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Android ported to MIPS

Apr 22, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 30 views

Linux professional services and consulting firm Embedded Alley (EA) announced it is porting the Linux/Java-based Android platform to the MIPS architecture. Next month, EA will offer a version of the Google-backed Android stack for the MIPS-based RMI Au1250 processor, and target devices ranging from set-top boxes (STBs) to industrial equipment.

The MIPS implementation of the open-source Android stack should continue to extend Android to more and more devices beyond smartphones. Android netbooks and MIDs have already been announced, and there appear to be few corners of the embedded universe where Android isn't at least considered as a possibility. EA's MIPS port for Android is aimed at STBs, portable media players (PMPs), mobile Internet devices (MIDs), digital TVs, automotive infotainment systems, medical devices, home automation appliances, SOHO networking devices, and instrumentation and industrial control, says the company.

The Android port is initially targeted at the RMI (Raza Microelectronics) Alchemy-family processors and specificially the low-power, multimedia-ready Au1250 system-on-chip (SoC), but will be modified to support MIPS-based SoCs from other vendors, says EA. Additional MIPS processors targeting consumer electronics, and STBs especially, are offered by vendors ranging from Sigma to Broadcom. Cavium offers high-end multi-core MIPS processors aimed at networking and server applications, but even the surprisingly adaptable Android is not likely to reach such platforms anytime soon.

Specific tasks involved with EA's development of the MIPS version of Android are said to include:

  • Integration of Android-specific Linux kernel patches (for 2.6.28)
  • Porting the Dalvik virtual machine (VM) underlying Android to MIPS, including architecture and build support and optimization for Dalvik acceleration on MIPS
  • Extending Android bionic library and linker support to accommodate MIPS architecture
  • Integrating and testing board support and industry-specific device drivers, CODECs and other middleware
  • Supporting MIPS in the Android Software Development Kit (SDK) and Android targets in the EA Development System

EA has long experience working with its partner RMI on Linux board support packages (BSPs) and the like for RMI's Alchemy-branded processors (see farther below on Alchemy and the Au1250.) The MIPS port will be offered as part of its "Embedded Alley Development System for Linux-based Devices" which combines open-source software and services, and facilitates build and integration of in-house and third-party commercial software. The Embedded Alley Development System includes cross compilers, a choice of Glibc or uClibc C libraries, debuggers, prepared file system images, and product-specific supporting libraries, says EA. For source-level debugging, a graphical, Eclipse-based IDE (integrated development environment) is provided, enabling users to step through source code, scripts, and configurations.


Paul Staudacher

Android: can't live without it

According to EA President Paul Staudacher (pictured), a longtime MontaVista exec who was hired last September, the impetus for the strategic move to Android came from its MIPS customers asking for Android support. "Since we've had a longstanding relationship with RMI, we approached them with our plans, and they were extremely excited about the idea," Staudacher said in a phone briefing. "They had already come to the same conclusion that Android was huge, and they couldn't live without it."

Staudacher admitted to be somewhat surprised at the demand for Android from manufacturers and vendors of products such as industrial equipment and medical devices. Indeed, the applications here seem to have little in common with the stereotype of the young techno-hipster, using their GPS-enabled Android app to locate the next hot party.


Matthew Locke

"The move to Android in these other products is happening far faster than I ever dreamt," said Staudacher. "While it's true that most of today's Android apps are not that applicable to some of these other types of products that will use MIPS processors, I think there's somewhat of a 'build it and they will come' dynamic going on here."

Added EA COO Matthew Locke, who also sat in on the interview, "What Android offers is a rich development environment, so they can focus on developing vertical apps. It allows the device manufacturer to focus on their specific value-added apps, and the UI look and feel."


Bill Weinberg

LinuxPundit's Bill Weinberg, who is helping EA promote its MIPS porting project, added that another reason Android is attractive is the increasing use of multimedia in a wide range of device categories that rarely even had displays several years ago. "OEMs and operators are all looking at Android because it's a vehicle for high value content delivery," he said. Meanwhile, its basis in Java also brings a wealth of development talent to bear. "Because Android is implemented for Java, there is a direct connection to a wealth of programming talent."

Eventually, said Staudacher, EA's MIPS port will be submitted to the Android community. "We want to be good community citizens here, and at some point we will return the work to the open source community."

RMI's Alchemy platform

RMI's Au1250 SoC was announced in January 2007 in versions clocked from 400MHz to 600MHz. The SoC offers an on-chip media acceleration engine that provides hardware-based D1 (up to 720 x 480) video processing, making it ideally suited for use in PMPs, according to RMI.


Au1200 architecture

In January 2008, RMI introduced a 700MHz version of the Au1250. While using under 700mW of power, the upgrade can simultaneously play digital video at 2Mbps, D1 resolution, while also enabling active IDE hard drive and display usage and keeping all on-chip peripherals active except for USB 2.0 ports, claimed RMI at the time.

In January of this year, RMI introduced a similar Au1300 SoC, clockable to 1GHz, and touted for using half a Watt to decode 720p video. In addition to supporting PMPs, the Au1300 is said to be targeted at MIDs, digital picture frames (DPFs), and personal navigation devices (PNDs).

Stated Mike Wodopian, VP and GM, RMI, "Our partnership with Embedded Alley gives leading global OEMs the Android capability that they have been asking for from the Alchemy Processor family while being able to take advantage of the optimized performance, low power consumption and high levels of integration for a wide variety of applications."

Availability

Embedded Alley will provide the first Android for MIPS/RMI Au1250 stack starting in late May, as part of the company's Development Systems for MIPS architecture service. The package includes support for select MIPS architecture boards and customer-tailored support on the EA Junction service. RMI will demonstrate support for the Alchemy-flavored Android at CompuTEX in June in Taipei, Taiwan.


 
This article was originally published on LinuxDevices.com and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit LinuxToday.com for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.



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