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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

VCs 'discover' the embedded market as edge computing

By Nick Flaherty

The recent article on edge computing by US venture capital fund manager Peter Levine made for interesting reading, and a wry smile.

Edge computing, like Cisco's idea of 'fog' computing, means putting more processing power at the edge of the cloud, which helps to reduce the power consumption of the data centre. This is a message that Chris Rowen, CEO of Tensilica and now a key strategist at Cadence Design Systems, has been highlighting for a while now, and brings more performance (and power requirements) into the embedded market.

This is great news for embedded designers. While the focus for investment in recent years has been apps and software containers on data centre hardware, the move to edge computing will need a much broader base of software running on higher performance embedded systems. That hardware is becoming available with quad and octo-core processors based around the ARM and MIPS architectures - the investment will be in the software, from machine vision to artificial intelligence.
This will drive some key changes that we are already starting to see. Google's move to combine its Brillo operating system with the Android infrastructure for software development and app discovery and the Weave cloud links is part of this move. The challenge is providing the right level of performance - including more complex databases - in embedded devices. The first step will be more computer vision, requiring more dedicated processing blocks in the embedded processors, and much more focus on the skills of the embedded designer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Google merges Brillo, Weave and Android to create an operating system for the Internet of Things

By Nick Flaherty

An important new player has emerged into the embedded world of the Internet of Things. After a few years on the back-burner, Google has taken its Brillo  operating system and combined it with the Weave communications protocol and Android's app infrastructure to make it quicker and easier to develop software for the IoT.

"We're releasing a Developer Preview of Android Things, a comprehensive way to build IoT products with the power of Android,"said Wayne Piekarski, Developer Advocate for IoT. 

"Now any Android developer can quickly build a smart device using Android APIs and Google services, while staying highly secure with updates direct from Google," he said. "We incorporated the feedback from Project Brillo to include familiar tools such as Android Studio, the Android Software Development Kit (SDK), Google Play Services, and Google Cloud Platform. And in the coming months, we will provide Developer Preview updates to bring you the infrastructure for securely pushing regular OS patches, security fixes, and your own updates, as well as built-in Weave connectivity and more."
There are several turnkey hardware solutions available already such as Intel's Edison, NXP's Pico board and the Raspberry Pi 3. These can easily scale to large production runs with custom designs, while continuing to use the same Board Support Package (BSP) from Google.

Google has also updated the Weave platform to make it easier for all types of devices to connect to the cloud and interact with services like the Google Assistant. Device makers like Philips Hue and Samsung SmartThings already use Weave, and several others like Belkin WeMo, LiFX, Honeywell, Wink, TP-Link, and First Alert are implementing it. Weave provides all the cloud infrastructure, so that developers can focus on building their products without investing in cloud services. 

Weave also includes a Device SDK for supported microcontrollers and a management console and this currently supports schemas for light bulbs, smart plugs and switches, and thermostats. In the coming months Google will be adding support for additional device types, custom schemas/traits, and a mobile application API for Android and iOS. 

This is a good compromise between the flexibility of the Android platform, based on Java, and the tight latency and storage requirements of embedded designs. The Android Services will help with discovery and software resources to make development faster and easier, while the Weve connectivity to the cloud will greatly simplify these applications.

This is just the beginning of the IoT ecosystem Google wants to build. It is is also working towards merging Weave and Nest Weave to enable all classes of devices to connect with each other in a secure and reliable way. To get started, check out Google's IoT developer site, or go directly to the Android Things, Weave, and Google Cloud Platform sites for documentation and code samples. Google's IoT Developers Community on Google+ also has the latest updates and share and discuss ideas with other developers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

McLaren self-powers the Internet of Things with Sharp and Ilika

McLaren Applied Technologies and Sharp Laboratories of Europe are working with UK battery maker Ilika to develop an autonomous energy harvesting power source for the Internet of Things (IoT).

A £500,000 grant from Innovate UK will focus on an energy harvesting wireless sensing platform with applications in industries that could include motorsport and automotive along with potentially healthcare and wearables.

Over £320,000 of the Innovate UK grant will be provided to Ilika to lead a two-year project which will see Ilika’s Stereax solid-state battery technology integrated with Sharp’s photovoltaic (PV) technology to provide a power source for McLaren Applied Technologies’ wireless sensing platform.

“We are delighted McLaren Applied Technologies is part of a collaboration to create a next generation autonomous energy harvesting power source. Thanks to funding from Innovate UK, we will be developing sensors for the “Internet of Things” to improve system performance in a wide range of applications across the technology spectrum,” said Dick Glover, Chief Technology Officer at McLaren Applied Technologies, a subsidiary of the racing car developer.

The objective is to develop robust, low maintenance sensor nodes for demanding environments. The power source must be robust, operate at up to 100 °C and be maintenance-free. The target footprint must be small with attractive aesthetics for easy integration into the sensor and its operating environment. It should also have dimensions comparable to the sensor and other electronic elements, but deliver sufficient power to fully operate the sensor.

"Ilika’s Stereax technology is ideal for combining with energy harvesting technologies," said Graeme Purdy, CEO of Ilika. "Solid-state batteries are known for their low leakage currents and their ability to retain their performance over thousands of cycles. These properties make Stereax batteries the ideal technology to integrate with Sharp’s high efficiency PV panels. We expect this development programme to create significant commercial opportunities across multiple sectors."

McLaren self-powers the Internet of Things with Sharp and Ilika | EETE Power Management:
By Nick Flaherty

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

This week's Power News

 This week's Power News from EETimes Europe

. EnOcean Alliance teams with IBM on energy harvesting smart building standards

. Report challenges reuse of batteries over recycling

. Toyota promises better batteries

. Energy harvesting smartwatch runs without battery


. Synthetic diamond protects maintenance-free radiation-powered battery

. Replacing lead in flexible perovskite solar cells

. Nanomaterials create flexible supercapacitors

. Research project aims to “liquefy” electric energy


. Modular passive harmonic filters guarantee IEEE-519 compliance

. 3D stacked-inductor packaging cools modules

. Advanced common mode chokes save space on PCBs



prpl Foundation teams with CABA for MIPS-based security in the home

By Nick Flaherty

Digital device adoption in the smart home. Source: prpl Foundation Smart Home Security Report
The prpl Foundation has teamed up with the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) on together on research projects to improve standards in smart home security.

The Foundation is an open-source, community-driven, collaborative group with a focus on enabling next-generation datacentre-to-device portable software and virtualized architectures, based around the MIPS architecture. 
“prpl’s alliance with CABA is an incredibly important step in the advancement of smart home technology,” said Art Swift, president of the prpl Foundation. “By collaborating with CABA’s wealth of smart home security experts and members, we will work together to provide high quality research and guidance that will push IoT industry standards to make sure that consumers are kept safe as connected device usage in their homes grows.”

Prpl’s recent Smart Home Security Report found that the smart home is already here(see graphic above) and device adoption in certain cases has reached a tipping point despite it being insecure. By aligning itself with CABA, an organization that is supported by an international membership of nearly 350 companies and 25,000+ industry professionals, the two organizations will progress security developments within smart home technologies.

“We are delighted to enter this alliance with the prpl Foundation as a demonstration of our commitment to developing industry standards and protocols across industry initiatives,” said Ron Zimmer, president and CEO of CABA. “We look forward to participating in prpl’s vibrant, open-source communities, in particular the security working group, and collaborating on future smart home projects.”

The prpl Foundation promotes the use of open source software to better security and interoperability of the Internet of Things (IoT). It has created a comprehensive framework for Securing Critical Areas of Embedded Computing, a peer-reviewed, actionable guide that has been put in to practice with a successful proof of concept.

“IoT security is not a problem that is going to be fixed by one single entity, it will take the industry at large to get involved to create communities and advance our knowledge of the subject matter,” said Swift. “Prpl is pleased to be working with CABA and welcomes the opportunity to work with others to promote better standards for IoT and making the connected world more secure for consumers.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Shuffling code to foil cyber attacks

By Nick Flaherty

Researchers in the US have developed a new program that tries to preempt cyber attacks by allowing programs to continuously scramble their code as they run, effectively closing the window of opportunity for an attack. 

"Shuffler makes it nearly impossible to turn a bug into a functioning attack, defending software developers from their mistakes," said David Williams-King, a graduate student at Columbia Engineering. "Attackers are unable to figure out the program's layout if the code keeps changing."

Even after repeated debugging, software typically contains up to 50 errors per 1,000 lines of code, each a potential avenue for attack. Though security defenses are constantly evolving, attackers are quick to find new ways in.
In the early 2000s, computer operating systems adopted a security feature called address space layout randomization, or ASLR. This technique rearranges memory when a program launches, making it harder for hackers to find and reuse existing code to take over the machine. But hackers soon discovered they could exploit memory disclosure bugs to grab code fragments once the program was already running.

Shuffler was developed to deflect this latter style of code-reuse attack. It takes ASLR's code-scrambling approach to the extreme by randomizing small blocks of code every 20 to 50 milliseconds, imposing a severe deadline on would-be attackers. Until now, shifting around running code as a security measure was thought to be technically impractical because existing solutions require specialized hardware or software.

"By the time the server returns the information the attacker needs, it is already invalid --Shuffler has already relocated the respective code snippets to different memory locations," said study coauthor Vasileios Kemerlis, a computer science professor at Brown University.

Designed to be user-friendly, Shuffler runs alongside the code it defends, without modifications to program compilers or the computer's operating system. It even randomizes itself to defend against possible bugs in its own code.

The researchers say Shuffler runs faster and requires fewer system changes than similar continuous-randomization software such TASR and Remix, developed at MIT Lincoln Labs and Florida State University respectively.

As an invitation to other researchers to try and break Shuffler, Williams-King is currently running the software on his personal website. (He can check that the code is shuffling and whether anyone has attacked the site by reviewing the program's logs).

On computation-heavy workloads, Shuffler slows programs by 15 percent on average, but at larger scales--a webserver running on 12 CPU cores, for example--the drop in performance is negligible, the researchers say.

This versatility means that software distributors as well as security-conscious individuals could be potential end users. "It's the first system that is trying to be a serious defense that people can use, right now," said Williams-King.

Shuffler needs a few last improvements before it is made public. The researchers say they want to make it easier to use on software they haven't yet tested. They also want to improve Shuffler's ability to defend against exploits that take advantage of server-crashes.

"Billions of lines of vulnerable code are out there," said the study's senior author, Junfeng Yang, a computer science professor at Columbia Engineering and member of the Data Science Institute. "Rather than finding every bug or rewriting all billions of lines of code in safer languages, Shuffler instantly lets us build a stronger defense."

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Power news this week

Power News from EETimes Europe

. Solar socket sticks to window to provide power
. Hearables boom prompts Varta IPO

. Panasonic starts mass production of high speed GaN gate drivers


. Steel-brass battery aims for smart homes
. Researchers fireproof lithium-ion batteries
. Researchers produce first 3D printed permanent magnets


ON Semiconductor expands support for IoT with modular development platform

By Nick Flaherty

ON Semiconductor has launched a modular IoT Development Kit (IDK) that provides engineers with all of the hardware and software building blocks needed to speed the evaluation, design and implementation of medical, home, and industrial IoT applications.

The kit combines power-efficient devices for smart and connected IoT designs that includes sensors, power management, connectivity, processors and actuators. By combining these with a comprehensive software framework, the IDK offers a modular, easy to use and compact platform that provides developers with access to everything they need to rapidly develop cloud-based IoT designs.
The ON Semiconductor IDK incorporates a variety of module options for sensing, wired and wireless connectivity and actuation. Its software development framework encompasses an embedded operating system (ARM mbed OS), drivers, APIs for hardware shields, a graphical user interface (GUI), and sample applications code. Built-in support for cloud software enables the platform to deliver data into the cloud for value added services such as analytics. The extensible modular architecture includes a variety of industry-standard interfaces such as Arduino and Pmod, allowing the integration of existing and future modules from both ON Semiconductor and third parties.

“ON Semiconductor offers a one stop shop of leadership semiconductor elements for industrial, medical and home IoT applications. By providing a single, modular, extensible platform that combines hardware, software and support for integrating third parties, the new IDK allows engineers to quickly and easily harness the power of ON Semiconductor solutions and significantly simplify the prototyping of cloud-based applications,” said Wiren Perera, IoT Strategist for ON Semiconductor.

The IDK is capable of supporting numerous application areas, including industrial automation, intelligent lighting, building automation, smart cities and a wide range of medical monitoring designs.

The IoT Development Kit will be available through distribution partners.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Power news this week

Power News from EETimes Europe
. Panasonic boost from Tesla solar roof and powerwall

. Battery storage project funding booms as smart grid schemes hit

. Daimler to establish global battery production network

. EPC & Taiwan designers JJPlus collaborate on GaN for wireless charging

. Trilayer electrode structure boosts lithium silicon battery capacity by a third

. Researchers produce first 3D printed permanent magnets

. Researchers fireproof lithium-ion batteries

. Power core module integrates FPGA and hybrid drive stage for electric aircraft


. First digital multiphase PWM controllers with AVSBus and synthetic current control

. Single chip power protection and control for USB Type-C

. Intelligent battery charger for automotive and industrial applications fits into IP21 DC-DC converter package


Monday, October 31, 2016

Top embedded stories for October

By Nick Flaherty

The shifting sands of IoT make for interesting reading through September and October as engineers try to get a grip on how the market is changing. The big story of Qualcomm acquiring NXP hasn't made it through to the list quite yet,but expect that to show up in November along with all the news from the big bi-annual Electronica show in Germany.

In the meantime power and wireless charging continue to be interesting topics, while the movements of MicroEJ and Micrium being bought by Silicon Labs show there is plenty of interest in embedded operating systems. And of course IoT security remains a strong theme with the Prpl Foundation creating an IoT security group for MIPS devices.