Android is the most widely used operating system for mobile devices on the planet. With so many IoT devices connecting with Android apps via Google Play (owned by Google... well, Alphabet, technically...) it seemed almost inevitable that Google would release an IoT development platform of their own.
Yesterday, Google announced on their Developers Blog the latest version of their IoT platform called Android Things. So far, Android Things is compatible with Raspberry Pi 3, Intel Edison, and NXP's Pico SoM.
Google's Previous IoT Ventures
If you vaguely remember announcements of Google making ventures into the IoT over the past five years, don't worry—you're not going crazy. This isn't Google's first attempt to join the world of IoT development.
Back in 2011, they announced Android@Home. The platform was developed to make communication between Android devices and IoT devices easier on developers. The flagship device on the consumer end was Project Tungsten (later released, slightly altered, as the Nexus Q), which was supposed to serve as a central hub for an Android-enabled automated home. After a lot of initial excitement and buzz, Android@Home and Project Tungsten disappeared somewhat mysteriously, leaving only a trail of "What Happened to Project Tungsten?" posts and articles online.
Google has had a quite a few projects disappear over the years. You can find the fate of Google Wave here
If you squint, you may see the ghost of Project Tungsten in Google's current digital media player, Chromecast, which displays some similar usability concepts.
The next iteration of Andriod@Home was Project Brillo, which was announced in 2015. The Brillo OS was developed to bring additional compatibility for low-power devices to Android, making it more attractive to embedded developers.
Google actually named Project Brillo after the Brillo pad, a sponge-like apparatus for hard to clean stains on surfaces, capable of stripping said surfaces bare. Aptly named, Project Brillo was an OS that was essentially stripped bare in order to use minimal system resources, making it a good system for low-power IoT devices. This simplicity was one of the four essential pillars of development for the platform:
- Derived from Android
- Minimal system requirements (that's the Brillo part)
- Broad silicon support (i.e., compatibility with most hardware)
- Easy to secure
Will Android Things Actually Be Released?
Considering Google's spotty track record of successfully releasing an IoT platform or modular phones, it's perfectly reasonable to have doubts about it actually making it into the hands of developers. What could be different about this iteration, and what happened to Project Brillo?
Fortunately, this time around, a lot of things are different. First of all, Project Brillo was not stashed away never to be seen again like many other Google developments. In fact, Android Things is Project Brillo! Similar to Project Tungsten's evolution into Nexus Q and Chromecast, Google took the feedback from Project Brillo to make what are hopefully its final improvements and rebrand it as Android Things.
Another positive sign is the announcement of Android Things-compatible development boards. NXP announced their own line of dev boards for Android Things. The two boards so far—which are based around their i.MX 6UltraLite applications processors—will be embedded with IoT connectivity, Google services (like Google Play), Google Weave (not to be confused with Google Wave), Could Vision, and Google's network security protocols.
NXP's goal for these dev boards is to make developing an IoT device faster, less expensive, and (most importantly) easier to secure. It's unlikely that NXP would have invested all that time and money on a platform whose software was going to end up in a figurative vault in a mysterious warehouse like the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Argon i.MX 6UL SOM mounted on its development board. Image courtesy of Argon Boards
Getting Started with Android Things
The last and most promising sign of life for Android Things is that you can download and test it right now! Everything you need to test it out is listed below:
- Android Things Developer Preview
- Weave Developer Guide
- Google Cloud Platform
- Google IoT Developers Community
- Flash Android Things on a Raspberry Pi 3
- Flash Android Things on Intel Edison
- Flash Android Things on an NXP Pico SoM
Hopefully, a full version of Android Things comes out in a timely manner and can deliver on its goals of easy implementation and security. Bringing in Google's track record of success when it comes to cybersecurity could be exactly what the IoT needs right now.
If you've tried Android Things out already, or if there are any helpful guides we might have left out, let us know in the comment section!