Android accessories
Android's new Accessory Development Kit will allow mobile devices to command physical ones. The possibilities are endless.

Soon your smart phone may be the only light switch you’ll ever need. At this year’s Google I/O conference, enterprising executives from the Silicon Valley search giant announced that their Android OS for mobile devices will soon be able to reach out and touch appliances in your home. The open Accessory Development Kit (ADK) will allow developers to wire lights and other common electrical devices to control boards that can interact directly with Android (via USB or BlueTooth). Google wants to take this hardware interactive capability and use it to turn your home into a smart living space. Push a button in an app on your Android and specially enabled lamps will turn off and on, music will start playing on your speakers, or maybe your air-conditioner will kick in. It’s all up to you – you can command your entire house from your phone or tablet with Android as your operating system. That’s the Android@Home concept and it could make it easy and cheap to upgrade your bachelor pad from a neanderthal’s lair to a real high-tech Batcave. Check out the Google I/O 2011 presentations for the ADK and Android@Home in the video below. Using Android to send commands to other electronics is a great idea, but I’m much more excited about information flowing in the other direction. As Google enables you to create a smart-home, they could also be building the Internet of Things.

Google I/O 2011 streamed live on YouTube, so you can find almost every second of the conference online. I’ve cued up the following video from the day one key note address to where Google starts discussing the ADK. Following an awesome presentation with a life-sized Labyrinth game controlled by tilting an Android tablet, you’ll be able to see the presentation on Android@Home.

The Android ADK should allow developers to make almost any device talk with Android OS. Working with Lighting Science, Google is creating a line of LED bulbs which will be able to talk with Android OS as well as using Android@Home connectivity standards. Coming home to a dark house? Just push a single button on your Android phone and all your lamps could spring to light instantly. Pretty cool, and these bulbs are scheduled to arrive by the end of 2011. Google has also created specialized hubs for this communication through their Project Tungsten. The hubs, which appear as glowing boxes or white orbs, will be able to use WiFi, BlueTooth, or near field communication (NFC) to receive commands from Android devices, read information from NFC embedded products (like CD or DVD cases, action figures/dolls, etc), and control multimedia presentations.

Clearly Google is attacking the “wire your stuff up to Android” idea from different angles. I’m sure we’ll see specialized “Android-enabled” products from third party developers in the near future. The exercise bike seen in the presentation video was a good example. I imagine MP3 playing stereos are also going to be a first wave product as well, and of course those LED light bulbs will be coming soon. At the same time Google will be pushing their Project Tungsten boxes as ‘all in one’ sort of solutions for your media center. Eventually I’m sure we’ll see models that can handle larger appliances and power consuming devices around the house.

A smart house, however, isn’t just about what you can command, but what you can learn. When you send a message to a lamp to get it to turn on, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be able to send data back on its consumption, its bulb life, etc. Or alternatively this data could be collected at the Android device side of things. Either way you have digital information tied to the physical object you’re using. Whether we’re talking bulbs, blenders, or bicycles doesn’t matter – as soon as you have a computer tracking electronic objects in order to give them commands you can use the same computer to track the history of those objects.

As I’ve mentioned before, this object tracking is at the heart of the Internet of Things – the massive system of smart devices and sensors that is forming in parallel to our own people-inhabited internet. On a commercial level the IoT will enable us to track shipments of food, pharmaceuticals, and other goods, but in your home the near terms benefits of the IoT are all about finesse and efficiency. Let lamps turn off automatically when you leave the room. As you drive home your mobile phone could call ahead and fire up the heater or A/C to prep the environment – making your arrival more pleasant and saving energy by matching the timing perfectly. Your tablet, now the magic wand that remotely controls all your appliances, could notice that your refrigerator is cycling on (using more electricity) than normal. Did someone leave it open or is it time to get the appliance fixed?

Are those little money savers too boring for you? How about turning every appliance in your house into a burglar detection system: if a single device is activated while you’re out of the home, an alert could be pushed to your phone warning you that someone flipped on a light or opened your automatic garage door. With products like the Android ADK and Project Tungsten you could even wire up your doors with electronic locks you can remotely control. If someone breaks in, you lock them in, crank up the stereo, and make them listen to your worst Polka MP3s for an hour. You get the idea…if you imagination can dream it up, you should be able to enable it with IoT technology.

Applications like these haven’t been developed yet, but they’re exactly the sort of products I would expect us to eventually create when concepts like Project Tungsten and Android@Home fully muture. We’ve seen other companies bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds, but with Google now in the mix we may see this trend accelerated considerably. Android is a proven market with a large developer base. Now that Android is in the business of controlling other electronics, you can bet that both the necessary hardware and software will arrive – and much sooner than if Google hadn’t thrown their hat into the ring. Some precursors to the Internet of Things are already here, and now I expect more will be coming shortly. We’ve had smart homes for a while, but now the phenomenon could be hitting the mainstream, and smart cars are sure to follow (actually some of them are already here as well). From there it just keeps getting smaller and smarter. One day soon your closet will tell you which clothes match today’s weather forecast, your mobile phone will match your lunch order with your medical record to maximize your health, and there will be an RFID chip, NFC panel, or computer embedded in everything you own. Like so many other technology giants, Google’s moving from the digital to the physical world – get ready.

[screen capture and video credits: Google]
[source: Google I/O conference via YouTube]