API to make IoT connectivity simpler
Two Google engineers have proposed a way for IoT devices to easily connected to web pages. The move could pave the way for simpler installation of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.
The engineers, Reilly Grant and Ken Rockot, said their WebUSB API would enable hardware manufacturers to set up and control devices from web sites. The proposal would also make connecting USB devices and complex IoT sensors easier.
When connecting devices, users either need the right drivers to set them up or you have to log into a small web server on the device itself. WebUSB allows the device to contact a web page and be configured from there.
“For lots of devices it does because there are standardized drivers for things like keyboards, mice, hard drives and webcams built into the operating system. What about the long tail of unusual devices or the next generation of gadgets that haven’t been standardized yet? WebUSB takes “plug and play” to the next level by connecting devices to the software that drives them across any platform by harnessing the power of web technologies,” said the engineers on the WebUSB website.
The engineers were quick to point out that the API will not provide a general mechanism for any web page to connect to any USB device. They said that historically, hosts and devices have trusted each other too much to let arbitrary pages connect to them.
They added that there are published attacks against USB devices “that will accept unsigned firmware updates that cause them to become malicious and attack the host they are connected to; exploiting the trust relationship in both directions.”
According to the engineers, WebUSB could replace native code and native SDKs with cross-platform hardware support and web-ready libraries.
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The proposed mechanism has also been designed to be backwardly-compatible with USB devices without needing special firmware.
“For devices manufactured before this specification is adopted information about allowed origins and landing pages can also be provided out of band by being published in a public registry,” the two said.
The code is still a work in progress and is unofficial and hosted at W3C’s Web Platform Incubator Community Group (WICG). The engineers are welcoming members of the WICG to contribute to the project.
Christian Smith, President and Co-Founder of TrackR, told Internet of Business that he sees WebUSB providing the standard to allow a seamless connection between hardware with USB and software.
“It would allow me to take a mechanical design file from Google drive, automatically download the calibration settings for a 3D printer, plug in the 3D printer, and be able to print directly from the web. WebUSB short circuits the complications to hardware and allows your USB devices to have instant access to updatable drivers, files, and printers,” he said.