an action-figure sized one to Spotlight Android and using an Arduino micro controller, a few motors and some lights was able to make her Android move and light up just by using her Android phone.
Pearl’s demo with the Android action-figure turned robot and Arduino showed how easy it was to get started. She used an Arduino, an Android app and some coding to make her robot move. Arduino is just one of many open source hardware platforms available, with others that have Android Development Kits being SparkFun IOIO, ODroid ADK, and Microchip PIC24F ADK.
Pearl is a big advocate of the open source community because of the flexibility it allows when compared to walled garden of Apple’s iOS which has more costs associated with it than Android. Open Source software and hardware gives developers the flexibility they need to experiment that’s limited in very controlled platforms like iOS.
The strength of open source API’s is the ability to customize it to your heart’s content and that knowledge is brought back into the community itself which doesn’t happen in a closed ecosystem. Android gives you access to the technologies available on your phone already like the accelerometer, GPS, storage, touch screen, camera, Wi-Fi/3G, temperature sensor, NFC and microphone and the ability to add more sensors and hardware depending on your needs.
I didn’t really understand the coding parts of Pearl’s demo but I was impressed with how simple it seemed and it makes you feel like that type of experimentation is within reach to even those non technically inclined.
Pearl mentioned examples of projects people are already like NASA did with Android in Space where they took a Nexus S and made the phone the brains of a robot in the ISS that could be controlled through the Wi-Fi signal from the ground.
Another project done by the University of California, Berkeley called The Floating Sensor Project. They deployed a fleet of 100 mobile sensors to gather real-time data about the river using a smartphone with a custom-built Android app. The sensor gathers information in real-time and sends it back every few seconds.
As soon as Spotlight Toronto was done Pearl held a peanut butter and jelly hackathon focused on helping people get acquainted with near field communications in person (but not the payment side of things). To Pearl Near Field Communications (NFC) offers an opportunity for simple interactions with people. NFC is a subset of RFID technology but uses low-frequency radio waves which can travel farther distances whereas NFC works only within a few centimeters.
The main benefit of NFC is that it can read as well as write. You can get NFC stickers to augment physical objects and it is great for low friction interactions. These interaction opportunities will only increase as more devices come equipped with NFC. NFC can help make apps feel more tangible, and NFC could be platform agnostic as more platforms integrate the technology.
It was great to see Pearl at Spotlight Android because of her hardware experience because it shows how flexible Android is because of its open source roots. The fact that you can use it with Arduino or NFC to make new interactions with people, objects and devices is a future that can’t come fast enough for me and many of the people who were at Spotlight Android.