Google Engineers Propose "WebUSB" to Connect USB Gadgets Direct to the Web

By James O Malley on at

USB devices could be about to get a lot smarter - if two Google engineers succeed in a bid to create a new "WebUSB" standard.

According to the Inquirer, Reilly Grant and Ken Rockot came up with the idea, which would essentially cut out the middleman (or rather, middle-OS) when it comes to device drivers, and enable web developers to build cool USB-supported apps from day one.

At the moment, when you plug a USB device into your computer, your operating system will run through a standard set of drivers for a wide range of devices (keyboards, USB storage, etc) until it finds one that fits. And this works for many devices - but as the engineers point out there is a "long tail" of other devices that don't fit these standard profiles and require custom drivers.

At the moment, these custom drivers must be written separately for each operating system. So if you have a 3D printer, say, the makers will need to have written software specifically for Windows and specifically for Mac OS to get it to work.

Under the "WebUSB" plan, which has been published in draft on Github, devices would instead connect directly to the internet, and would be controlled through a Javascript application that would work on any system. This means that all the hypothetical 3D Printer company would have to do would be to write one set of Javascript code and the USB 3D printer would work on any device that can load the Javascript, whether it is Windows, Mac, Chromebook or even mobile.

Perhaps most amazing of all is that such a system could be built to work with USB devices that you already own. Because each USB device has a unique name and ID number, all a web browser which supports WebUSB would have to do would be to look up the device in a public registry, and you'd never have to worry about installing the right drivers ever again.

As you might imagine, there are fairly obvious security worries about doing it this way - but the draft specification for the standard outlines how the makers believe such a system could be kept safe.

At the moment, it is essentially a pipe dream - but a provocative one - and it'll be interesting to see if developers rally around it. [The Inquirer]