Android Open Accessory initiative is really the next big thing

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One of the feature announcements of the Google I/O keynote was the new Android Open Accessory initiative and this one is absolutely a game changer. Based on the Arduino open-source electronics project, the premise is to bring connectivity between your Android device and all of the things that you interact with on a daily basis and was referred to as [email protected]

The demos were really quite impressive. These may seem like a Google dream scenario at this stage but this technology has real potential and makes the Made For iPod program seem trivial based on the total lack of interactivity in those devices. Let’s have a look at some of the demonstrated uses and look at some of the possibilities.

Exercise equipment
The first demo began with a rider on an AOA enabled stationary bike. An Android phone was plugged in to the bike that initiated a game to assist to make the exercise process more fun and interactive.

Imagine this type of connectivity with all types of exercise equipment from treadmills to rowing machines to stair climbers. Your workout is made more bearable by turning each machine rotation into a game and your progress in the game is tracked in real-time. As a result, you get real-time updates on distance, calorie burn and elapsed progress.

Game play
The labyrinth demo at first seemed very trivial to me. The table of the labyrinth was being controlled by a Xoom tablet and there was both a tabletop game as well as a monster 5,000 version built-in the lobby of the Moscone Center. While it was interesting, in retrospect it was much more.

There are a world of interactive games that could be based on this technology, but also things like radio controlled cars or airplanes. What about a police bomb squad controlling the movement of one of their bomb robots with an Android tablet? Or my personal favorite, I could sit on my recliner with my feet up, controlling the movement of my vacuum cleaner with an Android tablet.

Truly. Exciting. Stuff.

Home automation
This demo involved turning lights on and off using specially designed light bulbs and a Motorola Xoom. It was neat and all, but that’s not where this level of home automation will end.

Imagine that your thermostat for your HVAC system is AOA enabled. You could monitor the current temperature in your home and make adjustments to your settings anywhere you happen to have your device. You could turn your enabled ceiling fans on or off, arm or disarm your alarm system of rotate your lights to discourage break-ins. How about having the ability to open or close your garage door for a service person or unlocking your front door to let your child in?

How about keeping track of the milk in your refrigerator or the count on your cans of black beans in your cabinet using AOA and Near Field Communications, or NFC? You wouldn’t have to run home before going to the grocery to pick up dinner. Pull out your phone or tablet and you’d know at a glance what you have on hand. You’d also know the current temperature in your refrigerator or freezer and you could adjust as needed.

Content Consumption: Project Tungsten
As a movie and music lover what was dubbed as “Project Tungsten” was the point in the presentation that really caught my eye. On stage were several small, alien looking boxes that were connected to home entertainment systems. Using the AOA enabled Motorola Xoom the presenter was able to stream music from a Music Beat collection to each individually and to both combined.

A further demo involved an NFC enabled Tungsten device and an NFC enabled music CD. With one touch of the CD to the Tungsten device all of the songs on the CD were added to the Music Beta library. Another touch started playback of that CD. A second touch from another CD and the same result; songs added, playback started. It was also easy to switch between playback by alternately touching the CD’s to the device.

While audio alone was shown this type of feature will be made available for Google TV and video streaming from device to TV. You’ll be able to stream your own videos or other video types that you have on your device. I’m less certain about any future connectivity with your desktop or laptop, but it seems to make total sense to me.

Final thoughts
This program is totally free for application and accessory developers. No NDA’s, royalty fees or approval processes. Any device maker is free to incorporate this technology in to any device that they sell for the cost of the hardware only. This should lead to all types of devices being available, hopefully soon.

There are a few minor drawbacks. Connectivity is currently only possible over USB, though Bluetooth functionality is coming rather quickly. Also, you must have a phone running Gingerbread, or a tablet running Honeycomb to use these features.

Those minor issues aside this new advancement will take the Android platform far beyond just connecting your device to an alarm clock, keyboard or car dock. This will bring about a level of device inter-activity that other, supposedly more advanced platforms can only dream of.

Image: Google