Friday, October 28, 2011

Freetronics USB Droid Review

5 Stars! The best thing to come out of Australia since Rolf Harris!

I was given one of these boards at Android Open, and rather like the IOIO of my previous Blog, I have only just got around to having a play with it.

It is intended as an alternative to the Android ADK reference board which is Arduino Mega-based and so probably overkill for most Android Accessories that you are likely to make. The USB Droid is far more practical in size.


It comes in a nice retail pack, with a Mini USB lead which is used to connect it to your computer rather than the 'normal' Arduino USB-B connector - good choice.

And that is where the magic starts...

The board is extremely well made, and well thought out. When I plugged the Mini USB into my computer I was surprised to see a green LED light along with the blue power LED.


The green LED is labelled VBUS and yes, the USB 5V is passed through from your computer and out of the USB-A connector to your phone. A really nice touch as you don't have to use an external power supply while you are developing.

I am not sure Putting a Micro SD card on there is much use for making Android accessories, as effectively all the storage of the phone is available to you. But I guess you could make a data logger that worked off-line until you connected it to the Android phone to send the data to Pachube. Also it could come in handy for other types of USB host projects.

I have a minimal Android Open Accessory test app that I describe in my Arduino + Android book. You can download it from here (the app that is, not the book). There are also slides from my talk at Android Open here that describe the app. All it does is send a number to the Arduino that increments it and sends it back.

The sketch installed and ran perfectly.



I am very impressed with this board,  its certainly a lot neater than an Uno with a USB host shield on the top.

I see that Freetronics have done similar things with an Ethernet board. I look forward to trying out one of these.


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Sunday, October 23, 2011

IOIO First Impressions

I picked up a IOIO (apparently pronounced YoYo) from Android Open and I have just had chance to play with it.

Unlike the Arduino, IOIO is not intended to operate independently. It has to be paired with an Android phone. While it can use the Android Open Accessory protocol, it can also use plain old ADB which means that it works on most phones rather than the smaller choice of phones that Open Accessory works on.

I even tried an old Android 1.6 LG phone that one of my kids cast off six months ago and it works just fine.

When creating a project, you do not change the firmware on the IOIO, but rather you issue commands that read values from pins and turn pins on and off from the Android app.

It took 10 minutes to get the example working that turns the on-board LED on and off from a little Android app. Although I had Eclipse and the Android SDK already installed. These are probably the most complex part of setting up.

IOIO sets out to do just one job and do it well. It is not a general purpose board like the Arduino, and for $50, it is just cheaper than an Arduino and USB host shield and smaller and neater.

I like it a lot and it looks great. Far more IO ports than you are ever likely to use. In fact, I will probably solder 0.2 inch screw terminals onto the connectors and just use make every other IO available.

Pros.
Pot to adjust charging current to phone
Nice looking board
Good documentation set on the Wiki (https://github.com/ytai/ioio/wiki)

Cons.
Only 20mA output current per IO pin (Arduino can do 40mA)
3.3V logic, but some pulls can cope with being pulled up to 5V
No Power socket, you have to solder power leads on. This means that to do anything with the board, you will need to solder.

Edit: I forgot to mention that IOIOs with the latest firmware can accept a cheap Bluetooth dongle and work seamlessly over BT. Even switching connection without restart if you plug in with USB.


About the Author
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Android Open Conference 2011

Super conference.

As well as the day job aspect of it promoting Meme IDE http://www.memeide.com I also got to present on my favourite hobby topic of Arduino http://androidopen.com/android2011/public/schedule/detail/20972

The talk went well and I was surprised how many people knew about Arduino. I met several people who I had exchanged messages with and it was good to put some faces to conversations. Someone even got me to sign a copy of my book that they had brought. For a moment there I felt like a real author!

I was really impressed by Handbag (http://rancidbacon.com/p/android-arduino-handbag/). Its a great way to  solve the problem of the Android end of Open Accessory programming. I look forward to seeing how this project develops.

Well the conference is over now and I am taking the rest of the week-off to enjoy San Francisco - which isn't hard!

About the Author
These are my books. Click on the image below to find out more about them.