It is often interesting to use a microcontroller with Android Things when you need some peripherals that require to send/receive pulses at a really fast frequency, or simply if you are too lazy to create a driver for a given peripheral when you are prototype something quickly.

If you are using, for instance, a DHT11 humidity & temperature sensor module, which sends pulses from 26-28μs (data bit “0”) to 70μs (data bit “1”), you will notice that it won’t work with the current version of Android Things which has a GPIO frequency around 3kHz (~300μs pulse duration).

An easy way to bypass this issue is to use an Arduino and communicate between the Android Things board and the Arduino over either UART, USB, SPI, or other ways.

Today, we will exchange data between an Android Things board and an Arduino over I²C for 3 reasons:

  • This way of communication is easy to understand / implement
  • I²C only requires 3 wires (Data “SDA”, Clock “SCL”, and Ground “GND”)
  • You can connect multiple slaves to the same bus, so if you are building your own custom board and are already using I²C components, you won’t need to add another interface to communicate with the MCU.

Building an I²C fan

We will build an Arduino-powered fan. Using I²C, the Android Things master device should be able to:

  • Turn on / off the fan
  • Set the fan speed (low / medium / high)
  • Get the current fan speed value

Android Things I²C methods

Here’s a sum-up of all the I2cDevice methods provided by the Things Support Library.
With those, you can read or write data (either one byte, two bytes, or as many as you want, in a buffer).

Data size Using a register Read method Write method
1 Byte readRegByte(int reg) writeRegByte(int reg, byte data)
2 Bytes readRegWord(int reg) writeRegWord(int reg, short data)
Many Bytes readRegBuffer(int reg, byte[] buffer, int length) writeRegBuffer(int reg, byte[] buffer, int length)
Many Bytes read(byte[] buffer, int length) write(byte[] buffer, int length)

Registers help understanding where you are reading from or writing to.
You can consider those as categories or actions. When you write some data to a register, it is easier to understand what will be impacted by this write operation.

In our project, we will use 2 different registers


Those 2 registers will be enough to perform the following actions:

Action Operation Register Data to write
Start the fan Write 0x01 1
Stop the fan Write 0x01 0
Set the fan speed Write 0x02 150 (low), 200 (medium), 250 (high)
Get the current speed Read 0x02  

So the writeRegByte(0x01, 1.toByte()) call in our Android Things project will turn on the fan, while the writeRegByte(0x02, 150.toByte()) will set the fan speed to low.

Writing the Android Things driver

We can now write an Android Things driver for our I²C Arduino fan:

class ArduinoFan(i2cName: String, i2cAddress: Int) : AutoCloseable {

    private var device: I2cDevice? = null

    init {
        device = PeripheralManager.getInstance().openI2cDevice(i2cName, i2cAddress)

    override fun close() {
        device?.close().also { device = null }

    var speed: Int
        get() = device!!.readRegByte(REGISTER_SPEED).toInt() and 0xFF
        set(value) {
            device!!.writeRegByte(REGISTER_SPEED, value.toByte())

    fun start() = device!!.writeRegByte(REGISTER_POWER, 1)

    fun stop() = device!!.writeRegByte(REGISTER_POWER, 0)

That’s all!
We only need to write around 20 lines of code for a full working Android Things driver.
Now we can call the following methods to start the fan, set the speed to high for 5 seconds, query the fan speed, then turn it off:

val fan = ArduinoFan("I2C1", 0x42)

fan.speed = 250

log("Fan speed: ${fan.speed}")


And we are done with the Android code. Let’s now write the microcontroller code.

Writing the Arduino sketch

We will use the Wire library that allows us to communicate with I²C devices.

#include <Wire.h>

const uint8_t I2C_ADDRESS = 0x42;

void setup() {

void receiveEvent(int bytes) {
  // Called when the master writes to this slave.
  // To get received data, use Wire.read()

void requestEvent() {
  // Called when the master reads from this slave.
  // To send back some data, use Wire.write()

First, our Arduino needs an address on the I²C bus, we chose arbitrarily 0x42.
Then we register 2 callbacks:

  • receiveEvent is called when the master writes to this slave
  • requestEvent is called when the master reads from this slave.

Dealing with registers

If you remember well, the readRegByte(int reg) method from Android Things takes as argument a register.
However, as you may have noticed reading the code above, the requestEvent callback from Arduino does not take any parameters, so how do we know which register is concerned?

When you call a method that involves a register, such as readReg[Byte/Word/Buffer], the receiveEvent callback from Arduino will first be triggered and we can get the register value from here and save it in a variable. Immediately after, the requestEvent callback will be triggered, and since we know which register is concerned, we can send back the proper data.

Android Things method Arduino calls
readReg[Byte/Word/Buffer] - receiveEvent is called with bytes == 1 (the register), then
- requestEvent is called immediately after
read - requestEvent is called
writeRegByte - receiveEvent is called with bytes == 2 (register + 1 byte)
writeRegWord - receiveEvent is called with bytes == 3 (register + 2 bytes)
writeRegBuffer - receiveEvent is called with bytes == register + buffer length
write - receiveEvent is called with bytes == buffer length

With this in mind, here’s the full implementation of the Arduino sketch, given the following constants:

  • I2C_ADDRESS = 0x42
#include <Wire.h>

uint8_t opcode; // register
uint8_t speed;  // fan speed: 0=off, 150=low, 200=medium, 250=high

void setup() {

void loop() {
  // Move the DC motor at a given speed
  analogWrite(FAN_DC_MOTOR_PIN, speed);

void receiveEvent(int bytes) {
  // Read the first byte to determine which register is concerned
  opcode = Wire.read();

  // If there are more than 1 byte, then the master is writing to the slave
  if (bytes > 1) {
    if (opcode == REGISTER_SPEED) {
      speed = Wire.read();
    } else if (opcode == REGISTER_POWER) {
      speed = (Wire.read() == 1) ? 200 /* on */ : 0 /* off */;

void requestEvent() {
  // Read from the register variable to know what to send back
  if (opcode == REGISTER_SPEED) {
    Wire.write((uint8_t *)&speed, sizeof(speed));
  } else {

The Arduino sketch is written and deployed, now we have to build the hardware.

Building the physical fan

Our fan is just a simple DC motor, so we will use the following components:

  • DC motor
  • PN2222 transistor
  • 1N4007 diode
  • 220Ω resistor

Let’s connect everything together and test it:


Connecting the Arduino to the Android Things board

Ok, it works.
To connect now the Arduino to the Android Things board via I²C, we simply need to connect the SDA, SCL, GND pins of the Android Things board and the Arduino together.

Careful: If your Android Things board is a 3.3V device (such as the Raspberry Pi 3 or NXP Picos boards), you will need a bi-directional level shifter for the I²C bus, so that inputs from the 5V Arduino won’t damage your board.


Source code

You can find the complete source code on GitHub:


In the following article, we will re-use this homemade device to demonstrate how we can connect multiple I²C devices to the same bus.