Monday, October 18, 2010

Breaking Hardware Barriers: Linux vs. Android Gadgets

Here's a quick video showing off the DIY Android Modular Gadget I made with Chris:

As it turns out, getting Android up and running on the Beagleboard is not too hard. Others have done it before. The hard part is doing it on a little modular gadget, that you can touch and type on the screen with natively, like any other Android gadget.

Ever since Google started controlling how many Android development kits are released, developers have had very few options for programming on Android. My goal was to make an Android Development Kit that significantly reduced the amount of time it normally takes to integrate custom hardware into the Android development.

Breaking barriers
Rapid prototyping with open source hardware isn't easy. It's certainly easier today than it was 5 or 10 years ago, and I like to think based on the emails and messages and calls I've gotten from friends and fellow developers, that projects like the Open SciCal and the Linux-based Beagleboard Embedded Starter Kit help.

In the last couple months, I've been hacking away on the Linux modular gadget platform, and for most applications, it's amazingly fast and sharp. The only time it's lacking a bit is when it comes to developing a quick and dirty GUI.

Linux vs. Android
Embedded systems development can take two very different forms. On the one hand, it can rely heavily on low level programming languages, and a native Linux cross-language, multi-compiler, shell-integrated environment. This is useful for building applications like scientific calculators, data loggers, industrial design and automation controllers. Basically, it's good for devices that don't need glitzy GUI's, but rather, need to do heavy duty analytical work.

On the other hand, sometimes embedded systems development is lighter on the analysis, and relies more heavily on sensor polling and on presenting real-time data readouts from sensors to a user. It might be a remote control, home automation gadget, LAN network diagnostic utility, etc. That's when Android shines, because it makes developing a clean GUI a piece of cake. I've been quite impressed as I've learned more and more about Android, over the past few weeks. As I've hacked away at the underlying codebase, I've learned quite a bit about how the developers of Android approached things, and I've been impressed.

The Best Tool for the Job
But that doesn't mean I'm leaving Linux behind... I now have 2 supertools: Linux for industrial and analytical work, and Android for more user-friendly, sensor-heavy apps.

I posted some more pictures up on the flickr page...

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