Using Xamarin and Visual Studio with Android Things

Android Things is Google’s new IOT Android based platform.    In essence it’s a slightly altered version of Android which can run on Iot type devices such as the Intel Edison and the Raspberry Pi3.

 

“Android Things lets you build professional, mass-market products on a trusted platform, without previous knowledge of embedded system design.”

 

Personally I’m not yet too impressed with Android Things.   It is still very new and very raw and is lacking a lot of what you’d expect from an Iot platform.   However, having finally a standard Android implementation officially from Google running on these devices has to be a good thing.    The platform should just get better from here.

 

 

 

Running in Visual Studio using Xamarin

 

Of course being Android, Android Things works with Xamarin too.     Using Xamarin will also be a benefit for all those awesome cross platform benefits it offers, like sharing your Iot code with your backend services, Android, Ios, Windows Phone, Windows 10, OSX, XBox and whatever other devices you’d like to be supporting in your solution.

 

Getting the devices to appear in Visual Studio is exactly as you’d expect.    The devices will use the standard Android Debugging Bridge (ADB).      Plugging in an Intel Edison via USB will be reflected as “Unknown Iot_Edison”.    You can obviously also use the network debugging features of ADB.   eg.   adb connect <ip address>   The device will then also be detected in Visual Studio.   A Raspberry Pi will appear as “Unknown iot_rpi3”.

 

Using Xamarin is very simple.    All we need to do is bind to the Android Things API Jar to be able to make use of all the features provided by the Android Things SDK.   At this moment in time there isn’t an official release Nuget package from Xamarin to do this.   It is however very simple to do this yourself.     In this sample (and I’ve shared the code on GitHub) I’m binding to the new Dev Preview 2 API for Android Things (androidthings-0.2-devpreview.jar).    Once the binding project is referenced from your Android Things project, everything will work as expected.   Just of course with the benefit of using C# and not Java!

 

I’ve created some samples based on the Standard Android Things Samples

 

Samples:   https://github.com/apead/Xamarin-Android-Things

Blink Led

No Iot sample and demo is complete without a blinking LED.   This sample is a conversion of the Android Things sample.

 

 

Simple UI

This sample is a simple illustration of using a UI on an Android Things device.   It also illustrates GPIO pins and how to set the high/low values of the pins.

 

Simple UI Android Things Sample

 

 

 

Learning Resources:

 

SDK Samples:  https://developer.android.com/things/sdk/samples.html

How to install Android Things on your Device:   https://developer.android.com/things/preview/index.html

A great article on the basics of electronics and hardware:  https://riggaroo.co.za/android-things-hardware-basics/

 

Happy Android Things Development with Xamarin!

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Arduino Development with Visual Studio via Visual Micro (Overview)

Visual Studio has become a one stop shop for any type of development.  But did you know you can do Arduino development as well?    There is a Visual Studio extension called Visual Micro (http://www.visualmicro.com) which will allow Arduino development and debugging within Visual Studio IDE, with the full development experience you have become used to.   This is a high level overview of what is provided.

 

Arduino and Visual Studio

 

What’s really great about having Arduino support within Visual Studio is, you can group together all the various different projects that makes up your solution all together within a Visual Studio Solution.

 

Multi-platform Solution

 

In a world of Iot and cross platform (or multi platform) development this is perfect.   You could have one or more Arduino projects, .NET Micro framework projects,  a Xamarin Mobile client and the back-end (be it an on-premise ASP .NET WEB API solution, or in the cloud with something like Azure Mobile Services) all managed together in a single Visual Studio solution.

 

Installing Visual Micro

 

Visual Micro can be downloaded here:   http://www.visualmicro.com/page/Arduino-Visual-Studio-Downloads.aspx   It is a Visual Studio extension which will be installed within Visual Studio.   There is a version for both Visual Studio 2015 and 2017 RC.     Be sure to have the standard Arduino IDE installed as well, as it uses this tooling under the hood.   Arduino version 1.06 – 1.8 is supported.

 

The IDE Experience

 

Visual Micro Toolbar

 

 

Visual Micro Menu

 

Both a toolbar and a new menu is added to Visual Studio.    The toolbar allows access to quickly configure the connected board and COM port used (via USB).    It also allows quick access for building and debugging, however if the Arduino project is the startup project the debugging and build options work as usual direct from the Visual Studio hotkeys, toolbars and menu items.    The menu allows for deeper configuration of the compiler, debugging options and other integration options.

 

File New Dialog

Templates are provided to easily create a new Arduino Sketch or Library.    Standard Arduino INO files are supported.   These standard file types are also used when opening and saving to existing Arduino Sketch files, which ofcourse can be ported back to the Arduino IDE if need be.

 

Solution Explorer

 

The solution explorer is quite neat for the Arduino.   All the source files, header files and external dependencies are presented in much the way you have grown accustomed to in Visual Studio.

 

 

The Visual Micro Explorer provides a visualization of all libraries installed.    There is also reference material and documentation provided along with a collection of Example code.   This is great for both learning and quickly looking up something.

 

The debug experience

 

Debugging Experience

 

Debugging and conditional breakpoints are supported.   This does though require a purchase of the Pro version.   The pro version has quite a number of additional features aswell which you can read about here:  http://www.visualmicro.com/page/What-features-are-included-in-Visual-Micro-Pro.aspx

 

The live tracing works great.  There is also the standard port monitor which does live logging of the Com ports.    In the screenshot provided the codes displayed are being reported from an infrared remote control in real-time.   The ability to see everything happen, and be visible, at once in an IDE saves a whole load of time.

 

Conclusion

I’ve been using Visual Micro for a few Arduino related Iot projects and can definitely recommend using it.

 

Happy Arduino coding!  🙂

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