24
Feb
1

Custom firmware for popular wireless routers is nothing new. There's DD-WRT, Tomato, OpenWRT... and so many others that I'm not going to take the time to name them all. Despite being quite different in nature, though, they all aim to do one thing: make your wireless router better. Kind of like all the different flavors of custom ROMs for Android devices – it's really a matter of preference which one you choose.

But what if you could have Android on your router? We all know how powerful and customizable Android is, as well as how limitless the possibilities really are, so why not? A new project called Droidifi – which has already been funded by nearly 200% on Kickstarter – aims to bring that very idea to reality.

Essentially, a group of wireless developers with over a decade in the business decided they weren't happy with the current state of wireless routers. Like any good dev team, the group decided the only course of action was to create their own custom firmware. Given its flexibility and power, Android was perfect for the job, and the project is even based on 4.2.2, so it's the newest thing off the presses.

In its current state, Droidifi will run on the most powerful 802.11ac routers – the  Cisco/Linksys EA6500, Netgear R6300, and ASUS RT-AC66U – though support for additional models should come in time. The initial funding on Kickstarter was just needed to really get the project off the ground.

So, Android on a router – cool, but what can it do? According to the project's Kickstarter page, Droidifi will give routers a power boost, as it fine-tunes the Wi-Fi radio for the best possible output and range. It will also allow for mesh networking, which lets multiple routers to be plugged into the original, thus forming a distributed wireless network. Any router running Droidifi will also have access to the Droidifi appstore, which is a place where other developers will be able to upload their apps to further enhance the router. The firmware itself will be available free of charge, but access to the appstore will require a quarterly fee of five dollars. Gotta make that money somewhere!

I bet you're wondering how manipulating Android on a device with no display works, right? It's actually a pretty simple solution: through your web browser. A portal to the router will essentially run a tablet-optimized version of Android in your browser, which is where you'll tweak all the router's settings.

It's worth noting that the first video was shot in an emulated environment and the actual experience will be much smoother, according to the member of the Droidifi team we spoke with.

The firmware will also support USB devices – such as cameras and storage devices – in the initial release, and the team plans on adding support for "any USB device you could conceivably plug into [a] router" as time goes on. It also allows for any content stored on said storage devices to be streamed across the network, essentially turning the router into NAS, as well.

So, how can you get in on the action? Well, the project is already funded on Kickstarter, but you can still give to the cause if you wish – it has been proven time and time again that, the more a project makes over its original goal, the more features it gets in the initial release. Otherwise, just lay back and wait for everything to materialize. In the meantime, though, you can get the full details on both the Droidifi Kickstarter page, as well as the project's website.

If you're the more technical type, interested in all the ins-and-outs of how Droidifi works, here's a bit more in-depth video from behind the scenes:

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, and musician. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6- or 7-string, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • Adam Lawler

    just because you can doesn't mean you should. I don't think that android is a good solution for a router. but good luck to the team.

    • Cherokee4Life

      true, but what would be technology be like if they didn't do it because they can. It may not take off but I guarantee it will spread to other things and will get the wheels turning for more useful Android things

      • woj_tek

        for cryin' out loud... "just because you can doesn't mean you should" -- android is build atop of linux adding extra bloat; router shoud be lean and fast, non of the Android added stuff really matter in that area...

        • Thomas

          Exactly, it is genuinely a bad idea, it's a cool "science project", but it's in no way an product that will have much more than a gimmick factor.

          Money would've been better spent improving projects such as DD-WRT, or trying to change the status quo in the wifi router department and make a hardware project for high-performance routing that allows ample headroom for the OS and allowing better use of more advanced routing features such as QoS, VPN, and so forth.

      • RB

        You also can build a car with rectangular wheel, but we don't, because it would be inefficient.

        The same applies here.

        • Cherokee4Life

          true but I bet before the Wheel was invented someone somewhere tried a rectangular wheel and then realized that it didn't work and smoothed the edges a bit. They had the idea but the wrong end product.

          I am not saying this is going to be awesome or even good, but I will support pretty much any Android Project/Idea because I firmly believe it will spawn even better products down the road..

          • woj_tek

            in your example there were rectancular wheels first and then round ones; android on router is completely opposite - round wheels, witch are known to work quite well, turned rectangular, which will not.
            And guess what - there is already an amazing abundance of projects/idea in core linux, and if someone wants to extend it then feel free, but for the gods sake - why bring bloat of the user-facing product to something that is hidden in the drawer?! it not supposed to be multimedia set-top-box...

    • Andrew Dodd

      To put it more simply: In a market where a special edition of vxWorks has won out over Linux for some devices simply due to saving a meg or two of RAM and a few megs of flash, something that requires on the order of 100-200M+ of flash to operate is a spectacular fail.

      Android is a massive amount of bloat that is simply NOT needed for something like that. It doesn't help that, for a router, the Android hostapd driver is black voodoo magic with poor commit history (since they keep on pulling in tarball drops for Broadcom).

  • http://kennydude.me/ Joe Simpson

    There is a lot of rubbish on Kickstarter and I think while this is slightly better than some (that wristband memory stick with Ubuntu pre-installed), Android is meant for consumer devices not routers.

    Routers need to be lean to handle traffic, running Android is not going to help towards that at all!

  • Davy Jones

    "According to the project's Kickstarter page, Droidifi will give routers a
    power boost, as it fine-tunes the Wi-Fi radio for the best possibly
    output and rage."

    I usually find that my rage is inversely proportional to router output. :D

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      lol. Oops. ;)

  • Android? Yes, Please

    I'd buy it if it could make my router a set top box by using android :-D

    • Cherokee4Life

      I have already backed it for seemless Android experience in everything!

  • Elias

    This is a welcome addition regarding support for USB stuff - webcam, USB drives, printers, USB sound board. You could easily install apps to stream web radio/Google music, torrent, etc. However, I'm pretty sure android is overkill for this task. Routers got along well with weak processors, and putting a router to run full android is certainly a massive overhead. Quad core routers with 2gb of ram, anyone?

  • http://www.facebook.com/reg.joo.5 Reg Joo

    In the future, this may work. The only problem is this goes for the newest tech, and leaves what's out there hanging, hoping for this idea to filter to the current tech. Why start with ac tech, instead of starting with what's currently out there. It'll probably fail, just because of that.

  • Freak4Dell

    The USB device support has me interested (but do routers even have USB ports?), but I agree with everyone else that says Android is too heavy for a router.

    • http://twitter.com/TwinShadow_SH Ryan

      My router does actually, mainly for a printer, but it could be possible to use it for storage or something. Or you could use a USB storage for updating the firmware possibly.

      • Freak4Dell

        Oh cool. I haven't bought a router in like 5 years (the one supplied by Verizon works great for my needs), but it'd be nice to hook up a couple extra drives to a router for a NAS rather than buying or building a dedicated NAS.

        • http://twitter.com/TwinShadow_SH Ryan

          Did a quick look on my router, has 2 USB ports available for use. If you want to have a look at it, its the ASUS RT-N66U still running stock firmware. Its actually doing a real good job and I haven't had any real issues with it. Only got it because my old and tested Linksys WRT54G finally started to have wifi issues and it couldn't hold a wireless connection through my devices very well anymore. Sad really, that was the best router I've ever used. But this ASUS one is a definite nice replacement.

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      All of those projects mentioned at the top of the article are doing pretty much everything with USB that you could possibly ask for. I stopped following OpenWRT a few years ago, and at that time it was already capable of running hard drives as NAS with security options to share only on the local network or for remote access. I'm not sure how far they went with it, but somebody was working on adding support for tethering over USB (so your phone could replace the internet connection). They also had most of the other major features of routers in the $600 price range, like running an ftp server, VPN access, custom proxy servers (at the time, ad-blockers were extremely popular), etc.

      Frankly, I agree with most of the other comments here. Android is an unnecessarily hefty option for something like this. All it is really adding is the Dalvik runtime, which might be nice, but it just adds a ton of weight. Even high end routers aren't equipped with processors that should be handling that much data throughput while also powering an interpreted runtime and apps that will hook into that data. Like @a0c90ea37a0b8021e52eef22d63d7048:disqus said, it's a great science experiment, but it's completely impractical. There is a reason that all of those other projects have custom build systems to produce natively compiled and highly optimized code.

  • Droidifi

    Interesting comments and feedback. We do realize we are taking on a big task. The minimum hardware we support is a 600 MHz CPU and 128MB RAM/flash and this requires hand optimized MIPS assembler for parts of the graphics code. Android does offer some advantages aside from a standard app platform. In order to conserve battery life on phones, the Android userspace is designed to sleep when the UI is not active. This means the full CPU is available for network tasks on routers. The new SoC's coming out this summer are based on dual core ARM CPUs at 1.+ GHz and won't require the hand assembler code we need for current hardware.

    Our development model is open and we value all feedback. Our goal is to continually improve and expand the platform with support from a broad user and developer base.

  • http://twitter.com/sam1am John Samuel αΩ

    No thanks. DDWRT does a great job, and Android is way too unstable for me to trust it on my router. I mean, I love Android but it's about as stable as Windows XP was back in the day if I'm being honest.