You probably know Android is taking over the mobile market. Google’s Linux-based operating system is dominating the smartphone scene in a way that is beginning to look like Windows' and Intel’s Wintel stranglehold on traditional x86 desktop and PC systems, according to IDC’s third quarter smartphone report. What's more, in the first half of 2013, Android-powered tablets overtook Apple iPads for the first time.
Android’s main advantage is also its Achilles heel. The fact that it’s an open-source Linux-based OS means it lends itself well to implementation in a number of projects, including many outside of a Google-hosted space. On the other hand, reports of malware affecting these systems represent the flipside to the open-source coin.
As 2013 draws to a close, it is worth looking back at some of the non-smartphone Android systems out there, some we found on linuxgizmos.com’s ongoing list, to see what we may have missed and get a sense of what kind of devices we may still look forward to. Here are 10 Android-based products that have shipped recently while all the attention was focused on the dominance of Android’s mobile phones and the continued sweetness of the 4.4 KitKat version of the OS following its equally successful predecessor the 4.3 JellyBean.
The first eyewear computer to ship to the public, the M100′s monocular display can be placed over either eye and may or may not include a pair of safety glasses. The Vuzix M100 is designed for a wide range of industrial, medical, and retail applications. Vuzix offers the device with a Bluetooth 4.0 sync to an Android phone.
It offers voice integration features, head tracking, and gesture controls using built-in sensors alongside GPS and a 5 megapixel 1080p camera with a light that goes on when it is in use.
It also includes most of the features and capabilities of a modern smartphone, according to the company and runs a modified version of Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich on a Cortex-A9 OMAP 4430 SoC from Texas Instruments.
The Vuzix M100 includes a 1GHz, dual-core processor and a 16:9, WQVGA display with a 16:9 aspect ratio, which appears to be a four-inch smartphone screen from 14 inches away. It includes WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS sensors, a five megapixel camera, 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of flash, and a microSD slot, as well as voice and gesture recognition.
It is shipping to developers and taking pre-orders from the general public for its Android-based eyewear, which starts at $1,000.
(Source: InHand Electronics)
InHand's 7-inch Hydra-F6 runs Android 4.2.2 on a FreeScale i.MX6 Cortex A9-based SoC. It is a customizable, MIL-SPEC ruggedized, WSVGA tablet built around its Fury-F6 embedded board for the dual- and quad-core models. It includes a 1024 x 600-pixel resistive, multi-touch touchscreen made with Gorilla Glass and a sunlight-readable display with automatic brightness control.
Its extra-wide bezel offers four programmable buttons alongside volume and power buttons, haptic feedback, and display rotation. It comes with 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB DDR3 memory as well as 16 GB or 32 GB eMMC flash.
Wireless features include Bluetooth 2.1 and optional Verizon LTE as well as 802.11b/g/n. The device is packed with sensors including GPS, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, digital compass, and barometer.
It comes with a 5 megapixel camera that supports barcode scanning, two USB 2.9 host connectors as well as USB 2.0 client and a 37WHr 3.7V Lithium Polymer battery with Qi wireless charging. It features MIL-STD-810G-, MIL-STD-461F-compliant ruggedization as well as IP67 waterproofing.
R.Bot Synergy Mine
Like the Synergy Swan, the Mine is developed by Russian company R.bot and is aimed at younger customers — mostly children. It uses an attached BYOD Android smartphone or tablet for display, camera, microphone, and wireless along with control functions.
Any Android device can step in to fill the role of the brain of the device. The robot takes Bluetooth signals from an Android app on the phone and turns them into movements. Since all the functions of the robots are controlled by the mobile device’s software, installing different applications to the smartphone or tablet allows the user to add to what the robot can do.
The $250 Mane is only 195 mm wide and weighs 1.5 kg. It can expand from about 170 mm to a maximum of 295 mm by extending its neck fully. It is primarily intended as a desktop device with a folding neck that offers three degrees of freedom.
The R.bot robots are widely used in Russia in telepresence and promotional applications such as store greeting and event marketing.
R. Bot Synergy Swan
The larger $500 R. Bot is the Synergy Swan, which is designed with a 440mm wide base that allows it to roll around on the floor. It has one additional degree of freedom compared to the Mine, bringing it to four total. In addition to 12 V of DC power and the ability to act as a mobile charging station, the Swan features a changeable, sealed, lead-acid battery that can last for up to 12 hours.
It measures 350mm folded and includes a screen that comes up to the eye level of a child — again, the targeted audience of the R.bot devices. It also features two electric-powered drive wheels and a piano caster wheel. As a result, the Swan moves quite quickly reaching speeds of up to 1.8 kilometers per hour.
Like the Synergy Mine, it supports both Android and iOS apps and features integrated speakers and LED indicators. The Android apps running the robot can communicate with other Android or iOs devices and desktops running a variety of operating systems.
Like the other Synergy robot, it can be controlled by voice commands, it can recognize people's faces, and it can speak using a human speech synthesizer. There is an open SDK available to program the Bridge, the main Android app on the device, as well as other apps.
(Source: Recon Instruments)
Recon's Snow 2 Android-based heads-up display, available for $399, is a device that is designed to fit inside ski goggles. Navigation is available through a waterproof Bluetooth Low Energy remote strapped to the arm. The device's wide screen WQVGA HUD display is located in the upper right of the device's field of vision giving it the same display capability as a 14-inch image five feet away.
It features a a 1GHz, dual-core Cortex-A9 SoC, and a 428 x 240 mini-display. The Snow 2 is an updated version of a previous device and is made by Vancouver-based Recon Instruments, which received an infusion of money from Intel Capital in September. The Snow2 can function as a standalone wearable computer or as a Bluetooth accessory for an Android or iOS system.
Its built-in sensors provide the display with information as to the speed, vertical descent, distance and airtime of the skier. The Snow2 includes 1 GB of DDR2 SDRAM; 2 GB flash, high color, contrast and brightness on its displays and 802.11a/b/g/n wireless as well as Bluetooth 4.0. Its sensors include GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, altimeter, and thermometer. It also comes with an I/O Micro USB for data transfer and power.
(Source: Scully Helmets)
Skully P1 is a motorcycle helmet with an Android-based heads-up display. It runs a customized version of Android and is equipped with voice controls, Bluetooth sync to smartphones, GPS navigation and a 180-degree rearview camera.
The computer is placed in a fin extension at the top of the helmet. The Synapse HUD is placed on an adjustable ball joint on the lower right hand of the rider's field of vision. The device is intended to provide a high-level of situational awareness to the rider, who can view both sides from a 180-degree wide-angle rearview camera without having to check a rearview mirror.
Voice controls are also available via Bluetooth allowing for control of music and texts as well as calls. The Skully P1 comes with an accelerometer, gyroscope and compass, as well as WiFi to update the helmet although the HUD is designed to work offline.
It complies with US Department of Transportation and European ECE safety standards, includes a lightweight, aerodynamic tricomposite shell, as well as 3D laser-cut foam, adjustable flow-through ventilation and an anti-fog, anti-scratch, and anti-glare face shield.
Sony SmartWatch 2
Sony's SmartWatch 2 is the Android-based follow-up to the company's initial SmartWatch offering that includes a higher resolution on its 1.3 inch touchscreen, down from the 1.6 inch of the original Sony SmartWatch. It is designed to act as a second screen to your phone. It can be used to make calls or check emails or even to go online. It works as a standalone watch with alarm, flashlight and checking previous messages.
While the device is splash resistant, it is not fully waterproof. The Sony SmartWatch line distinguishes itself from competitors mainly in its sleek design and its tight connection to Android devices. It's also gone from 128 x 128 pixels to 220 x 176 and now features sunlight readability and IP57-rated water and dust resistance. Battery life has gone from three to seven days and the device can now be charged via micro-USB.
The SmartWatch 2 includes NFC (near field communication) Sync and water resistance. Sony is going up against Samsung, the other major vendor in this space, with this $200 offering compared to the $300 Samsung Galaxy Gear. The additional NFC chip for one-touch sync makes it necessary to get an Android 4.0 companion piece, just as general Bluetooth synching makes any Android device necessary. The 42 x 41 x 9mm watch weighs 122.5 grams with the included metal strap.
The HardKernel ODROID-XU runs Android 4.2.2 and Ubuntu Server 13.04 with console output. Older ODROID devices have support for Ubuntu but not hardware-optimized support. The HardKernel ODROID-XU comes equipped with a Samsung Exynos 5 CPU, one of the first commercially available ARM big LITTLE CPUs. It also includes a quad-core ARM Cortex A15 SOC clocking at 1.6 GHz and a quad-core Cortex A7 at 1.2 GHz all in one.
Next to that is the PowerVR SGX544MIP3 GPU, four USB 2.0 host ports, and one USB 3.0 host port as well as a USB OTG port and a microHDMI output. It comes with 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM, 10/100 Ethernet and a microHDMI output. For storage, it comes with a microSDHC or Emmc 4.5. Finally, it includes 30 I/O pins for various uses and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi as a USB module only. The HardKernel ODROID-XU is a difficult device to categorize.
It is something of a hybrid between an industrial and an enthusiast-level system and it is much more accessible for those who are interested in getting to the circuit board and doing interesting things with the hardware there. The case on the ODROID-XU is a polypropylene shell that snaps shut with no loose parts or components to deal with. The ODROID-XU is available at an MSRP of $169.
The Sanoxy MK808 is a portable dual-core Android 4.1 TV Box that weighs less than 50 g with mini-PC RK 3066 featuring 1 GB of DDR3 and 8 GB of NAND flash memory. It comes with WiFi 802.11b/g/n 10/100Mbps and an internal antenna. Graphics capabilities are available through Quad Core Mali400 processing and support for 1080P video.
It features a built-in 3D Accelerator, supports 3D gaming with it’s powerful Mali400 GPU, and includes Android Market Google Play. Among embedded Android devices, this is quickly proving to be one of the most popular offerings yet.
Although somewhat limited in its connectivity options with one micro SDHC slot, one USB 2.0 host, one USB-OTG (Micro) port, and one HDMI out. Although the lack of available ports is a potential problem, there are USB hubs that can correct that. The current version of Android for the MK808 is 4.2. The device lists at $99.99.
Pivos XIOS DS
Compared with other embedded Android systems, the XIOS provides a significant advantage in terms of connectivity. On top of the standard microSDHC slot and HDMI out, it comes with 3 USB 2.0 ports, a 10/100 Ethernet port (in addition to 802.11 b/g/n WiFi) and a front-facing IR port for the remote control that comes with the system.
In order to incorporate those additional options, it ends up being a somewhat larger system with a greater footprint at 3.93″ x 3.93″ x 0.66 compared to the thinner, lighter form factor of other embedded systems currently running Android. Specifications for the device include the ARM Cortex-A9 CPU clocking at 800 MHz.
The ARM CPU runs alongside a graphics processor-namely the Mali-400 GPU, which comes with 512 MB of DDR2 RAM, and 2 GB NAND flash memory. Part of the reason this particular device may fly under the radar among Android systems is that the company marketing it is not especially interested in highlighting the fact that it is an Android system.
Pivos is instead pitching its device as a video player it primarily as a video player that includes a custom distribution of XBMC, which is suited to run hardware decoding. On the other hand, the company is pushing for XBMC support is presently in beta. Furthermore, the XIOS DS is still on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. not even Jelly Bean let alone KitKat.
On the whole, this is a rather expensive, yet more highly integrated product than others in the same space. It starts at a MSRP of $109.99.
Android in space
Space agencies are also sending Android devices into space. Android smartphones have already been in orbit as PhoneSats (tiny satellites)., and students tried it in near space. NASA, the Linux Journal reported in 2012, is big into open-source. Here's NASA’s open-source page.
— Zewde Yeraswork, Associate Editor, EE Times
This article was originally published on EBN's sister publication EE Times .