No more hunting for drivers: Google's WebUSB promises easier plug and play

Google engineers want to connect USB devices to webpages to help hardware manufactures bypass the need to build native drivers.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

WebUSB might be useful in allowing 3D printer makers to build the device setup into their website.

Image: ZDNet

Two Google engineers have outlined a draft interface for securely connecting USB devices to any webpage.

The draft for WebUSB isn't for things like keyboards, mice, and hard drives, but rather for tomorrow's gadgets that might benefit from having system software delivered over the web.

The idea is to help gadget makers have their USB devices work on any platform without having to write drivers and SDKs native to each platform.

"With this API, hardware manufacturers will have the ability to build cross-platform JavaScript SDKs for their devices. This will be good for the web because, instead of waiting for a new kind of device to be popular enough for browsers to provide a specific API, new and innovative hardware can be built for the web from day one," Google engineers Reilly Grant and Ken Rockot write in the draft W3C spec for WebUSB.

The engineers acknowledge there have been published attacks that have reprogrammed USB devices to maliciously target a computer they are connected to. To deal with this risk, they suggest limiting connections to a set of approved sites.

To address the possibility of USB devices leaking information that could be used to breach a person's privacy, they also suggest prompting the user to authorize a site to search for the presence of a device and connect to it.

One example where they consider WebUSB might be useful is in supporting 3D printers, allowing manufacturers to build the device setup into their website.

The engineers note that it is only a draft of a potential specification and that it does not represent support from any standards group.

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