Five OSUOSL co-workers and I recently finished a road trip to Google I/O 2011. We took two cars on an 11 hour drive through scenic southern Oregon and northern California. We learned more about Android and other technologies shaping the web. It was also a great opportunity to spend time with each other outside the office.
Monday night we joined about 30 Google Summer of Code mentors for dinner and drinks hosted by the Google Open Source Programs Office. We’re always grateful for events that bring together friends old and new. One developer nervously sat down at our table, professing that he didn’t know anyone. We might not work on the same project, but we’re all part of the open source community.
The highlight of the conference was the double announcement of Android Open Accessory program and Android @ Home. Both open up Android to integration with third party devices. These features coupled with near field communications (NFC) stand to dramatically change how we use our mobiles devices to interact with the world around us. This is not a new idea. X10 home automation has existed since 1975. Zigbee and Z-wave are more modern protocols, but also available for years. The difference here is 100 million Android users and a half million Arduino hackers.
As Phillip Torrone wrote on the Makezine Blog, “There really isn’t an easier way to get analog sensor data or control a motor easier and faster than with an Arduino — and that’s a biggie, especially if you’re a phone and want to do this.”
It won’t be a short road. We still have obstacles such as higher costs. A representative from Lighting Science I spoke to at their I/O booth quoted Android@Home enabled LED lights at $30 per bulb. Android and Arduino might be the right combination of market penetration, eager hackers, and solid platforms for a more integrated environment.
My favorite session was How To NFC. NFC (near field communication) is similar to RFID except it only works within a few centimeters. Newer android phones can send and receive NFC messages any time except when the phone is sleeping. NFC chips can also be embedded in paper, like the stickers that came in our I/O Badges. An NFC enabled app can share data such as a url, or launch a multiplayer game with your friend. It makes complex tasks as simple as “touch the phone here”. Android is even smart enough to launch an app required for an NFC message, or send you to the market to install the app you need. Only the Nexus-S supports NFC now, but this feature is so compelling that others will support it soon too.
The other technical sessions were very useful too, whether you were interested in Android, Chrome, or other Google technologies. The speakers were knowledgeable on the subject areas they spoke on. I attended mostly Android talks, and it was great hearing from the people who wrote the APIs we’re trying to use. The sessions were all filmed and are worth watching online.