These are not the Androids you are looking for?

Jon Lawson

Jonathan Wilkins takes a look at the growing popularity of Android and the role it plays in industrial applications

When Google bought a small mobile software company in 2005, there was no way of knowing how prosperous the acquisition would be. Although the mammoth technology company has a habit of hoovering up exciting start-ups that tend to go on to become prestigious success, there have been a few not so awe-inspiring purchases - namely Motorola and dMarc Broadcasting. However, that tiny mobile software company has gone on to produce the most popular operating system (OS) in the world, as of 2015. The name? Android, of course.

In a recent global survey about embedded Android carried out by Taiwanese company VIA Technologies, a significant percentage of respondents (28%) answered they were either using or considering using Android for industrial automation.

The top three benefits of Android cited by the survey were its touchscreen functionality, reduced time to market and customisability. The latter of these is intrinsically linked to the final question of the survey: the challenges of using Android for industrial automation.

The top three challenges according to respondents surveyed were lack of input/output (I/O) support, internal expertise and development tools.

Because Android is an open source software, protocols, apps and programmes can be written as required, making it highly customisable. This is undoubtedly a handy benefit, but customisable software is a double-edged sword.

Software is inbuilt in traditional automation devices such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), meaning less flexibility, but easier operability from out of the box. If you experience I/O problems with your PLC, you can always seek support from manufacturing forums. However, with Android applications, you write the code and so help is far more limited if you can't get your devices to talk to one another.

Using Android for embedded devices requires a great deal more internal expertise than using industrial automation with inbuilt software, specially optimised for that device. However, the rewards for manufacturing companies taking the Android leap of faith are increased interconnectedness and greater interoperability, leading to a reduced time to market for products.

For those who perhaps don't have the necessary in-house skills to implement and maintain Android embedded devices in industrial environments, don't panic. You won't be left behind by the Industry 4.0 bandwagon just yet.

Often, by retrofitting an obsolete PLC that uses inbuilt software, you can keep your systems up and running without shelling out for that costly upgrade.

Furthermore, there's obsolete technology out there that still cuts the mustard with regards to meeting current energy efficiency guidelines. So, if you need an automation spare, but don't want to go through a costly upgrade, give us a call and ask about Eco Obsolete Technology (EOT).

I'll leave you with one last interesting Google fact. In 2014, Google purchased a British artificial intelligence company, DeepMind - now officially called Google DeepMind. With Google's financial prowess and DeepMind's research into deep learning, we're predicting another winning acquisition on an Android scale.

Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director of industrial automation parts supplier European Automation.    

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