Writing for DigiKey, Maury Wright notes that Google’s flagship Android operating system is typically associated with the smartphone and tablet markets. However, says Wright, the software platform’s surging popularity has created opportunities for innovative design teams.
“First, designers can develop companion products for the Android ecosystem that rely on low-cost microcontrollers (MCUs) and provide value-added functionality,” he explained. “Second, designers can adapt the Android platform as a basis for their own system designs, [as] the smartphone experience has raised the expectation for user interfaces in specialty embedded systems.”
Indeed, Wright recommends developers consider choosing Android as the OS of choice for an embedded system design, simply because most people have become quite comfortable interacting with an intuitive touch-based user interface.
“While you might not think a specialized embedded system – say a portable data-acquisition system or an industrial controller – needs the sophistication of the Android interface, users accustomed to these systems may prefer Android,” he continued.
“Moreover, Android comes with features such as an intuitive GPS application that could come in handy in an embedded system. Design teams can quickly develop an intuitive interface for custom applications. Additionally, Android may reduce development time and deliver a more compelling end product.”
As such, designers might want to consider porting Android to any number of high-end MPUs.
“Atmel already offers some [MPUs] with a ready-to-deploy Android port,” said Wright. “The AT91SAM9G45 and AT91SAM9M10 [MPUs] are based on the ARM926 processor core, [with] Atmel offering support for Android, along with Linux and the embedded version of Microsoft Windows.”
As Wright points out, both the AT91SAM9G45 and AT91SAM9M10 boast a robust peripheral set as depicted in the image above. In terms of connectivity, the MPUs integrate a high-speed 480-Mbit/s USB interface that can operate in host or device mode, a 10/100-Mbit/s Ethernet MAC, along with multiple UART, SPI and TWI (two-wire interface such as I²C) ports. The ICs include other typical MCU peripherals, such as a 10-bit A/D converter, four 16-bit PWM controllers, six 32-bit timers and general-purpose I/O.
On the memory side, there is an integrated boot ROM and a small on-chip SRAM array. As expected, the MPUs also include a number of features that will come in handy in a touch-based system, such as an integrated LCD controller that supports screens with resolutions to 1280 x 860 pixels with 2D graphics acceleration and an interface for resistive touch screens. Meanwhile, the AT91SAM9M10 adds camera and audio interfaces, along with a video decoder capable of handling D1 720 x 576- or WVGA 800 x 480-pixel streams at 30 frames per second.
“For design teams who want to jump-start an Android project, Atmel also offers the AT91SAM9M10-G45-EK Evaluation Kit,” Wright added. “The kit includes an AT91SAM9M10 processor, a 480×272-pixel LCD with a resistive touch panel and easy interface to all on-chip peripherals. The kit and [MPUs] come with support for Android 2.1.”