Sunday, December 17, 2006

Wireless USB

Please can somebody implement this idea for me?

I do most of my work and web surfing and blog reading from my laptop. Plugging in USB devices (memory sticks, printers, iPod) is a pain in the neck.

I want to have a device with several USB ports and with ethernet or wireless connectivity. I want it to work such that when I attach a USB device, it communicates with my laptop and provides the illusion that the device has been inserted directly into the laptop.

Let's call this imaginary device a Wireless USB hub.

Typical use-cases would be:

  • iPod docking station permanently plugged into this Wireless USB hub. When the iPod is plugged into the docking station, the Wireless USB hub would communicate with my computer, which would believe the iPod was plugged directly in, and iTunes would kick into action and synchronise my music
  • My printer would be permanently plugged into the Wireless USB hub. My computer therefore thinks the printer is directly attached. I can therefore print wirelessly.  (Note that Apple's AirPort Express offers this limited use case and does it quite well).

At a conceptual level, this shouldn't be too hard to implement...  Let's imagine a naive implementation of USB Plug'n'Play functionality in the operating system.  You insert a USB device and, after some magic, a function (in reality, probably lots of functions) are called on the operating system by the appropriate driver(s). The operating system may return results or perhaps invoke some callbacks or do some asynchronous magic.  The usual. A similar thing will happen once the device is fully recognised and is in use. 

The trick is to intercept these calls and fire them over the network to software performing the "mirror-image" functionality on the other side. And vice-versa, of course.

Now, I can envisage problems with latency, throughput and perhaps even mangement of state. But nothing that isn't insurmountable.

The reason I'm confident is that it appears somebody has already done it:

http://www.digi.com/products/usb/anywhereusb.jsp

But it seems this solution is focussed very much at the corporate market and costs more than I want to pay. I've emailed to ask if they have a consumer version. If not, they should do!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Belkin has one, engadget didn't like it.

Richard Brown said...

A ha!

Thanks for the link.

Interesting that they chose to achieve "wireless"-ness via a dongle, rather than an existing wireless network... I guess it's the only way to get 480Mbps - or at least claim it...

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