Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Chiplicity offers open source hardware for mixed signal chip designs

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Online design platform and marketplace for community-developed intellectual property (IP) efabless has launched an open source framework for community members to create, share and commercialise mixed-signal ICs. These chips combining analogue and digital elements are a key capability for designs in the Internet of Things.

“Chiplicity is a first of its kind and extends the efabless electronics community engineering concept from IP to ICs,” said Mohamed Kassem, efabless’ co-founder and chief technology officer. “We make chip design and productising chips simple and broadly accessible. That’s why we call it Chip-licity.”

Chiplicity is essentially a development kit for integrated circuits, similar to hardware or software design kits. It includes all the tools needed for a full design cycle to design, verify, validate and prototype mixed-signal products, from idea to completed manufacturable GDSII files. 

It also offers a set of related library components — an open source chip called Hydra, analogue IP, a standardised pad frame and a serial interface (SPI). A soft variant of the PicoRV32 RISC-V CPU core, developed by open source active contributor Clifford Wolf, is part of the efabless digital library located in the beta version of CloudV.

Community members clone marketplace components into their personal workspace on the efabless MyLib repository and create new designs. Final designs can be promoted to the marketplace for sharing with others and community members can manufacture their designs as prototypes through efabless on shuttles at X-FAB. To date, the Chiplicity platform has been used internally to tapeout two ICs.

Over time, community members will be able to create and verify increasingly complex mixed-signal ASICs. Chiplicity will offer a flexible pad frame generator and additional analogue and digital IP, including a variety of microprocessor cores, additional open source IP and community-developed analogue IP blocks. efabless also will offer open source test boards as library components to validate custom analogue circuit designs.

Community members will be able to share designs under proprietary or open source licenses. efabless currently supports X-FAB’s XH035, 350 nm mixed-signal process. Its technology roadmap includes support for additional foundry processes, such as 180nm and 130nm nodes.

“Chiplicity is an essential piece of the overall ‘smart’ hardware, open innovation ecosystem,” remarks Mike Wishart, efabless’ co-founder and chief executive officer. “By combining community, open source and an innovative marketplace, we connect ideas with resources and apply a risk/reward sharing financial model that is unique to the IC industry. IC entrepreneurs can create new mixed-signal designs on limited budgets and ‘smart’ product inventors can find customised IC solutions to make their ideas commercially attractive.”


FireFly kits provide easy connection from FPGA to fibre

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Samtec has launched a series of 14 Gbit/s Development Kits to simplify the connection between FPGAs and fibre optic links.
The kits provide  an easy-to-use evaluation and development platform for Samtec’s FireFly optical engines.

The 14 Gbit/s FireFly FMC Module provides up to 140 Gbit/s full-duplex bandwidth over 10 channels from an FPGA to an industry-standard multi-mode fibre optic cable for data centre and high performance computing (HPC) designs using protocols such as Ethernet, InfiniBand, Fibre Channel and Aurora.

The optical engines are based on proven 850 nm VCSEL array technology while featuring adjustable power levels to support cable lengths up to 100 m.

As a VITA 57.1-compliant FMC, the module can be used for optical data communication on any FMC-enabled FPGA development board supporting high-speed multi-gigabit transceivers. It can run system data or BERT testing from a single channel to all ten channels in parallel. Technical documentation and FPGA reference designs are available for quick start-up.

“Evaluating optical engine technology has high barriers of entry,” said Matt Burns, Product Marketing Manager at Samtec. “The  development kit eases FireFly evaluation and development by using the FMC interface common on most industry-standard FPGA development tools.”


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Huawei launches first Sequans-based LTE-M module

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Huawei has launched its first module based on Sequans’ Monarch chipset.

The ME309-562 is designed to support M2M and IoT applications in the North American market using the LTE-M/NB-IoT standards. This is the first module to come to market following an agreement between the two companies in February.

“Huawei has moved quickly in bringing their first Monarch-based module to market and we are very pleased to see their aggressive response to demand from IoT customers,” said Georges Karam, CEO at Sequans. “Huawei is an important module partner for Sequans and we look forward to a long and productive relationship delivering LTE for IoT to device makers everywhere.”

The LTE Cat M1 module supports LTE bands 2, 4, 12, and 13 and numerous interfaces, including LGA (120 pin), UART, SIM, LED JTAG, power supply and antenna. It includes an embedded UDP/TCP/FTP/HTTP stack and proprietary FOTA.

The module is based on Sequans’ Monarch chipset that is specifically designed for narrowband IoT applications, including sensors, wearables, and other low data, low power M2M and IoT devices.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Power news this week

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

. UK solar farm developer aims at the US with technology deal
. BMW invests in GaN Systems
. $46m for new US solar technology projects

. Cheap supercapacitor electrodes enable coin cells
. Researchers build transistors on metallic substrate for the first time
. Battery-free wireless robots move using memory alloys

NEW POWER PRODUCTS . 5mm high fuel cell contacting unit
. High efficiency slimline DIN rail power supplies reach 960W

. PTC inrush current limiters with automotive qualifications

. Interference free cabling

. Qorvo: The impact of IoT demystified

. CUI: Medical Design Standards for Power Supplies to IEC-60601-1

Echelon moves LON protocol into wireless mesh for the first time for smart lighting

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

One of the original low cost networking chip developers, Echelon, has run its LON protocol over a wireless mesh network for the first time.

Echelon was one of the pioneers of the Internet of Things, and has launched a multi-protocol system on a chip called the Neuron 6050. This is being used by a design house in Germany called who to create a new transceiver that uses LON over the Wirepas Connectivity RF-mesh wireless technology for the first time.

The Neuron 6050 IP Processor (below) incorporates communication and control functions on a single chip, in both hardware and firmware, to handle LonTalk, LonTalk/IP or BACnet/IP devices. This allows system integrators to build large scale, interoperable wireless systems based on protocols that have been tested over millions of endpoints worldwide. In a first application, the Vossloh-Schwabe division of Panasonic will incorporate the new device into a large scale outdoor lighting controls (OLC) system. 

Vossloh-Schwabe (VS) has designed the system using Wirepas for large scale wireless Internet of Things (IoT) applications, including smart city street lighting with thousands of nodes. VS and who are currently testing the new solution using Wirepas and expect to complete a project in a large city in Germany early next year that will empower approximately 1000 streetlights with the new technology over a 10 km area. 

The companies have begun the process of submitting this new LON-over-Wirepas specification to the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and to LonMark International for standardization, with adoption of the new LonMark channel expected early next year.

"The Wirepas and LonWorks protocols are organized in similar fashion so creating the interface between them was simplified," said who mbH managing partner, Henning Woock. "And using the Echelon Neuron 6050 chip was the most natural choice to ensure full multi-vendor interoperability. We are excited to be the first to bring to market new transceivers that incorporate all of these excellent technologies. There is pent-up demand in big cities and campuses that have been waiting for a solution that can efficiently address large and complex networks of devices from multiple suppliers."

Wirepas has been widely deployed in various large scale applications including smart electricity and water meters, asset tracking applications and street lighting. The largest deployment, which is ongoing, comprises 1.6 million smart electricity meters in Norway.

"This advancement in controls communication demonstrates the ongoing benefit of LON standardisation and leverages our investment in the new Neuron 6050 system on a chip," said Ron Sege, Chairman and CEO of Echelon. "This is a groundbreaking development. For the first time LON protocol can be used to communicate wirelessly over large scale networks spanning thousands of nodes over vast distances."

"We are delighted to see these exciting new products that will be joining the LonMark family of fully interoperable solutions," said Henny Wieland, Europe Manager, LonMark International. "Working with our members, we anticipate bringing the new LonMark RF, Powerline, and IP channels to the various international standards bodies as extensions to the ISO/IEC 14908 suite of LON standards."

Over the last 25 years Echelon has had over 110 million devices installed worldwide, focusing on smart cities and smart enterprises through connected outdoor lighting systems, and enabling device makers to bring connected products to market faster via a range of IoT-optimized embedded systems. 

SK Telecom commercialises quantum random number generator chip for IoT security

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

In a big step forward for security applications, SK Telcom in South Korea is commercialising its Quantum random Number Generator (QRNG) technology in a cost effective chip for the Internet of Things and driverless cars.

Random numbers are a vital element in current encryption algorithms, and are often generated in software by a pseudo random number generator (PRNG) or using features in a chip with physically unclonable functions (PUF).

The chip developed by SK Telecom uses micro machined MEMS structures to trap ions that use quantum interactions to produce true random numbers through an entropy source and Deterministic Random Bit Generator (DRBG).

SK Telecom has invested about $2.13 m (2.5 billion KRW) into IDQ (ID Quantique) in Switzeraland which holds major patents for QRNG and has acquired exclusive rights to use IDQ’s patents.

The 5 x 5mm chip will be used to provide more security for IoT systems such as autonomous vehicles, drones and smart devices. Although the price of each QRNG chip has not been set yet, the company said that it will be the lowest price ever for a QRNG.

SK Telecom is also developing a QRNG in the form of USB and PCIe using the chip. This will make it easier to add genuine random numbers to existing system designs.

“Understanding the importance of data and data security, SK Telecom has focused on developing quantum cryptography technologies to guarantee secure transmission of data in areas including artificial intelligence (AI), IoT and autonomous driving,” said Park Jin-hyo, Senior Vice President and Head of Network R&D Centre of SK Telecom. “We will continue to work with partners, both home and abroad, to accelerate the popularization of quantum cryptography and strengthen our presence in the global market.”

The chip has implications for wider markets. “SK Telecom has a competitive edge in the development of the most stable quantum cryptographic technologies as it can actually apply the technology to its commercial network to test and fine-tune its performance,” said Alex Jinsung Choi, CTO and Head of SK Telecom's Corporate R&D Centre. “Quantum cryptographic technologies, once applied, will mark an epoch in the field of communications security, providing unprecedented level of protection for national backbone networks as well as diverse industries including finance and healthcare.”

IDQ, which was established in 2001, was also the first company to commercialise quantum information communication and the two companies have also agreed to co-develop ‘QKD (Quantum Key Distribution’ technology.

Related stories:

Friday, July 21, 2017

Toshiba RF front end boosts Bluetooth mesh range to 300m

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Toshiba has added the new mesh protocol capability to its Bluetooth Low Energy 4.2 chips and designed a separate front end to give more range for nodes in the Internet of Things (IoT).

Toshiba says the combination of the new mesh protocol and its existing software for BLE 4.2 (rather than Bluetooth ) gives a link budget over 100 dB with a new design of external PA and LNA, This provides a range of over 300m open-air range at low-power transmit and receive power levels. The current second generation devices such as the TC35678FSG-002 have a current consumption of 3.3 mA in Tx mode and 3.3 mA in Rx mode. 

"As a Bluetooth SIG founder and current board member, Toshiba is excited to be among the first to support the organization's push to increase the effective range and robustness of Bluetooth through the introduction of a highly reliable mesh network," said Deepak Prakash, senior director at Toshiba America Electronic Components, "This standards-based approach means that new untapped markets, such as industrial and commercial, can now use ever-present Bluetooth cell phones or tablets to easily control and monitor their systems."

Related stories:

Devil's Ivy vulnerability targets connected cameras

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Security researchers have identified yet another vulnerability in Internet-connected video cameras, calling it Devil's Ivy.

The team at Senrio found that 249 models out of 251 cameras from Axis Communications suffered from a stack overflow vulnerability that allowed malware to be injected. This isn't even about protecting the data sent from the camera as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), but attacking the hardware of the camera itself to provide access to that data directly.

The name Devil's Ivy comes from the fact that the problem is difficult to address, and a result of problems with software libraries. However, this is a hole in the software, not malware that is moving across the IoT.

Devil’s Ivy results in remote code execution, and was found in an open source third-party code library, from gSOAP says the team at Senrio. When exploited, it allows an attacker to remotely access a video feed or deny the owner access to the feed. Since these cameras are meant to be secure in an area such as a bank lobby, this could lead to collection of sensitive information or prevent a crime from being observed or recorded.

This highlights a problem in the embedded software development process.

"Pervasive vulnerabilities in third-party libraries are a well understood problem and highlights something that we, as a community of both security experts and software engineers, need to work together to resolve," said Chris Schmidt, senior manager for research at EDA tool vendor Synopsys. 

"Software will continue to depend more and more on code re-use and third-party libraries and frameworks and this problem stems from how software is written now," he said. "Engineers often go out of their way to select a library from a catalogue of hundreds of possibilities which most closely match the capabilities they desire with the smallest possible footprint. More often than not, this results in the use of immature code which compounds when applications inherit the risks, bugs, and flaws that exist across all those purpose-built libraries they’ve imported to support the capabilities they require for the application.

"Sites like StackOverflow provide a fertile breeding ground for insecure code, owing to the number of inexperienced, but well-meaning engineers sharing code solutions to specific problems online; forums that are generally closed to people outside of specific industries, types of applications, languages, or frameworks breed pervasive vulnerabilities due to the lack of visibility outside of a specific group of users," he said.

"Organisations can help temper the wildfire of these types of pervasive security issues by enforcing policies that require verification and independent review of third-party code before it’s used; however this generally doesn’t scale and severely limits the ability of engineers to innovate at a competitive speed."

This needs more security testing.

"We are now bearing witness to a world where mass produced IoT devices lack any reasonable program for vulnerability identification and management. This, coupled with weak authentication, means that many of these devices are just waiting for their turn to become victims of the hack of the week club," said ​Mike Ahmadi, global director of critical systems security at Synopsys,

"We have managed to work our way into a hole, and it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. The still prevalent lack of vulnerability identification and weak authentication by device manufacturers means that we potentially face decades of problems. I hate to paint a grim picture, but hopefully it will cause organisations to dedicate more resources towards proactively addressing these issues."

Related stories:

Movidius puts AI on a USB stick

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Low power computer vision chip designer Movidius, now part of Intel, has put its latest processor into a USB stick for $79 for developing artificial intelligence and machine learning applications.

The move is of course intended to drive chip sales from development systems to production, but marks a move to opening up the technology.

“The Myriad 2 VPU housed inside the Movidius Neural Compute Stick provides powerful, yet efficient performance – more than 100 gigaflops of performance within a 1W power envelope – to run real-time deep neural networks (DNN) directly from the device,” said Remi El-Ouazzane, vice president and general manager of Movidius. “This enables a wide range of AI applications to be deployed offline.”

Machine intelligence development starts by training an algorithm on large sets of sample data via modern machine learning techniques and and then running the algorithm in an end-application that needs to interpret real-world data. This second stage is referred to as “inference,” and performing inference at the edge – or natively inside the device – brings numerous benefits in terms of latency, power consumption and privacy

Developers can automatically convert a trained Caffe-based convolutional neural network (CNN) into an embedded neural network optimized to run on the onboard Movidius Myriad 2 VPU and tune the performance metrics for both industry-standard and custom-designed neural networks for each layer to optimise real-world performance at ultra-low power. Validation scripts allow developers to compare the accuracy of the optimized model on the device to the original PC-based model.
The Neural Compute Stick can also behave as a discrete neural network accelerator by adding dedicated deep learning inference capabilities to existing computing platforms for improved performance and power efficiency.

Movidius Neural Compute Stick is now available for purchase through select distributors for $79 at developer.movidius.com/buy

Related stories:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

OT-Morpho boosts LoRaWAN security

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk
European security developer OT-Morpho has joined the LoRa long range wireless Alliance, providing a boost for secure authentication of LoRa-based LPWAN networks.

The company, formed from the combination of OT (Oberthur Technologies) in Germany and Safran Identity & Security (Morpho) in France in May 2017. The company has almost €3bn in revenues and more than 14,000 employees.

“Our membership in LoRa ideally complements our global Internet of Things (IoT) business strategy,” said Yves Portalier, OT-Morpho, Vice President and General Manager, Telecom, at Morpho. “The IoT enables an explosion of possibilities for connected objects, ranging from smart home and healthcare to industry applications. IoT device manufacturers, platform and cloud service providers can easily implement our solutions and thus expand their secure IoT ecosystem.”

www.morpho.com and www.oberthur.com

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Helium uses sub-GHz 802.15.4 for secure IoT connections

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

US startup Helium has launched a suite of products to provide a comprehensive low-power, long-range solution for IoT devices.

The system uses a long range star network protocol built on the 802.15.4 standard physical layer used by Zigbee and Thread to provide data rates up to 250kbit/s dynamically switching between two frequency bands in the sub-GHz 915MHz and 868MHz bands. Running on a low power ARM Cortex-M4 processor, and sub-GHz RF front end, this gives a range of up to 10 miles and a battery life of up to 3 years on two AA cells.

Securely capturing and transmitting data from the hardware to the application layer is highly problematic for most organisations, who are faced with the challenges of configuring, securing and managing massive numbers of devices. Helium hides this complexity and offers this as a service by including the links to the encryption chips in the MAC layer as an integral part of the wireless module design. Dust Network, now part of Linear Technology and Analog Devices, did pretty much the same thing, and is currently being used for Advantech's IoT rollout.

The Helium Atom wireless modules are available as surface mount for production use, or in a small XBee form-factor for prototyping with Raspberry Pi, mBed, Arduino and many more. The company is also releasing an open source C/C++ client library to simplify sending and receive encrypted sensor data wirelessly .

The company changed direction in May to focus on this technology, dropping its own cloud-based service and using public providers instead. 

"Connectivity is extraordinarily complicated when dealing with resource-constrained embedded devices," said Amir Haleem, CEO of Helium. "Helium has taken a process that normally takes months of labour-intensive work from a large team and simplified it to a process that can be achieved in minutes with minimal staff, and provides the visibility and control needed to manage at scale going forward."

Helium's main offering is a central console, the Helium Dashboard, that eliminating the need to visit every sensor in the field, which is a common challenge of remote field monitoring. Helium Dashboard also serves as a central point for Helium Channels, the setup and integration of the cloud applications and data stores used to assess and take action on these physical data.

"Although there has been great progress made in the areas of IoT hardware and cloud software, there are still major technical and economic challenges in getting connectivity to the edge point to gather and deliver data," said Rob Bamforth, Principal Analyst at Quocirca. "Simplifying and lowering costs of connectivity deployment would remove a significant barrier to mass IoT adoption in several industries."

The new products work out of the box with all existing sensor hardware and a wide range of IoT cloud applications with little-to-no configuration. The atom modules can cost as little as $19, with $29 per Element Access Point, and a simple $1.99 per month per installed Atom with no usage or data fees, Helium eliminates upcharges and most add-on costs that are increasingly a challenge for IoT roll outs. Helium says using 802.15.4 ensures that it can support IoT hardware and software regardless of the changes in IoT technology.

The key features include most of the things we cover on the Embedded blog regularly:
  • Zero configuration for simple installation and setup at scale
  • Compatibility across hundreds of hardware providers
  • Extremely long range connectivity, on the order of many city-blocks in dense urban applications and hundreds of square miles in sparse rural settings
  • IEEE standards-based hardware provides maximum flexibility for changing business demands with no proprietary lock-in
  • Hardware-based security to ensure data is encrypted and devices authenticated, end to end
  • Over-the-air updating and bi-directional communication to provide future-proofing, up-to-date software and further protection from security risks
  • Helium Channels provide interoperability with all major cloud providers such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS IoT, and Google Cloud Platform IoT Core
  • Full visibility and management enabled by Helium Dashboard
Having control of the whole protocol stack allows for an integrated security implementation. All the Helium devices are automatically authenticated to the network using a unique hardware-stored key, and the Device-to-cloud and cloud-to-device communication is encrypted end to end via AES256. 

A securely authenticated and authorized control-plane allows users to confirm that control instructions are between trusted devices and third party Channel connections, with appropriate permissions (turn on valves, set off alarms, turn off machinery, etc.) and  X509 certificates used on AWS, Azure, Google and others are signed by a different set of unique per-device private keys in hardware. 


Related stories:

Bluetooth finally launches mesh capability

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has finally announced its mesh networking to connect multiple systems together as a part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The new mesh capability for Bluetooth 4 and 5 enables many-to-many (m:m) device communications and is optimised for creating large-scale device networks. It is aimed at building automation, sensor networks and other IoT solutions where tens, hundreds, or thousands of devices need to reliably and securely communicate with one another.

“By adding support for mesh networking, the Bluetooth member community is continuing a long history of focused innovation to help new, up-and-coming markets flourish,” said Mark Powell, executive director for Bluetooth SIG. “In the same way the connected device market experienced rapid growth after the introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy, we believe Bluetooth mesh networking can play a vital role in helping early stage markets, such as building automation and wireless sensor networks, experience more rapid growth.”

The specification includes self-healing so that a failing node can be avoided in networks with thousands of sensors and actuaors. It also provides industrial-grade security for protection against all known attacks.

The spec provides a full stack implementation that defines the low-level radio up to the high-level application layer, ensuring all aspects of the technology are fully specified and can be tested for interoperability.

Time and time again it has been shown that markets flourish when multi-vendor interoperability exists, says the SIG. A key reason why the SIG spec if important is the proven, global interoperability that assures products from different vendors work together. Comprehensive, multi-vendor interoperability testing is conducted during the specification development process, not after specification release, which is why this has taken longer than expected.

“Multi-vendor interoperability is a major factor in determining how fast markets develop,” said Russ Sharer, VP Global Marketing and Business Development, Fulham. “Fulham is excited to finally see a wireless, multi-vendor, interoperable standard for lighting controls and we believe Bluetooth mesh networking will greatly expand the size and functionality of the market.”

A mesh network built using Bluetooth technology can support additional services, such as asset tracking and way finding

“Within the building automation market, there is a growing focus on connected lighting and the role it can play as a platform for providing automation services throughout a facility,” said Szymon Slupik, president and CTO of Silvair and chairman of the mesh working group within the Bluetooth SIG. “A smart lighting platform built on top of Bluetooth mesh networking can also support asset tracking, point of interest, and way-finding services. These value-added capabilities are part of why we believe Bluetooth is an ideal technology for enabling a mesh network.”

The Bluetooth mesh networking specifications, as well as the tools required to qualify Bluetooth products with mesh networking support, are now available at the Bluetooth website. Bluetooth mesh networking operates on Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) and is compatible with core specification version 4.0 and higher.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Octocore cPCI server blade targets 35W power envelope

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Kontron has developed a prototype 6U CompactPCI server blade using the latest Intel Xeon D-1500 processors with up to 16 cores. The 8 core version targets a 35W envelope at 1.6GHz.

The CP6006-SA has been designed specifically for multi-CPU server-class applications in demanding embedded environments with a longer product lifetime. A more powerful variant with 2.0 GHz targets a TDP of 45W.

Up to 64 GB of DDR4 ECC memory allows virtualization support, when many virtualized tasks require separated memory. This amounts to a fourfold increase compared to the memory support usually found in cPCI systems. This makes the CP6006 suited to servers and computing nodes, where ordinary server systems do not meet the embedded requirements for robustness and longevity.

The CP6006X-SA variant offers a significantly higher data throughput via PCI Express 3.0 and 2x 10 Gigabit Ethernet on the backplane for compute intense applications such as sonar, radar and video stream analytics in commercial avionics and the defence sector. It is also aimed at embedded telecoms, industrial automation and medical image processing applications.

The blades support Kontron’s APPROTECT security technology. This uses an integrated security chip in tandem with a specifically developed software framework that provides full IP, copy and reverse engineering protection. APPROTECT Licensing enables new business models such as 'pay per use' or time-based trial versions, as it can be used to easily enable or disable features via a predetermined set of variables. For additional hardware and software security measures Kontron’s CP6006-SA also ships with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM 2.0) as standard.

The CP6006-SA is available now as a prototype for testing purposes and regular production is scheduled in the next several months.

Related stories:

Bluetooth mesh kit cuts IoT developer time by six months

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Silicon Labs has launched a comprehensive suite of software and hardware that supports the new Bluetooth mesh specification to cut development time of projects for the Internet of Things. 

The new Bluetooth mesh uses the company’s proven mesh networking expertise and includes development tools, a software stack, and mobile apps supporting Silicon Labs’ wireless system-on-chip (SoC) devices and certified modules. The combination of Silicon Labs’ patented network analysis tools and Bluetooth mesh stack for smartphones enables IoT developers to cut time to market by up to six months when compared to existing wireless development tools and techniques.

Bluetooth mesh devices are ideal for smart home, lighting, beacons and asset tracking applications. A mesh network enables devices, such as connected lights, to be deployed at greater distances from a hub or gateway. As each light is deployed, the communication range increases, allowing a single gateway to cover an area larger than one that is simply covered by a star network topology. In retail marketing and asset tracking applications, Bluetooth mesh technology simplifies the deployment and management of beacons. By combining Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) with mesh networking, new capabilities and value can be introduced into devices such as connected lights which can also serve as beacons or beacon scanners.

“Bluetooth is the next frontier in mesh networking, and Silicon Labs’ new Bluetooth mesh software and tools keep us at the forefront of this rapidly emerging ‘many-to-many’ network topology,” said Richard Baxter, President and CEO of Mesh Systems, an IoT software, services and solution provider. “From easy-to-use development kits to mobile applications that help us connect devices seamlessly, we rely on Silicon Labs’ deep expertise in mesh technology to give us the hardware and software resources we need to increase productivity and speed development time so our customers can better compete in today’s IoT race.”

The certified wireless modules and SoCs include the world’s smallest Bluetooth system-in-package (SiP) module (BGM11S) and the latest EFR32BG13 Blue Gecko SoCs. Modules with integrated antennas provide a fast, cost-effective means to design Bluetooth mesh-enabled products. Blue Gecko SoCs offer large memory options to support over-the-air (OTA) updates, as well as advanced features such as hardware security acceleration, capacitive sensing, low-power sensor interfaces and enhanced RF performance.

Silicon Labs’ mobile application for smartphones allows designers to verify the operation of Bluetooth mesh-based implementations with a commercially supported Bluetooth mesh library and source code to streamline design.

The Simplicity Studio software tools including patented network analysis and packet trace technology, energy profiling and visual application configuration. Software compatibility across Silicon Labs’ portfolio of wireless SoCs and modules enables broad software reuse and reduced development time and cost.

Silicon Labs has shipped more than 100 million mesh networking SoCs and modules to date and has more than 15 years of experience in developing standards-based mesh networking solutions for customers worldwide. 

“We expect to see a wave of new devices hit the market quickly by leveraging ubiquitous Bluetooth connectivity to create hub-less mesh networks that extend the range and reliability of Bluetooth systems,” said Daniel Cooley, Senior Vice President and General Manager of IoT products at Silicon Labs. “No matter which mesh technology developers choose to power their next IoT designs, we offer a complete portfolio of silicon, software and solutions that gives device makers everything they need to accelerate time to market while designing secure, robust mesh networks.”

The Bluetooth mesh software development tools and software stack are available now free of charge to customers with registered Bluetooth mesh development kits from Silicon Labs. Wireless Gecko SoCs, Bluetooth modules and wireless starter kits for Bluetooth mesh applications are available now from Silicon Labs and authorized distributors with more information at www.silabs.com/bluetooth-mesh.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Next generation rack mounted systems highlight the importance of embedded applications

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Embedded system designer Crystal Group has redesigned its rugged rack mount computer system for the latest Intel Xeon Skylake processors, targeting sensor fusion, AI and video processing applications.

The next generation of Crystal Group's rugged rackmount products include a host of robust enhancements including a substantial jump in compute performance, greater scalability, increased security, and even more agility to adapt to changing technologies. The improved capabilities are critical in today's rapid technology transformations.

"Translating evolving technology into direct benefits for our customers is one of our most important responsibilities to the market," says Jim Shaw, Executive Vice President of Engineering at Crystal. "We are taking full advantage of the new Xeon Scalable Processor architecture to build our next generation of rugged rack mount computers. These devices will deliver the most advanced solution, optimised to withstand tough conditions such as shock, vibration, extreme temperature, sand and dust under full CPU load."
The rugged rackmount computers is aimed at a variety of applications requiring high compute capability, reliability and performance in harsh environments including:
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Communications
  • Monitoring & surveillance
  • Sensor fusion
  • Signal awareness
  • Situation analysis
  • Spectrum analysis
  • Video recording
The boards will be available in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Related stories:

Murata teams with ST Micro and Sigfox for dual use LoRa IoT networks

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Murata is working with STMicro and SigFox to port the SigFox stack to co-exist alongside the LoRa stack on Murata’s small form factor Type ABZ LoRaWAN module. 

This allows the module to support both the LoRa and SigFox networks worldwide from a single hardware design. This approach allows customers to decide which network technology serves the application best depending on location, service requirements and cost.

“By combining these two complementary technologies, we have produced a module suitable for the many different kinds of applications our customers wish to use it for. The interoperability of the module will also encourage new customers to enter the market,” said Samir Hennaoui, Product Manager at Murata.
Both networks offer similar low-power wide area network (LPWAN) capabilities, targeting applications in smart meters, facility management, asset tracking, and a range of other uses in the IoT space. While each has differences, the common goal is network coverage with good Quality of Service (QoS). By supporting both standards, Murata’s module can also bridge both networks, providing even greater deployment flexibility by allowing a dual-mode operation from a single firmware package that can be used globally.

As the first major vendor to offer an LPWAN module that supports both LoRa and SigFox, Murata expects to achieve a leading position in this market while giving customers greater solution longevity and robustness. For example, in the event of a network problem on one network, customer applications would be able to easily switch to the other protocol, this offering redundancy of communications links.

The ABZ LoRaWAN module uses an STMicro STM32-based wireless microcontroller and SX1276 Semtech radio front end operating in the 806-930MHz frequency band and provides a nominal output power of +14 dBm that can be boosted to +20 dBm for long range or poor signal location applications. STMicro is a key partner for Murata, and STMicro are responsible for the development of the SigFox firmware. SigFox European certification of the module has been completed and certification for the US and Asia-Pacific regions is scheduled to be completed next. The firmware will be made available by STMicro through its website.

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Ariel Technologies raises $1.7m for WiFi home sensors

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Montreal-based Aerial Technologies has raised US$1.7m to commercialise its AI-based WiFi home sensor technology.

The software uses distortions in the Wi-Fi energy signals in the household to develop Wi-Fi fingerprints that enable the software to detect movement and presence and recognise people and activities. The key is that this uses existing WiFi routers with cloud-based AI software, highlighting the increasing convergence of AI and cloud-service for embedded designs.

The technology was conceived by Michel Allegue based on IP that originated at McGill University, Rutgers University and Steven´s Institute of Technology. As people, pets and inorganic objects move around at home or in the office, they distort and disrupt the Wi-Fi signals in predictable ways. Aerial processes these distortions to add context and meaning to motion allowing the recognition of presence, motion, activity and identity. Aerial software can be embedded in virtually any Wi-Fi network equipment or device and does not require wearables or other sensors to work. 

"We are delighted to be working with such a select group of investors and we believe that their interest validates the immense potential of Aerial's novel approach to motion detection for the Wi-Fi home," said David Grant, CEO of Aerial Technologies. "With their support, we are now well positioned to accelerate the commercialization of our motion interface with some of the most important telecommunication companies in the world."

Early applications include Presence Awareness and Motion Detection, Home Intrusion Detection, Smart air conditioning energy optimisation, healthcare and elderly care monitory services, and intelligent motion awareness. The technology, already in pilot with several large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Multi Service Operators (MSOs), will be deployed into existing equipment offered through these service providers.

The CA$2.25m convertible note financing was led by Fonds Innovexport and successful entrepreneur and investor Jean-François Grenon. Strategic investors include Kibo Ventures, a Spanish-based VC firm which has Grupo Telefónica as one of the main investors in the fund and Wayra, part of Telefónica Open Future_network, and Quebecor Group, a leading Canadian integrated communications company. Angel investors linked to Montreal-based incubator TandemLaunch also joined the round.

The technology was conceived by Michel Allegue, CTO, based on IP that originated at McGill University, Rutgers University and Steven´s Institute of Technology. As people, pets and inorganic objects move in the mess of Wi-Fi signals already in your home or office, they distort and disrupt these Wi-Fi signals in predictable ways. Aerial processes these distortions to add context and meaning to motion allowing the recognition of presence, motion, activity and identity. Aerial software can be embedded in virtually any Wi-Fi network equipment or device and does not require wearables or other sensors to work.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Power news this week

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk at

. Siemens and AES combine their storage battery businesses
. Helix samples its first power chip
. ETAL opens power R&D and manufacturing centre in UK


. Battery charges in seconds
. 3D stacked solar collector cell tops 44% efficiency
. Fluorescence helps make electric vehicle batteries safer


. New process boosts ESD protection diodes for high-speed interfaces in mobile devices
. Deep trench process boosts Schottky diode performance
. Micro-power voltage detector provides reset signal for digital systems

Ericsson's Stamford Bridge deal shows service trend for embedded designs

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Building a WiFi product is no longer enough for embedded systems developers, as highlighted by today's deal between Ericsson and Chelsea Football Club’s home stadium in London.

Free Wi-Fi coverage across Stamford Bridge will be provided via a 'Small Cell as a Service' where Ericsson designs, builds and operates the network, including designing and building its own WiFi devices. Offering the network as a service can help to offset the higher costs of the chip development.

Many fans used their smartphones to share photos and videos via social media, often stretching cellular networks to the limit. So Ericsson will design, build and operate a carrier-grade Wi-Fi access network and then manage it on Chelsea FC’s behalf.

In 2015, Legia Warsaw became the first football club in Europe to sign a Small Cell as a Service contract with Ericsson. In 2016, Ericsson became the connectivity partner for the Ricoh Arena stadium in Coventry, England, home to Aviva Premiership rugby team Wasps and Wasps Netball.

However, this leads to more fundamental challenges for system developers. Installing a series of small cells around a stadium is the first step, but then there are wider embedded networking issues.

Zeetta Networks is working with the Aston Gate Stadium in Bristol on a large-scale demonstrator of its Software Defined Networking technology

The £1.8m project see the NetOS software deployed throughout the stadium to connect tens of thousands of devices including mobile phones; cash tills; turnstiles; display screens; HVAC; sensors and building management systems, all with software that is easy to set up, monitor and reconfigure in real time. Zeetta will also develop a programmable platform for new services by extracting data analytics from the network for new software apps.

“Stadia and other large venues, across the UK and beyond, are challenged by their consumer need for more data and faster response time particularly as they scale up their activities into new business areas,” said Vassilis Seferidis, CEO of Zeetta Networks. “This first-of-a-kind deployment forms a key part of our business plan by demonstrating our technological capabilities and the resulting commercial benefits for our customers.” 

“We’ve been working with Zeetta Networks for the last 12 months and it is exciting to see the potential uses of this system unfold,” said Martin Griffiths, chairman of Ashton Gate. “Sports stadia across the globe struggle with connectivity and real-time evaluation of data. I believe we are just scratching the surface of what this NetOS platform can deliver and look forward to seeing its implementation over the coming year. Using Ashton Gate Stadium as a live test lab I’m confident that we will be able to drive greater fan engagement along with significant returns to our businesses.”

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Chinese RTOS platform vendor creates alliance for smart cities and energy IoT

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Envision Energy in Shanghai has created an open-platform alliance that connects energy pioneers and IoT technology innovators to accelerate the digitalisation of clean energy.

The 'Energy IoT and Smart City Technology Alliance' consists of Envision, Microsoft, Accenture and others to use the Envision EnOS IoT platform. This enables users to build, deploy and operate energy management applications efficiently and reliably by combining real time computing with connectivity, a device library and a big data platform.

Microsoft's Azure Cloud Platform provides secure and flexible data storage and computing; and Accenture's Enterprise Service expertise ensures a seamless application integration process. Envision also intends to use ARM's web-based mbed development tools to collect intelligence from physical assets to EnOS.

"The old energy paradigm is breaking down and will be replaced by a new era of energy. Envision is leading a global energy technology revolution in an open and collaborative way. The purpose of this alliance is to accelerate the digital transition and solve challenges through great team work. Together we are dedicated to making the new era of beautiful energy a near-term reality," said Envision founder and CEO Lei Zhang.

"The powerful combination of Microsoft's Cloud and Envision's IoT platform will help millions of enterprises and consumers in hundreds of cities across the world to embrace digital transformation, creating a new benchmark for the entire energy industry," said Alan Crozier, Corporate Vice President, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft's Greater China Region.

Going forward, the Energy IoT and Smart City Technology Alliance will focus on enhancing technological and network exchanges and beneficial business practices among its member companies.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Circular AMOLED modules target wearable applications - video

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

andersDX has launched a round colour AMOLED display for wearable and instrumentation applications, complementing the circular PMOLED and touchscreen modules that it already offers. 

“The new circular colour AMOLED module brings the coolest display technology around to the wearable and hand held instrument market," said Paul Hooper, Display Group Manager at andersDX. "I can’t overstate the impact this technology makes on the user: with all-round viewability, a high contrast ratio and exceptional appearance. These displays are economic for relatively low volume applications, allowing industrial, medical and specialist consumer customers to create a user interface that puts their product in a class of its own.”

The module is 1.3” in diameter, but can be customised to suit the individual application. It features a 360(RGB) × 360 dot matrix display with a brightness of 350 cd/m2. The module is just 0.6mm thick and has a rated operating temperature of -20° to 60°C. andersDX is also offering a 1.13” diameter Passive Matrix OLED TFT from Truly. A new range of circular TFT displays will be added to the portfolio in the coming weeks.

The display technology is based on a Low Temperature Poly-silicon (LTPS) backplane with a pixel density up to 500 PPI, and andersDX is offering AMOLED displays of up to 6" initially, increasing to 10.1"in the future.

Friday, July 14, 2017

u-blox starts narrowband IoT trials in Brazil

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Swiss communications module maker u-blox is starting trials of narrowband IoT systems in Brazil with Huawei.

The trials are using NB-IoT or Cat NB1 networks in Brazil for metering and tracking applications.

These trials reflect u-blox's focus to meet pent-up demand for low power wide area (LPWA) connectivity using the NB1 technology which was standardized by 3GPP in June 2016. The benefits of NB1 over other cellular radio technologies include lower device complexity, ultra-low power operation, and support for more than 50,000 devices per single cellular cell. As it uses a licensed spectrum-based network, it also offers greater security and high robustness from interference.

"We are excited to partner with u-blox to help our mutual customers migrate to the new, low-power and low-cost Narrowband IoT technology that also offers excellent coverage," said Eduardo Takeshi, senior manager of network operator partner Vivo IoT. 

"The low power consumption of u-blox SARA-N2 and improved coverage of NB-IoT networks in Brazil will bring important benefits to our solutions," said Welson Regis Jacometti, CEO at smart metering company CAS Tecnologia.

Embedded in the test device is the u-blox SARA-N2 NB-IoT module, the first cellular NB-IoT module compliant to the 3GPP Release 13, Narrowband IoT (LTE Cat NB1) standard. Designed for use in applications such as smart buildings and cities, utilities metering, white goods, asset tracking, and agricultural and environmental monitoring, the module will operate for 10+years from a single-cell primary battery. The 16 mm x 26 mm LGA form factor, using u-blox nested architecture, facilitates simple upgrades from u-blox GSM, HSPA or CDMA modules and ensures future-proof, seamless mechanical scalability across technologies.

"Allowing for easy migration across 2G, 3G and 4G, cellular modules from u-blox support a comprehensive set of communication protocols with minimal signalling overhead to conserve power," said Suresh Ram, President u-blox America. "We are working with our partners and customers to introduce products with our modules where longevity of operation and reachability in poor propagation conditions are mission critical."


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Cadence eyes Japanese car makers for Tensilica DSP core with RTOS port

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Cadence Design Systems has worked with a Japanese university to port an automotive real-time operating system smart vehicles to its configurable digital signal processor core for the first time. 

It teamed up with the Embedded Real-Time System Laboratory of Nagoya University to port the AUTOSAR-compliant TOPPERS ATK2-SC1 (Toyohashi OPen Platform for Embedded Real-time Systems Automotive Kernel version-2 Scalability Class 1) to the Cadence Tensilica processors and DSPs. This is the first AUTOSAR software to be ported to the architecture, which can be configured with custom instructions, tools and software.

Nagoya University and Cadence jointly ported the ATK2-SC1 to the Tensilica processor platform, validating that it functions correctly and operates at competitive performance levels. This opens up Japanese companies working on advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), human machine interface (HMI), autonomous driving system and other automotive applications requiring the high computational capabilities of Tensilica processors.

Automotive electronic systems are increasing exponentially in complexity, making it increasingly challenging for electronic control units (ECUs) to perform their specific control functions while also connecting to the various automotive networks reliably. The AUTOSAR architecture organizes the building blocks that compose the ECU software stack, allowing multiple suppliers and OEMs to collaborate on the development of critical system components. Reuse of well-defined software components allows ECUs to be developed quickly and efficiently, and systems are becoming more heterogeneous in their deployment of processors and DSPs.

The broadly adopted and production-proven TOPPERS ATK2-SC1 real-time operating system (RTOS) automotive kernel, which manages the detailed timing of software tasks in automotive system control applications, is one of the most critical of these software building blocks. Now that Nagoya University and Cadence have ported the ATK2-SC1 to the Tensilica processor family, ECU developers can take advantage of the Tensilica DSP architectures to optimize their processors for their specific application without changing the RTOS automotive kernel. This enables them to start early development of automotive applications on the AUTOSAR OS while maintaining the high quality and dependability required for safety-critical automotive systems.

“With the growing popularity of ADAS and autonomous driving applications, automotive is becoming an increasingly promising market for the electronics industry. As a result, we are seeing growing demand for a standard platform for application development,” said Hiroaki Takada, Ph.D., a professor in the Embedded Real-Time System Laboratory at Nagoya University. “Through our recent collaboration with Cadence, we were able to validate the TOPPERS automotive kernel running on Tensilica DSPs and make it available for embedded software engineers to start their early development.”

“This collaboration with Nagoya University supports Cadence’s automotive ADAS enablement strategy and marks the first time the AUTOSAR software layer has been ported to a Tensilica processor,” said Raja Tabet, Corporate VP, Emerging Technologies at Cadence. “Many automotive applications such as radar, lidar, vision and audio/noise reduction are computationally intensive and therefore well suited to Tensilica DSPs, which are highly customizable to the specific tasks. Support for AUTOSAR via the ATK2-SC1 enables developers to take advantage of the computational benefits of Tensilica DSPs while maintaining portable, platform-independent code.”

The TOPPERS ATK2-SC1 port supports all Tensilica processors and DSPs and Cadence will be demoing the ATK2-SC1 on Tensilica processors at CDNLive Japan 2017, being held next week (July 21) in Yokohama. https://ip.cadence.com/applications/automotive/ipg-automotive.

10Gbit USB 3.1 second generation hub controller eyes USB-C

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

VIA Labs in Taiwan has developed the world’s first USB-IF certified USB 3.1 Gen 2 Hub controller with an eye on future USB-C systems.

The VL820 USB 3.1 Gen 2 Hub Controller has achieved SuperSpeed USB 10Gbit/s certification from the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), filling out the complete range of support.

The VL820 supports one upstream port and four downstream ports, each capable of supporting SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps devices, while providing backward compatibility for previous generation USB devices. The support for USB-C is an an optionally configurable USB Billboard Device for Alternate Mode applications such as Thunderbolt 3 peripherals or DisplayPort over USB-C multi-function dongles.

“The VIA Labs VL820 has been over two years in the making, and our top priority during the development process was ensuring excellent interoperability,” said Jay Tseng, Director, VIA Labs Inc. “Throughout this process, we co-tested with every major USB 3.1 Gen 2 Host provider and various device manufacturers and test tool companies in a collaborative effort to reach this goal.”

"Certified USB products from companies including VIA Labs lay the foundation for successful market adoption and interoperability,” said Jeff Ravencraft, USB-IF President and COO. “USB-IF is pleased that VIA Labs has achieved certification of its USB 3.1 Gen 2 Hub controller, representing the final piece to ensure a fully functional SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps ecosystem guided by the USB-IF compliance program.”

The controller has two configurations: VL820-Q7 is the standard configuration in a QFN-76 9x9mm package. VL820-Q8 is optimised for USB-C, integrating muxes for the upstream port and two downstream ports in a manufacturing-friendly QFN-88 10x10mm package.

The VIA Labs VL820 Hub controller is available now and shipping in quantity. It is already seeing strong adoption in USB-C peripherals, docking stations, monitors, gaming devices, and other product categories., says VIA, with end products will be available as early as Christmas.

More details are at http://www.via-labs.com/product_show.php?id=62 and an evaluation board is available at http://www.via-labs.com/shop.php?id=5

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

ARM buys SIM card security software firm for IoT boost

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Processor core developer ARM has bought a small real time operating system provider that focused on SIM cards to boost security for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The £12m deal came just eight months after the Foresight Group invested £4m in Simulity Labs, which develops embedded operating system software and related server systems for SIM cards and embedded SIMs ('eSIMs'), allowing Internet of Things (IoT) devices to securely connect to networks using cellular LTE modems.

Simulity successfully transitioned its business model to software licensing, launched into the IoT market with its eSIM technology and increased staff numbers by 25%, with new international offices in South Africa and India to supplement existing offices in Northern Ireland and Wales.

"The institutional backing of Foresight allowed us to scale the business and continue to build our world leading team and technology, whilst also providing huge credibility in discussions with large global corporates. Foresight has worked closely with us, particularly during the exit process," said Stéphane Fund, Founder and CEO of Simulity.

www.simulity.com is now flagged as part of ARM.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

ST fills out its low level software for ST32 controllers

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

STMicroelectronics has completed its free Low-Layer Application Programming Interface (LL API) software for STM32 microcontrollers (MCUs) to suport register level code.

 The LL APIs enable expert embedded designers to work within the STMCube development environment, and optimise code down to the register level using ST-validated software for faster time to market.

The combination of LL APIs and Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) software in all STM32Cube packages now gives developers complete flexibility when choosing how to control device peripherals. They can use the HAL to reuse portable code or use LL APIs to optimise for performance, smallest code footprint and lowest power consumption. Code examples tailored to run on the associated STM32 Nucleo board provide templates that simplify porting to other STM32 MCUs. Having the whole range covered allows designers to  target exactly the device they need.

This comes from the peripheral initialisation services that are functionally equivalent to STM32 Standard Peripheral Libraries (SPLs) so that the LL APIs can provide a migration path from the older SPLs to the STM32Cube ecosystem. Using the LL APIs can deliver higher performance, comparable to that of STM32Snippets direct-register-access code examples.

The LL APIs are MISRA-C 2004 compliant except where indicated, and have been checked using Grammatech CodeSonar static analysis tool for code quality and reliability. An automatic-update mechanism inside STM32CubeMX keeps the LL APIs up to date with the latest releases.

As a further boost to productivity, the STM32CubeMX tool automates the generation of peripheral-initialisation code with LL APIs for STM32L0, STM32F0, STM32L4, and STM32F3 MCUs. Support for the remaining STM32 series will be added in the coming months. A written guide and an automated tool for the SPL-to-LL code migration are also available.

For further information please visit www.st.com/stm32cubefw

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