Android USB Host + Arduino: How to communicate without rooting your Android Tablet or Phone


In the past two posts we have explained the basics of USB communication with the Arduino Uno (also applicable for Arduino Mega).

Galaxy Nexus to Arduino UNO via USB

In this post we’ll put everything together and show you how to communicate between your
application and the Arduino using nothing but the
Android USB host API
. Remember, this approach has
nothing to do with Android ADK
! Unlike Android ADK, your
Android device will act as the USB host
, while your
Arduino board will act as the USB device

For the following application to work, you will require an Android device that supports USB host mode as well as the USB host API. Most Android 3.1+ tablets will suffice (some may require an USB OTG adapter). Also, the Galaxy Nexus has host mode enabled and matches the requirements (you will need an USB OTG adapter however).

This example consists of two parts:

  • The Android application that makes use of the USB API

    A simple Android app that let’s you regulate the brightness of an LED on the Arduino using a slider. It also features a button to “enumerate” the USB device.
  • Firmware for the Arduino that does some serial I/O with the Android app

    Very basic firmware for the Arduino. An interrupt is generated when a new byte is received. The received data controls the brightness of the Arduino’s on-board LED.

    (implemented via usleep-style software pwm in the main loop).

The Arduino firmware

In the main loop the firmware asserts and clears the LED pin of the Arduino (PB5). Here is a shortened excerpt:

int main(void) {

	uint8_t i = 0;
	volatile uint8_t pause;

	for(;;){//this is the main loop
		pause = data;
		PORTB |= (1 << LED);
		for(i = 0; i < pause; i++)
		PORTB &= ~(1 << LED);
		for(i = 0; i < 255-pause; i++)

During a period of 2550[us], the LED is asserted for a duration of pause*10 [us] and cleared for (255-pause)*10[us]. Simply put, this is a very simple
software PWM

During that time, “data” and consequently “pause” may be changed within an
interrupt routine
form the serial USART port. This happens when the Android side sends data to the Arduino. The interrupt routine is extremely basic:

ISR(USART_RX_vect) {//attention to the name and argument here, won't work otherwise
	data = UDR0;//UDR0 needs to be read

The RX data has to be read in the ISR (interrupt service routine) from UDR0; have a look at the
Atmega328P reference manual
for further details. Since we are doing no multi-buffering shenanigans the handling is extremely simple (no need to call cli() or anything).

The rest of the code is initialization of the I/O pins and UART functionality. Download the complete example here:

Controlled LED on the UNO by the firmware

The Android app

The Android application uses the basic knowledge of the preceding blog post
Arduino USB transfers
. During USB initialization, the Arduino USB serial converter is set up and after that,
communication is done using the bulk IN endpoint
of the very same serial converter.

With both the aforementioned firmware installed your Arduino board and the Android application installed on your phone or tablet, you will be able to control the brightness of the Arduino Uno’s built-in LED with a slider on your Android device. Again, please
note that this will only work with devices that actually support both USB host mode
(hardware, kernel requirement)
as well as the Android USB host API
(Android OS requirement).

The source code is available here:

Many parts of the code are probably familiar to Android SW engineers. The
most interesting section is in the class UsbController
where the Arduino device is set up and communication is initiated. So let’s have a closer look at the
inner class UsbRunnable within UsbController

private class UsbRunnable implements Runnable {
	private final UsbDevice mDevice;

	UsbRunnable(UsbDevice dev) {
		mDevice = dev;

	public void run() {//here the main USB functionality is implemented
		UsbDeviceConnection conn = mUsbManager.openDevice(mDevice);
		if (!conn.claimInterface(mDevice.getInterface(1), true)) {
		// Arduino USB serial converter setup
		conn.controlTransfer(0x21, 34, 0, 0, null, 0, 0);
		conn.controlTransfer(0x21, 32, 0, 0, new byte[] { (byte) 0x80,
				0x25, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x08 }, 7, 0);

		UsbEndpoint epIN = null;
		UsbEndpoint epOUT = null;

		UsbInterface usbIf = mDevice.getInterface(1);
		for (int i = 0; i < usbIf.getEndpointCount(); i++) {
			if (usbIf.getEndpoint(i).getType() == UsbConstants.USB_ENDPOINT_XFER_BULK) {
				if (usbIf.getEndpoint(i).getDirection() == UsbConstants.USB_DIR_IN)
					epIN = usbIf.getEndpoint(i);
					epOUT = usbIf.getEndpoint(i);

		for (;;) {// this is the main loop for transferring
			synchronized (sSendLock) {//ok there should be a OUT queue, no guarantee that the byte is sent actually
				try {
				} catch (InterruptedException e) {
					if (mStop) {
			conn.bulkTransfer(epOUT, new byte[] { mData }, 1, 0);

			if (mStop) {

After the USB interface has been claimed the Arduino USB serial converter is initialized by issuing the following control transfers:

conn.controlTransfer(0x21, 34, 0, 0, null, 0, 0);
conn.controlTransfer(0x21, 32, 0, 0, new byte[] { (byte) 0x80,
				0x25, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x08 }, 7, 0);

The first call sets the control line state, the second call sets the line encoding (9600, 8N1).

For communication, an additional thread is used to
send data without blocking
the Activity’s main UI thread. By notifying sSendLock of the UsbController the data will be transferred. After submission, the thread will go into “wait” again. This way, even if submission takes more time than expected, the Activity’s main thread will not be blocked and hence
the app will not become unresponsive

Screenshot of the Android App

Also note that in the Android Manifest none of the XML-style device filters are needed, since enumeration happens by the user in the app when pressing the “enumerate” button. Device filters – and therefore automatic activity launch when connecting the Arduino – are not used in this example in order to make the code simpler to comprehend. However, this could be easily implemented with a few lines of additional code.

For developing this example we have used a
Galaxy Nexus Phone
with an USB-OTG adapter cable. It has also been successfully tested with an
Android Tablet, the Acer Iconia Tab A500
, this tablet does not need any additional adapter cables.

This post concludes the 3-Part Arduino USB communication series. Feel free to post any questions or feedback/ideas in the comments section or contact us via E-Mail (

All code you find in this post can be used under GPL for your own projects.

The following section “About Android and USB Host” again concludes why USB-Host is becoming more and more important for mobile devices and points out main differences between Android ADK (Android Accessory Development Kit) and the Android USB Host API.

Source Links

Android App:

Arduino main:

About Android and USB Host

Lately it has become more and more popular to use tablets or mobile phones to communicate with the outside world over USB. After all,
many devices now feature a full USB Host
, either with a USB-OTG converter or even with a full sized USB Type A interface. Also, the future promises even more host availability on mobile phones. This opens up an entire range of new possibilities for already existing hardware as well as newly designed hardware for phones.

Not too long ago, Android received its
. It was at the Google I/O in summer 2011 when the “Android Open Accessory Development Kit” was announced and released. However it lacked of a few crucial points. The API implied that there is an
external USB host
, acting as a “master” if you will.

On the one hand, this means that an already existing
USB device mode gadget cannot work with your Android device
. Therefore, if a manufacturer wanted to support Android phones it was necessary to create new hardware as well as new firmware. Secondly, the new hardware had to be designed to power itself and also deliver power the Android device; this implied that
mobile gadgets require their own power source
. And secondly, there was another issue: only devices running Android 2.3.4+ were shipped with the new API. Even then, it was up to the manufacturer to actually include the required stack in the OS.

But wait, there is another way to communicate over USB. At the same time (Google I/O) the Android USB Host API has been published for Android 3.1+. Starting with the second half of 2011, Android devices appeared which supported USB OTG (although devices with Android version < 3.1 were not supporting the API). With an appropriate
adapter it has become possible for Android to act as USB Host
. This meant that already present USB hardware has become compatible with the OS. As long as the kernel on the Android device supported the USB standard driver of the hardware (mass storage, input, etc.), Android would be able to use it and therefore open up a new range of extra devices compatible with the system.

However, there are many devices that have not been “compatible” from the beginning. For instance, let’s say your common RFID reader. It most likely uses a USB-serial port and probably comes with a Linux or Windows driver as well as some software. Most
Android tablets will come without the usb-serial driver
for your RFID reader however. Therefore, if you want to load your driver you will need to
root your tablet
, determine the version of your current kernel,
find the kernel sources online
, hope that everything compiles to have your driver ready and then load it onto your tablet. In the end, when you finally have your kernel driver running, you will be required to write C code as well as some JNI glue to communicate with your Activity or Service in Android. All in all, this approach is
not very straightforward

Writing your own USB soft driver

There is a very elegant solution to aforementioned problem. It
requires far less skills in hacking and porting
than the mentioned approach. However, you will require some advanced knowledge in Android programming as well as some USB know-how.

You can write your own “soft driver” in Android. Since the USB Host API has been released, it is now possible to communicate with any USB device using the
most commonly seen USB transfers
(control, interrupt, bulk). In the end, your result will be portable across all Android devices that have USB host enabled and have Android version 3.1+. Moreover, this
solution does NOT require root access
to the tablet or phone. It is currently the only viable solution that does not require the user to have any know-how of rooting/hacking the device and risk losing warranty in the process.

above Android application
uses exactly this approach. It represents a
very basic soft driver
for the Arduino’s on-board USB-to-serial converter.

Using Android in Industrial Automation稿源:Using Android in Industrial Automation (源链) | 关于 | 阅读提示

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