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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

congatec backs Windows 10 IoT on compute modules

By Nick Flaherty

Leading German board maker congatec is supporting the IoT editions of Windows 10 across its range of computing modules as an embedded operating, partly driven by the need for data analysis capabilities at the network edge. 

"Supporting Windows 10 IoT is a very crucial milestone for us as part of an array of measures on our IoT roadmap which aims to simplify the integration and use of IoT connected embedded computer technology, " said Martin Danzer, Director Product Management at congatec.
This has involved changes such as enhanced security and switching off Windows activation as well as lockdown options for IoT-connected appliances. congatec has integrated these features on all its current boards with Intel Atom, Celeron, Pentium, Core and Xeon processors as well as AMD Embedded R and G Series processors. This allows designers to benefit from an overall simplified development of IoT connected devices in industrial automation and production, retail and outdoor advertising, the healthcare and transportation segments, plus a host of additional industries.

"Our customers who are using Windows 10 platforms want to develop innovative IoT applications and generate comprehensive business intelligence," said Danzer. "They need highly unified, consistent and completely trustworthy OS support to cover all the embedded devices, tablets, smartphones and IT systems that are to be deployed." 

The Windows 10 IoT Enterprise as well as IoT Core editions, which congatec and Microsoft will support for at least 5 years for mainstream appliances and 5 additional years for customers with extended support, offer a range of security technologies such as Secure Boot, BitLocker, Device Guard and Credential Guard, to ensure that appliances are comprehensively protected for the entire operation time from power-on to power off. Whether just a particular app has to be launched or access to non-authorized USB peripherals has to be locked down, Windows 10 IoT provides the necessary functions for any specific device environment.

Additionally, Windows activation - which is otherwise obligatory - can be switched off to enable booting in locked network environments. Customers also benefit from the integrated interoperability for IoT-typical heterogeneous device environments, which apart from embedded appliances also integrate smartphones, PCs and laptops as well as edge, fog and cloud servers. That simplifies the development of universal apps and additionally the security and management of IoT applications. It also means that developers can completely focus on their tasks and core competences.

The new Windows 10 IoT Board Support Packages are now available in the download area of the corresponding congatec single board computers and modules at

Machine learning for dynamic grid modeling boosts reliability

Itron's Idea Labs has developed a modeling technique that uses machine learning and existing voltage data to find out where all the meters are and dynamically balance the electricity grid.

The repair of distribution infrastructure following a power outage can sometimes lead to meters being reconnected to the wrong transformer or phase, which leads to issues with grid balancing. Itron Grid Connectivity helps utilities quickly and accurately identify meter-to-transformer and meter-to-phase connections using hourly interval voltage data and machine learning algorithms, without the need for expensive hardware or field labour. The technology was developed by Itron Idea Labs, an organization within Itron that accelerates business innovation.

 “Traditionally, verifying transformer and phase connectivity has required either visual tracing of overhead lines or sending and receiving electrical signals over the wire. With Itron Grid Connectivity, we are using existing voltage data to significantly improve the speed and accuracy of connectivity and helping utilities ensure high-performance grid operations and applications,” said Roberto Aiello, managing director of Itron Idea Labs. “Enabling smart grid applications without accurate and timely knowledge of meter to transformer and phase connectivity is like finding your way with an out-of-date map. Itron Grid Connectivity is like the GPS, accurately tracking meter locations in relation to the transformers that serve them.”

Read more at Dynamic grid connectivity modeling boosts reliability | EETE Power Management

By Nick Flaherty

Monday, January 30, 2017

Polarons open up new type of solar cell

German researchers have developed a new type of solar cell that uses infrared energy to generate polaron excitations in perovskite materials.

The researchers from the University of Göttingen, DESY, the Max Planck Institute for biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and the Technical University of Clausthal-Zellerfeld, have shown that polarons - the coupled excitation of electrons and a crystal lattice - can be used to generate current.

"In conventional solar cells, the interaction between the electrons and the lattice vibrations can lead to unwanted losses, causing substantial problems, whereas the polaron excitations in the perovskite solar cell can be created with a fractal structure at certain operating temperatures and last long enough for a pronounced photovoltaic effect to occur," said Dirk Raiser from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and DESY.

The perovskite solar cells developed by the team had to be cooled in the laboratory to around -35ºC for the effect to take place.

You can see a picture of the cell at Polarons open up new type of perovskite solar cell | EETE Power Management

"The measurements so far were made in a carefully characterised reference material, in order to demonstrate the principle of the effect. For this purpose, the low transition temperature was accepted," said Prof Simone Techert, Leading Scientist at DESY, Professor at the University of Göttingen and head of a research group at the Max Planck Institute for biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen,

Material physicists at Göttingen are trying to modify and optimise the material in order to achieve a higher operating temperature.

"Developing high efficiency and simply constructed solid-state solar cells is still a scientific challenge which many teams around the world are working on," said research director Prof Christian Jooss at the University of Göttingen."

By Nick Flaherty

Friday, January 27, 2017

Building the new generation of distributed battery power stations

Berlin-based Younicos is one of the world’s largest energy system integrators, helping operators build the next generation of power stations based around batteries.

The company is working with Centrica in the UK to build one of the world’s largest battery storage plants. The 49MW plant will supply homes around the Barrow area of Cumberland from a custom-built plant.

 “We started in Germany ten years ago by people that came from the PV (photovoltaic) solar world [Solon],” said Jayesh Goyal, chief commercial officer at Younicos. “As we integrated more renewables into the grid they saw you would need more battery storage in the grid, so they developed software to enable a series of different grid services using different battery systems.”

In 2014 the company acquired startup Xtreme Power in the US, opening up the North American market. Xtreme was building 12 systems around the world with over 60MW of power at the time, using its own lead acid battery technology. The combined company now has 150MW of battery plant installed, demonstrating how far the industry has moved in just two years, with lead acid replaced by lithium ion and the size of projects increasing ten fold."

There is more from this interview feature at Building the new generation of power stations | EETE Power Management

By Nick Flaherty

Four trends driving IoT in 2017

By Nick Flaherty

The number of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices globally will jump by 15 percent year-over-year to 20 billion in 2017, according to new analysis from IHS Markit. However, the market is still fragmented and unsure about how to make the most of the technology.

In a new report,  IHS Markit technology analysts have identified four key trends that will drive the IoT this year and beyond. The company defines IoT as a conceptual framework, powered by the idea of embedding connectivity and intelligence into a wide range of devices. “These internet-connected devices can be used to enhance communication, automate complex industrial processes and provide a wealth of information that can be processed into useful actions – all aimed at making our lives easier," said Jenalea Howell, research director for IoT connectivity and smart cities for IHS Markit.

According to the report, the industrial sector -- led by building automation, industrial automation and lighting -- will account for nearly one half of new connected devices between 2015 and 2025.

Trend #1 – Innovation and competitiveness 
Increasingly focus is shifting to IoT developers and how they, rather than their customers, will monetize new streams of data delivered by their IoT deployments. A wide range of monetization models are being tested, reflecting the fragmented nature of the IoT market across numerous vertical industries. Successful models will revolve around “servitisation” and closer, ongoing relationships with end customers.
Trend #2 – Standardization and security are enabling scalabilityWith the high growth in IoT deployments and much hype surrounding the promise of the IoT marketplace, scaling the IoT is highly dependent on two factors: first, the pace at which devices are connected and second, the ability to manage a large number of devices.
Currently, diverse standards and technologies make it difficult to evaluate the many technology options available. Stakeholders also must take a holistic, end-to-end view of securing systems comprehensively and move beyond focusing only on device security.
By 2020, the global market for industrial cybersecurity hardware, software and devices is expected to surpass $1.8 billion as companies deal with new IoT devices on business networks as well as a new wave of mobile devices connected to corporate networks.
Trend #3 – Business models are keeping pace with IoT technologyThe methods used to monetize the IoT are almost as diverse as the IoT itself. Many pioneers of the IoT sold products to build it. That is still happening, of course, but now there is a shift to reaping the benefits of the data that’s been created.
An overabundance of business models are being tested to determine which models work and for which applications. Advertising, services, retail and big data are just a few of the areas that have spawned many innovative experiments in monetization. In the coming years, the pace of innovation will slow as successful business models are identified.

Trend #4 – Wireless technology innovation is enabling new IoT applications
Advances in wireless technologies will continue to extend the IoT at both the low and high ends. At the low end, low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) promises low cost, low power and long range, connecting millions of devices that previously could not be unified in a practical way. At the high end, 802.11ad makes it possible to wirelessly connect very high performance applications such as 4k video.
Beyond 2020, 5G has the potential to address new, mission-critical use cases, particularly where mobility is essential. By 2020, IHS Markit expects around two billion device shipments by integrated circuit type will feature integrated cellular technology.

You can download IoT Trend Watch 2017 here

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Samsung identifies the battery failures in its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone

Two types of battery failure were responsible for overheating batteries in Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.

The independent investigation by test houses TUV Rhineland and UL identified short circuits in the battery packs rather than problems with the charging hardware or software algorithms.

Samsung voluntarily recalled its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after a series of battery fires in 2016. This was followed by an official recall in the US, and the phones were remotely restricted on the amount of charge they would hold.

The batteries came from two suppliers: Samsung subsidiary SDI and Amperex Technology, a Hong Kong-based subsidiary of TDK. The failures identified in one battery saw the negative electrodes being too long and bending, increasing the risk of a short circuit. In the other battery, an insulation layer was missing. Samsung has not specified which faults occurred in which battery, but acknowledged that they resulted from the design specification.

You can see the details at Samsung identifies battery failures in Galaxy Note 7 | EETE Power Management:

By Nick Flaherty

Oracle launches cloud startup accelerators across Europe

Oracle has launched a series of cloud accelerators for startups around the world, with three in Europe. IoT will be one of the focus areas for startups,as well as machine learning in embedded systems.

Oracle’s first startup accelerator was launched last year in Bangalore in India and the next ones will be based in Bristol, UK, Paris, France and Tel Aviv in Israel. Three others will be launched in Delhi and Mumbai in India, and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

The programme will take five cloud startups to work with its research and development team and provide access to 420,000 enterprise customers around the world every six months. Oracle will not take equity in the startups but will provide free access to its cloud services, co-working space and will connect the new companies with investors. The intakes will start in the summer, with a focus on business-to-business technology.

 “We are being deliberately vague [on what we are looking for],” said Reggie Bradford, senior vice president of product development at Oracle and a serial entrepreneur who is running the global programme from London.
“We are not looking to specifically target AI or IoT, we want to open up the funnel and invite as many entrepreneurs as possible,” he said.

Other schemes in European cities such as Berlin are set to follow, says Bradford. The aim is to give Oracle and its customers access to new technologies from startups that will run on its ‘bare metal’ cloud.

The bare metal cloud was launched in October last year with three data centres (which Oracle calls domains) in Phoenix, with three more opening in Virginia this week and three centres in London later in the spring. The centres have their own power but have a maximum latency of 1ms between them so that applications can be switched between domains or extended from one to another.

The bare metal cloud allows operating systems such as Windows, Linux and Solaris to run on the 32 cores on Intel’s Xeon processors, rather than virtual cores on hypervisor software. Oracle has also moved the software defined network technology into the switches to avoid the need for a hypervisor and this provides a latency of under 1ms between the data centres.

This structure also allows companies to move their entire private network, including IP addresses, to the cloud. This is a key capability for an IoT network.

While the initial focus is on dedicated resources to allow enterprise customers to over their private networks onto the bare metal cloud, Oracle is also planning to offer 4, 8 and 16 virtualised cores in future to compete more directly with the public cloud services from Amazon and Microsoft.

Related stories: 

UK battery maker starts virtual power plant trial

A UK developer of lithium iron batteries is starting trials on a virtual power plant to manage electricity stored in home systems. This is a key capability for developing smart cities.
London-based Moixa Smart Batteries is working with electricity distributor Northern Powergrid to install battery systems in 40 homes around Barnsley with solar panels to connect them up into a virtual power plant. Some areas have a problem of too much power being exported from solar panels at peak times, and the virtual plant manages power from multiple battery systems to reduce the overall load.
The battery packs use WiFi and Zigbee for the communications. 

Read more at UK battery maker starts virtual power plant trial | EETE Power Management:

 By Nick Flaherty

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

FPGAs moving to the edge of the IoT

By Nick Flaherty

The increased focus on 'edge' processing is driving more FPGA technology further into embedded sensor systems.

One interesting move comes from Lattice Semiconductor (currently being taken private by a private equity fund) with the iCE40 UltraPlus FPGA devices. This latest addition to the iCE40 Ultra family delivers eight times more memory (1.1 Mbit RAM), twice the digital signal processors (8x DSPs), and improved I/Os over previous generations. Available in multiple package sizes, the programmable nature of the iCE40 UltraPlus device is ideal for smartphones, wearables, drones, 360 cameras, human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and industrial automation, as well as security and surveillance products.

Lattice is also aiming the iCE40 UltraPlus at voice recognition, gesture recognition, image recognition, haptics, graphics acceleration, signal aggregation, I3C bridging and more. This brings added intelligence to smartphones and IoT edge products, such as wearables and home audio assisted devices, to be always on, always listening and ready to instantly process commands locally without going to the cloud.

This edge processing approach is concentrated around a highly energy-efficient method for computing algorithms quickly and locally using dissimilar processors to offload power hungry application processors (APs) in battery-powered devices. More DSPs offer the ability to compute higher-quality algorithms, while increased memory allows data to be buffered for longer low-power states. The flexible I/Os enable a more distributed heterogeneous processing architecture. This combination provides flexibility to enable OEMs and the Maker market to quickly deliver key innovations, such as always on sensor buffers and acoustic beam forming.

Applications include always-on sensor buffer and distributed processing for mobile devices at sub-1 mW power consumption, always-on sensor functionality while the AP is in sleep mode and supporting functions such as gesture detection, facial recognition, audio enhancement, audio beam forming, phrase detection, double tap, shake-to-wake and pedestrian dead reckoning (PDR).

The initial designs are aggregating various GPIOs, SPI, UART, I2C, I3C signals and more over a single PCB trace eliminates routing contention issues to reduce system cost and simplify the layout, but once the processing is available in the edge system there are many other opportunities.

“Distributed processing demands are increasing in mobile applications and Lattice’s iCE40 UltraPlus is optimized to address these requirements. As the newest addition to our iCE40 Ultra family, the iCE40 UltraPlus FPGAs expand its market reach to system designers who require FPGA functionality with improved DSP compute power, more I/Os and increased memory for buffering,” said C.H. Chee, senior director of marketing, mobile and consumer division at Lattice Semiconductor. “Our solution will reduce design complexity, system power consumption and time-to-market, while enhancing responsiveness of tomorrow’s mobile devices.”

The family provides 1.1 Mbits of SRAM, 8 DSP blocks, up to 5K LUTs (look up tables for programmable logic) and Non-Volatile Configuration Memory (NVCM) for instant-on applications with MIPI-I3C support for low-resolution, always-on camera applications and under 100 micro watt of standby power consumption. The QFN packages mean the FPGAs can fit into 2.15 x 2.55 mm for space-constrained consumer markets.

The iCE40 UltraPlus product evaluation samples and boards are now available at