Android Things

Introduction


The Global Mobile Trends 2017 Report [2] confirms that three quarters of the population is now connected to the Internet via mobile phones. The Internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these things to connect, collect and exchange data [5]. The IoT concept was first introduced by Kevin Ashton, co-founder of the Auto-ID Center at MIT when he wanted to present the idea of radio frequency ID (RFID) to Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 1999 [6].

The “things” may include smart devices, sensors, analytical data, vehicle diagnostic systems data, weather reports, health monitors, etc. It may be your smart home, surveilling your home, checking your doors, managing your lighting, watering your plants, monitoring your health, reading your heartbeat, detecting your sleep patterns and notifying you when to wake up.

But the concept of IoT is simple. It’s a large stream of data that provide us information of what is going on around us. The IoT platform consumes the data, integrates the information and provides very meaningful information to the end-users.

Imagine your car is an IoT device. What will it do differently? First, let’s think about how it would be today, without IoT.

You will keep a track of your service records, mileage and be mindful of scheduled maintenance. No one will know when the next fault will arise, and your repairs will then be reactive. In other words, you will do a repair only when you notice that your car is not doing right.

But imagine the car you used was an IoT compatible car. It would know when the service is due, it will keep track of your service records, it can even initiate preventive maintenance. When you take your car to the service station, it could even be ready for your service. The IoT network can communicate what needs to be replaced and can ensure that the required spare parts are ordered and ready when the car is sent for service.

Imagine, your fridge was an IoT device, it would know what’s in it, and it will know what items are running low. It can even notify you about the things you need to buy, and if you’ve enabled auto purchasing, it will order the stuff online and the items would be at your door step within hours.

When technology advances, processors become cheaper, integrating smart features become more and more affordable, and IoT gets integrated into our lives.

What is “Android Things”?


In terms of Google, Google’s IoT solutions make it easy to build connected devices. If anyone wants to create a smart device, there are a few steps that need to be completed beforehand. These steps basically convert this whole flow into a simple process in just a few minutes. With that, developers can focus on the real development directly. On top of this, if developers want to connect to Google services or need a turnkey hardware solution, Google provides that with a way to create secure and innovative products.

Android Things, which is formally known as Project Brillo, provides a rich platform to develop IoT solutions over a prototype or a system onboard a hardware platform, which is based on an existing Android stack. It provides an OS built on the power, ease, and security of Android and certified hardware to get you from prototype to production quickly. Because it's based on Android, you get access to Android APIs, Google services, and Android developer tools (see Figure 1).

Android Things uses most of the Android components with additional APIs provided by the Things Support Library, which lets you integrate new types of hardware not found on mobile devices.

Developing apps for embedded devices is different from mobile in a few important ways such as:

  • More flexible access to hardware peripherals and drivers than mobile devices
  • System apps are not present to optimize startup and storage requirements
  • Apps are launched automatically on startup to immerse your users in the app experience
  • Devices expose only one app to users, instead of multiple like with mobile devices

Supported Hardware


The Android Things hardware platform support can basically divide into two pathways, namely production and development.

Production System-on-Modules (SoMs) are fully supported for production use cases and SoMs are certified by Google to meet security requirements. Android Things’ stability and security updates will be available for a minimum of 3 years on all production SoMs. The following table will show SoMs currently supported by Google (see Table 1).

Table 1: Source : www.developer.android.com/things/hardware

Development platforms are provided to enable prototyping and testing. They do not meet Google's security standards and may not receive stability and security updates. Google will continue to provide feature updates to ensure that you can develop on these platforms and seamlessly port your code over to a production platform. Table 2 shows the development platforms currently supported.

Source : www.developer.android.com/things/hardware  

Privacy and Security


IoT allows a lot of “things” to be interconnected to a single point, but as the number of devices increase, it increases the points of vulnerability on the system. In 2016, ForeScout Technologies, a company specializing in IoT Security & Device Visibility, released a report taking seven commonly used IoT devices, that included smart fridges, connected printers and IP-connected security systems. The report conveyed alarming information about the security of these devices. Most devices could be hacked within 3 minutes. Being able to be hacked in 3 minutes triggers a high security risk for these commercially available devices.

Just imagine your IoT device being hacked and it has a camera or a microphone. Your video feeds and voice feeds could be all over the Internet. Imagine your smart home being hacked. Doors will start to open, lights will start to blink, and only the hackers will know what your smart home’s next move will be!

IoT brings you great convenience, but it needs to be secured properly. Any vulnerabilities could be very costly to the IoT industry.

References


Kasun De Silva

Associate Tech Lead

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