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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Microsoft doesn’t quite get into the chip business

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk


In a major move that is hailed as Microsoft's first IoT chip, the reality is a little different - and that also includes lots of use of the term 'real time'. But Microsoft is certainly trying to be responsible for the launch a new class of microcontroller.

In order to provide a secure, end-to-end environment for the Internet of Things, Microsoft has developed a secure Linux-based operating system called Sphere that runs on existing ARM hardware and security hardware with secure links back to the cloud, in this case Microsoft's Azure cloud service. 


Azure Sphere certified microcontrollers culd be considered a cross-over class of MCUs. While Microsoft says that uses real-time cores alongside application processors with built-in security technology and connectivity, the controllers are ARM Cortex M4F-based (see below), which are suitable for many real time embedded applications but are not determinisitc cores such as the R7 family. 

The Sphere IoT OS offers multiple layers of security. It combines security innovations pioneered in Windows, a security monitor, a custom Linux kernel to create a highly-secured software environment and a trustworthy platform. This also does not make it a real time operating system.

Azure Sphere Security Service is a turnkey, cloud service that guards every Azure Sphere device, brokering trust for device-to-device and device-to-cloud communication through certificate-based authentication, detecting emerging security threats across the Azure Sphere ecosystem through online failure reporting, and renewing security through software updates, all areas of vulnerability.

Microsoft says it has been working directly with leading MCU makers to build a broad ecosystem of silicon partners who will be combining the Pluton silicon security technologies in their Azure Sphere certified chips running the Azure Sphere OS and connecting to the Azure Sphere Security Service for simple and secure updates, failure reporting, and authentication.

The first Azure Sphere chip, the MediaTek MT3620, will come to market in volume this year. Over time Microsoft expects to see other silicon partners introducing their own Azure Sphere chips to the market and it is licensing the silicon security technologies to them royalty-free. This enables any silicon manufacturer to build Azure Sphere chips while keeping costs down and prices affordable to device manufacturers.

The MT3620 uses an Arm Cortex-A7 application processor operates up to 500MHz and includes large L1 and L2 caches and integrated SRAM for highly efficient operation over a wider range of potential applications. 

Two general purpose Arm Cortex-M4F I/O subsystems support the requirements of the many on-chip peripherals including 5x UART/I2C/SPI, 2x I2S, 8x ADC, up to 12 PWM counters and up to 72x GPIO, allowing an extensively diverse potential number of applications. These two Cortex-M4F I/O subsystems are primarily intended to support real-time I/O processing but can also be used for general purpose computation and control. The Cortex-M4F cores may run any end-user-provided operating system or run a ‘bare metal app’ with no operating system.

Pluton Security System
Outside of these three end-user accessible cores, MT3620 contains an isolated security subsystem with its own Arm Cortex-M4F core that handles secure boot and secure system operation. In addition, a 1x1 dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi radio subsystem is controlled by a dedicated Andes N9 32-bit RISC core. This subsystem contains radio, baseband and MAC that is designed to allow high throughput applications with great power efficiency.

Operation of the MT3620 security features and Wi-Fi networking are isolated from, and run independently of, end user applications. Only hardware features supported by the Azure Sphere Secure IoT Platform are available to MT3620 end-users. As such, security features and Wi-Fi are only accessible via defined APIs and are robust to programming errors in end-user applications regardless of whether these applications run on the Cortex-A7 or the user-accessible Cortex-M4F cores.
Microsoft provides a development environment based on the gcc compiler which includes a Visual Studio extension, allowing this application to be developed in C. 

Microsoft is working with selected device manufacturers to build first wave of Azure Sphere devices by the end of 2018. Dev kits will be universally available in mid-2018.

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/azure-sphere/

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Siemens buys Agilion for IIoT real time location

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Siemens is continuing to drive consolidation in technology for the Industrial Internet of Things with the acquisition of German Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) specialist Agilion.

Agilion, based in Chemnitz, has 60 people and 150 installations in 20 countries. It develops and supplies industrial RTLS systems for production, logistics and maintenance using Ultra Wide Band (UWB) technology. This enables highly precise localization within a range of just a few centimeters, tracking of a large number of different assets with easy commissioning. The precise real-time localization of assets such as tools or vehicles will enable manufacturers to optimize their production and logistics processes and so improve their quality, productivity and flexibility.



"By acquiring Agilion, we'll be in a position to also offer real-time locating solutions straight away. This represents a significant addition to our extensive offering in the field of industrial identification and so to our Digital Enterprise portfolio," said Herbert Wegmann, Head of the Industrial Communication and Identification business segment. "RTLS is an essential key technology and a new step on the road towards flexible automation in production, for instance by providing dynamic self-organizing production concepts in the assembly of large-scale products. Real-time locating also enables the safe, efficient use of collaborative mobile robots."

"For Agilion, this takeover is the ideal step towards the rollout of efficient and high-precision RTLS solutions on a large scale," said Andreas Werner, one of Agilion's Directors. "Together we'll be able to assume a leading position in the market for flexible automation solutions, by linking the RTLS expertise developed by Agilion with the strengths of Siemens in the field of digitalization and automation."

Uses for RTLS include a wide range of applications in complex environments. In a manufacturing scenario, for instance, it enables precise monitoring of the production process and a transparent material flow. Real-time data made available using RTLS about the location and status of assets forms the basis for networking involved players and logistical processes along the value chain. This allows users to continuously and automatically compare the position of every production asset with the 3D model of the product or production environment. 

Evaluation and combination of this "digital twin" with other information – for instance using apps in the open IoT operating system MindSphere – drives dynamic optimization of production and logistics processes. 

RTLS also provides the foundation for new workflows in production, material flow control and logisticsusng Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) or mobile robots which has already been demonstrated with reference projects around the world.

Qualcomm launches its first IoT chips focussed on embedded vision

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Chip giant Qualcomm has launched its first sytem-on-chip devices for the Internet of Things (IoT) aimed at integrating into smart cameras.

The two 10nm SoCs include advanced camera processing software, machine learning and computer vision software development kits (SDKs), WiFi connectivity and security technologies. The leading edge process technology allows hardware that support AI on the chip as well as reducing the cost.

The Vision Intelligence Platform combines cutting-edge processing and AI with superior imaging, which is key because so many IoT applications, of today and tomorrow, use visual information. This goes beyond security cameras to include everything from ovens to robotic vacuum cleaners and drones — any device that relies heavily on information that comes from a camera.

The processing of that information could be done in the cloud, but that takes resources and time. Because the camera itself has the intelligence, it can decide how to respond based on what it knows instead of waiting for video data to be sent to the cloud and analyzed.  This edge computing gives faster processing, local control, better security and privacy, and the use of less network bandwidth. Integrating this technology will also push the IoT ecosystem forward, as developers move away from the cloud and focus on the capabilities of the device.

Processing data at the edge requires significant horsepower, and the Vision Intelligence Platform has eight cores, from multiple 2.5GHz 64bit Kryo 300 customised ARM cores, Adreno 615 GPU, Hexagon 685 Vector Processor, Spectra 270 ISP camera core, as well as DSPs for sensors and audio. Support for up to 2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO, Bluetooth 5.1, a 3D Audio Suite and other audio technolgies including aptX gives a wide range eof embedded capabilities.

The Vision Intelligence Platform also integrates a software AI engine called the Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine (NPE). The NPE provides analysis, optimisation and debugging capabilities that help developers and OEMs port trained networks into the platform. The AI Engine is compatible with Tensorflow, Caffe and Caffe2 frameworks, Open Neural Network Exchange interchange format, Android Neural Networks API, and Qualcomm's own Hexagon Neural Network library, so developers have the freedom to use their preferred framework.

The Qualcomm QCS603 and QCS605 SoCs are currently sampling but power consumption figures are not yet available. A QCS605-based VR/360 camera reference design from camera OEM Altek is available today. A QCS603 based industrial security camera reference designs will be available later in 2018.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Mocana automates IoT security across the supply chain

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

IoT security specialist Mocana has launched a platform that provides a comprehensive system to manage security across the lifecycle of IoT devices and industrial control systems (ICS) which it says is the industry's first. 

It has been developed for manufacturers and operators of IoT devices and industrial equipment and provides supply chain integrity, offering full management of cybersecurity across the entire IoT device security lifecycle – embedded systems and software development, manufacturing, device enrollment, and secure firmware updates. 

The TrustCenter [sic] platform works with Mocana’s TrustPoint IoT endpoint security software that is used on over 100 million devices. 
“Traditional IT and OT security approaches are not enough to defend against the sophisticated threats from hackers and state actors,” said William Diotte, CEO of Mocana. “With escalating cyber attacks on critical infrastructure and IoT, it’s imperative that industrial companies implement stronger controls in their automation and control equipment. Mocana TrustCenter and TrustPoint make it easier to implement strong security into devices by automating the lifecycle of cybersecurity for a device. We’re thrilled that Mocana TrustCenter has the support of major industry leaders such as Intel, Dell, and Verizon.” 

The platform can be deployed on bare metal, private cloud, or public cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and ensures the trustworthiness of both the device and the data from end-to-end. It also reduces the time it takes to install secure credentials on a device from minutes to seconds with automated secure device onboarding, enrollment and over-the-air (OTA) updates. 

It has been integrated with Intel’s Secure Device Onboarding (SDO) platform to reduce the time it takes to automate provisioning of secure credentials onto devices based on Intel’s EPID identity built into the silicon on embedded chips and boards. 

The endpoint software provides a full-stack architecture for protecting endpoints with FIPS 140-2 Level 1 validated cryptography for securing the boot process, authentication, device and data integrity and secure transport. It is pre-integrated with more than 70 chipsets and 30 real-time operating systems and the API makes it easy to integrate TrustPoint with embedded applications and hardware. 

“Supply chain integrity is one of the most important challenges facing the industrial IoT,” said Ed Amoroso, CEO of customer TAG Cyber in the US. “Mocana’s IoT Trust Platform is tackling this problem head on by automating device enrollment and security provisioning. With tools for both suppliers and OEMs, Mocana’s trust services will simplify enrollment and secure updates.” 





Chip makers' market shares surge over the last decade

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

the world’s leading semiconductor suppliers significantly increased their marketshare over the past decade, accrding to the latest data from IC Insights’ McClean Report. 

The top five semiconductor suppliers accounted for 43% of the world’s semiconductor sales in 2017, an increase of 10 percentage points from 10 years earlier (Figure 1). In total, the 2017 top-50 suppliers represented 88% of the total $444.7 billion worldwide semiconductor market last year, up 12 percentage points from the 76% share the top 50 companies held in 2007.



The top 5, top 10, and top 25 companies’ share of the 2017 worldwide semiconductor market each increased from 10-12 percentage points over the past decade. With the surge in mergers and acquisitions expected to continue over the next few years such as Qualcomm and NXP,  this will raise the shares of the top suppliers further.

Japan’s total presence and influence in the IC marketplace has waned significantly since 1990, with its IC marketshare (not including foundries) residing at only 7% in 2017. Once-prominent Japanese names missing from the top IC suppliers list are NEC, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Matsushita. Competitive pressures from South Korean IC suppliers—especially in the memory market—have certainly played a significant role in changing the look of the IC marketshare figures over the past 27 years. Moreover, depending on the outcome of the sale of Toshiba’s NAND flash division, the Japanese-companies’ share of the IC market could fall even further from its already low level.


Figure 2

With strong competition reducing the number of Japanese IC suppliers, the loss of its vertically integrated businesses, missing out on supplying ICs for several high-volume end-use applications, and its collective shift toward the fab-lite IC business model, Japan has greatly reduced its investment in new semiconductor wafer fabs and equipment and Japanese companies accounted for only 5% of total semiconductor industry capital expenditures in 2017 (two points less than the share of the IC market they held last year), a long way from the 51% share of spending they represented in 1990.

www.icinsights.com

Monday, April 09, 2018

Power news this week


By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Major boost for lithium sulfur batteries in electric trucks

 Millbrook buys US test house to boost battery test capabilities

 Austrian vanadium flow battery technology in new ownership

POWER TECHNOLOGIES TO WATCH
 Silicon-based dual junction solar cell reaches 33.3% efficiency


 Wireless charging on the move hits kW range


 Japanese project tests out hydrogen fuel cells in boat

NEW POWER PRODUCTS
 Streetlight delivers power to wireless access points, security cameras and IoT devices


 LDO regulator tackles design tradeoffs


 Re-designed oscilloscope adds power analysis tools

TECHNICAL PAPERS

Free app on phones helps engineers with data

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

RS Components (RS) has launched a completely new version of its free app that gives engineers a single point of access to common electronic reference materials, calculation and conversion tools in an easy-to-use format.

The DesignSpark Toolbox app is available for iOS as well as Android and Windows for the first time, and was developed in conjunction with Marcus Roskosch, the creator of a range of highly successful apps for engineers. It replaces the RS Toolbox app, which was introduced in 2013 for iOS.

DesignSpark Toolbox offers a range of functions grouped as icons on the main screen, including engineering calculators, converters and lookup tables. These include filter frequency calculators, a 555 timer configurator, calculators for a variety of voltage regulators and op-amps, and essential tools such as numbering systems converters, an Ohm’s Law calculator, and lookup tables for battery types and sizes. The app is customisable and is available in 17 different languages.

Users will also be able to access many DesignSpark community features within the app, placing thousands of member-contributed articles and projects at their disposal, covering everything from Arduino and Raspberry Pi to IoT and Blockchain.

The ‘Make’ section provides the perfect place to keep track of projects on the go with sections to store website links, images, technical documents and more. There is even access to the new DesignSpark Marketplace, where makers and start-ups can buy and sell their creations.

The app aims to support engineers, makers and students by aiding design, BOM, procurement and stock keeping. In addition to the common calculation tools and component comparison tables it incorporates product search, barcode scanning, reference materials, 3D models and much more.

“This app places a vast amount of component data and online calculations at the fingertips of engineers, students and makers, enabling them to exploit creativity and innovation,” said Mike Bray, Vice President of DesignSpark at RS. “It is yet another example of our mission at DesignSpark to deliver free, high-performance tools that make the design process faster, easier and more affordable.”

“We have listened to feedback from our members with regards to our previous app, and in particular their desire for an Android version, and improved functionality," he said. "Thankfully we have now been able to deliver both for them, along with access to many DesignSpark features on their mobile devices. The app will always be free-of-charge to support our community, and will be regularly updated in the future to offer more and more functionality.”

The DesignSpark Toolbox App is available to download now from:

App Store (iOS): https://itunes.apple.com/app/rs-toolbox/id747957895?ls=1&mt=8
Google Play (Android):https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=de.roskosch.rstb
Microsoft Store (Windows): https://www.microsoft.com/store/apps/9WZDNCRCS18T


Saturday, April 07, 2018

Live streaming traffic info uses Intelligent Edge Analytics

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

A live streaming traffic information service in the US is being powered by machine-learning and edge computing.

Trafficware has teamed up with Silicon Valley edge intelligence software firm Swim.ai for the TidalWave service. The service is based on work in Palo Alto in 2015 to provide the first open source traffic data used in connected vehicle applications. This provides streaming traffic data with sub-second accuracy using edge computing combined with a more affordable cloud service with low overhead and so there is no impact to city infrastructure.

Today, the majority of routing and logistics applications rely on historical cellular GPS data to measure roadway congestion and estimate travel times. In order to determine traffic congestion on arterial corridors, the applications assume that all cell phones are located in moving vehicles and reflect current conditions. The speed and accuracy at which the data is collected, analyzed and made available is slow and often does not reflect the actual experience of drivers.

TidalWave performs the traffic and signal analysis either at a city’s advanced traffic management system or on controllers at street level and generates highly accurate real-time information. The efficiency of the edge solution means that data volumes are reduced by a factor of over 100 and can provide hardware savings of up to 80% compared to traditional solutions. The service is a simple software addition to existing city infrastructure and subscribers to the Tidalwave service receive traffic information from a real-time API.

“TidalWave was designed using the first of its kind, ‘intelligent edge’ architecture for use by the connected vehicle, smart cities, and ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) markets, and will lead Trafficware and the ITS market into the next transformative era of technology over the next decade,” said Joe Custer, CFO of Trafficware,

"TidalWave analyzes, learns and predicts as data is created, at the edge, on existing hardware using a powerful edge compute/data fabric. It delivers precise, granular traffic data at a resolution of hundreds of milliseconds, at a small fraction of the cost of central cloud-hosted learning and prediction,” said Rusty Cumpston, CEO of SWIM.

www.swim.ai

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Project aims for world’s first hardware security analysis in chip emulation platforms

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Tortuga Logic is working on a DARPA research project in the US to test security vulnerabilties on emulation platforms that are used to develop and test chip designs. This would allow designers to identify and correct vulnerabilities before the chips are made.

Tortuga has developed hardware security models that identify vulnerabilities in semiconductor designs, and the project would allow that technology to be used to fully test an entire chip design running a full software stack. 

The iniital work will be done on the Palladium platform from Cadence Design Systems using the RISC-V processor architecture and sample design for initial prototyping and testing. As we have noted in the Embedded blog, RISC-V is gaining popularity in many market verticals and will be used as the baseline design for many of the project participants, making it a suitable architecture to validate the functionality of the final security emulation platform.

The results of the project would be used by hardware designers to enhance their ability to find security vulnerabilities in their designs prior to chip fabrication or Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) deployment. The project will be led by Dr. Jason Oberg, Tortuga Logic’s CEO and co-founder.

“More than ever, hardware designers need solutions to identify security vulnerabilities throughout the chip design lifecycle, rather than post-fabrication or post-deployment. This contract with DARPA will allow Tortuga Logic to integrate our patented information flow technology with commercial emulation platforms, completing a full end-to-end design suite dedicated to security verification,” saidOberg.

Members of the System Security Integrated Through Hardware and Firmware” (SSITH) program will receive early access to the resulting security solution for emulation platforms. 

Tortuga Logic’s current product line consists of two software suites, Prospect and Unison. Both products have been adopted within the semiconductor industry, as well as the aerospace and defence industry. 

The teechnology will be managed by Tortuga Logic’s recently appointed VP of Engineering Andrew Dauman, a former Vice President at Synopsys responsible for the Synplify family of FPGA synthesis tools, as well as the HAPS FPGA-based prototyping systems.

Tortuga’s security solution for emulation platforms will be available for purchase later this year.


Top stories on the Embedded blog in March

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

The interest in the Internet of Things is dying down, mainly as the industry is now concentrating more on designing and making secure, rugged embedded systems, which is why the security stories continue to be key. Using the MISRA standard for safety critical programming to implement embedded crypto was the most popular,

AI (deep learning, or neural nets if you prefer) continues to be a key theme, and its good to see MIPS holding its own as an architecture with several AI design wins.

Intel's open source reference hypervisor is also an interesting move, especially as the company is selling off its Wind River division which specialised in the technology.

Posts

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Intel sells off Wind River

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

In a surprise move, Intel is selling off realtime operating system vendor Wind River to a private equity firm.

Private equity buys firms with debt and optimises them for selling on, which would capitalise on the dramatic growth of the Internet of Things and embedded software security and the coming consolidation of such companies. The key is that Intel does not need to own the company to take advantage of the technologies, which are bought by Intel's customers. 

TPG will acquire the company from Intel for an undisclosed sum, although Intel paid $884m back in 2009 - the current deal would be less than half that value. Wind River President, Jim Douglas, and his existing executive management team will lead the newly independent Wind River after the transaction closes in the second quarter of 2018.

This follows Intel providing technology for an embedded reference hypervisor specifically for the Internet of Things (IoT). The ACRN project uses engineering and code contributions from Intel with two main components: the hypervisor and its device model, complete with I/O mediators. This still gives Intel influence over the development of the technology without the associated costs of Wind River. Competition with the WR tech was highlighted by the Embedded blog two weeks ago.

“Our technology team is focused on backing strong, market-leading companies in growing industries,” said Nehal Raj, Partner and Head of Technology investing at TPG. “We see a tremendous market opportunity in industrial software driven by the convergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), intelligent devices and edge computing. As a market leader with a strong product portfolio, Wind River is well positioned to benefit from these trends. We are excited about the prospects for Wind River as an independent company, and plan to build on its strong foundation with investments in both organic and inorganic growth.”

For nearly 40 years, Wind River has helped the world’s technology leaders power generation after generation of the safest, most secure devices in the world. The company’s software runs the computing systems of the most important modern infrastructure, including manufacturing plants, medical devices, aircraft, railway, automobiles, and communications networks. Wind River’s products and solutions enable engineers, developers, manufacturers, and system integrators to build intelligent connected devices, sensors, gateways, and networks that unlock machine data and connect it to cloud and IT environments.

“This acquisition will establish Wind River as a leading independent software provider uniquely positioned to advance digital transformation within critical infrastructure segments with our comprehensive edge to cloud portfolio,” said Jim Douglas, Wind River President. “At the same time, TPG will provide Wind River with the flexibility and financial resources to fuel our many growth opportunities as a standalone software company that enables the deployment of safe, secure, and reliable intelligent systems.”

“This move is designed to sharpen our focus on growth opportunities that align to Intel’s data-centric strategy,” said Tom Lantzsch, senior vice president and general manager of the Internet of Things Group at Intel. “Wind River will remain an important ecosystem partner, and we will continue to collaborate on critical software-defined infrastructure opportunities to advance an autonomous future. We expect this transition will be seamless for our mutual customers and partners.”

www.tpg.com

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