Tag Archives: 802.15.4

Security coprocessor marks a new approach to provisioning for IoT edge devices


It’s worth noting that security breaches rarely involve breaking the encryption code; hackers mostly use techniques like spoofing to steal the ID.


The advent of security coprocessor that offloads the provisioning task from the main MCU or MPU is bringing new possibilities for the Internet of Things product developers to secure the edge device at lower cost and power points regardless of the scale.

Hardware engineers often like to say that there is now such thing as software security, and quote Apple that has all the money in the world and an army of software developers. The maker of the iPhone chose a secure element (SE)-based hardware solution while cobbling the Apple Pay mobile commerce service. Apparently, with a hardware solution, engineers have the ecosystem fully in control.

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Security is the basic building block of the IoT bandwagon, and there is a lot of talk about securing the access points. So far, the security stack has largely been integrated into the MCUs and MPUs serving the IoT products. However, tasks like encryption and authentication take a lot of battery power — a precious commodity in the IoT world.

Atmel’s solution: a coprocessor that offloads security tasks from main MCU or MPU. The ATECC508A uses elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) capabilities to create secure hardware-based key storage for IoT markets such as home automation, industrial networking and medical. This CryptoAuthentication chip comes at a manageable cost — 50 cents for low volumes — and consumers very low power. Plus, it makes provisioning — the process of generating a security key — a viable option for small and mid-sized IoT product developers.

A New Approach to Provisioning

It’s worth noting that security breaches rarely involve breaking the encryption code; hackers mostly use techniques like spoofing to steal the ID. So, the focus of the ATECC508A crypto engine is the tasks such as key generation and authentication. The chip employs ECC math to ensure sign-verify authentication and subsequently the verification of the key agreement.

The IoT security — which includes the exchange of certificates and other trusted objects — is implemented at the edge node in two steps: provisioning and commissioning. Provisioning is the process of loading a unique private key and other certificates to provide identity to a device while commissioning allows the pre-provisioned device to join a network. Moreover, provisioning is carried out during the manufacturing or testing of a device and commissioning is performed later by the network service provider and end-user.

Atmel ATECC508A crypto-engine

Presently, snooping threats are mostly countered through hardware security module (HSM), a mechanism to store, protect and manage keys, which requires a centralized database approach and entails significant upfront costs in infrastructure and logistics. On the other hand, the ATECC508A security coprocessor simplifies the deployment of secure IoT nodes through pre-provisioning with internally generated unique keys, associated certificates and certification-ready authentication.

It’s a new approach toward provisioning that not only prevents over-building, as done by the HSM-centric techniques, but also prevents cloning for the gray market. The key is controlled by a separate chip, like the ATECC508A coprocessor. Meaning, if there are 1,000 IoT systems to be built, there will be exactly 1,000 security coprocessors for them.

Certified-ID Security Platform

Back at ARM TechCon 2015, Atmel went one step ahead when it announced the availability of Certified-ID security platform for the IoT entry points like edge devices to acquire certified and trusted identities. This platform leverages internal key generation capabilities of the ATECC508A security coprocessor to deliver distributed key provisioning for any device joining the IoT network. That way it enables a decentralized secure key generation and eliminates the upfront cost of building the provisioning infrastructure for IoT setups being deployed at smaller scales.

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Atmel, a pioneer in Trusted Platform Module (TPM)-based secure microcontrollers, is now working with cloud service providers like Proximetry and Exosite to turn its ATECC508A coprocessor-based Certified-ID platform into an IoT edge node-to-cloud turnkey security solution. TPM chips, which have roots in the computer industry, aren’t well-positioned to meet the cost demands of low-price IoT edge devices.

Additionally, the company has announced the availability of two provisioning toolkits for low volume IoT systems. The AT88CKECCROOT toolkit is a ‘master template’ that creates and manages certificate root of trust in any IoT ecosystem. On the other hand, AT88CKECCSIGNER is a production kit that allows designers and manufacturers to generate tamper-resistant keys and security certifications in their IoT applications.

Helium will make sense of your “things”


Helium is an integrated platform that monitors, learns and captures insights from the physical things in your environment. 


With aspirations of becoming the “Android for the IoT,” Helium has designed an integrated platform that brings the power of the cloud to the edge of the network, enabling users to observe, learn and capture actionable insights from existing physical ‘things’ in their environment. And the timing couldn’t be better. As a growing number of companies enter the IoT market, many find themselves challenged by the complexity of implementing new systems.

Solutions

Rather than having to build them from scratch, Helium is offering an end-to-end service that connects businesses to the IoT using 802.15.4 networks. The platform itself consists of reprogrammable smart sensors, the cloud and a real-time analytics dashboard.

Unlike traditional sensor providers that are focused primarily on connectivity, Helium’s approach adds intelligence and new functionality that help “things” learn over time, allowing users to evolve their system by asking sensors to behave differently. Ideally, the two-year-old startup is hoping to target companies that serve as integrators, but has selected the medical, food service and grocery industries to first showcase its capabilities by surveilling smart refrigerators. Looking ahead, Helium can be used for a wide variety of enterprise applications, ranging from tracking the location of goods in a warehouse to avoid lost inventory to keeping tabs on the status of industrial machines to predict failures before they occur.

“We are trying to solve the problems of making highly configurable distributed systems that move as fast on the edge as you do these days in the cloud. If you can reach end nodes with software easily and quickly it’s a competitive advantage,” Helium president and COO Rob Chandhok recently told EE Times.

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Helium begins with its nodes, which include a RF module, a sensor and an ARM Cortex-M4 main board. The network is based on an Atmel 802.15.4 physical-layer chip, and employs its own media-access control and software stack rather than 6LoWPAN or ZigBee. This gives it the ability to avoid Wi-Fi and Bluetooth congestion by dynamically switching between 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz frequency bands. Helium’s radio does not rely on mesh, but can run for year on a pair of AA batteries.

What’s more, the optimized sensors can be unboxed and deployed within minutes, and feature multiple sensing inputs, a secure wireless network and local computing power, all in a compact form factor. For instance, one Helium sensor can measure temperature and door status in a single unit and be enabled on a refrigerator with just the pull of a battery tab. Once installed, Helium’s smart sensors use combined data intelligently to make monitoring both sophisticated and simple.

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The sensors are only one spoke of the wheel, however. Helium will also take care of all the backend software, collecting information from the nodes, sifting through the data in the cloud and then analyzing it on an easy-to-use app. Every sensor reading is stored in Helium’s cloud infrastructure, allowing for historical and real-time access.

From wireless connected sensors to complex event processing, Helium provides users with the power of perception by sensing temperature, motion, sound, pressure and moisture for intelligent solutions that can increase efficiency, avoid loss from equipment failure and reduce downtime. It goes without saying that the consequences of getting embedded systems wrong can be pretty significant. Take the Stanford Children’s Health Center, for example, which had to repeat the vaccinations of more than 1,500 people after discovering that the medication had routinely fallen below freezing point. In a situation like this, Helium could monitor the refrigeration conditions and connect to the Internet to offer real-time notifications should should the temperature drop below its predefined range. Problem solved!

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“The rest of the competition is either piecing together open source software or using old techniques to get embedded-node software into the cloud, but not providing a compelling IoT platform. I can’t walk down Market Street without hearing about 100 IoT companies, but not ones broadly targeting the enterprise,” Chandhok shares.

Intrigued? Head over to its official page to learn more, or read this detailed writeup on the platform from EE Times.

Video Diary: A look back at Embedded World 2015


Weren’t able to join us in Nuremberg? 


With another Embedded World in the books, here’s a look back at some of Atmel’s latest smart and securely connected solutions that are ready to power next-generation Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

Andreas von Hofen shows off the new automotive grade ARM Cortex-M0+-based SAM DA1. The recently-revealed family of MCUs feature an integrated peripheral touch controller (PTC) for capacitive touch applications.

Geir Kjosavik demonstrates a QTouch-based water level sensing application that highlights its advanced HMI and sensing capabilities. Notable uses for this solution include automotive liquid containers and coffee machines.

Dr. Atta Römer explores the latest advancements in phase measurement by exhibiting various localization applications based on 802.15.4 transceivers. Among those examples is Agilion, who showed off its latest e-ink display ID badge based on an Atmel transceiver that is capable of tracking employees in emergency situations, transmitting data and managing access.

Ingolf Leidert addresses Atmel’s newest development kit for ZigBee Light Link solutions using a pair of SAMR21ZLL-EK boards. In this particular demonstration, one board served as a ZigBee LightLink remote, while the other acted as a light.

Controllino is an open-source programmable logic controller (PLC) built around ATmega328 and ATmega2560 microcontrollers. The startup’s CEO Marco Riedesser went 1:1 with Artie Beavis to delve deeper into the Arduino-compatible PLC that enables Makers and designers to produce and control a wide-range of IoT projects, ranging from industrial to home automation applications.

Lionel Perdigon introduces the newest series in the Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M portfolio, the SAM E70 and the SAM S70. These Cortex-M7-based MCUs are ideal for connectivity and general purpose industrial applications, while the auto-grade SAM V70 and SAM V71 are perfectly suited for in-vehicle infotainment, audio amplifiers, telematics and head unit control.

The Internet of Things requires a system-level solution encompassing the whole system, from the smallest edge/sensing node devices to the cloud. That is why Atmel has partnered with best-in-class cloud partners — including PubNub, Proximetry and Arrayent — that can support a variety of applications for both Tier-1 OEMs and smaller companies. As Ramzi Al-Harayeri explains Atmel has integrated the partners’ technologies into Atmel’s cloud solutions framework adding the cloud platform functionality seamlessly to all of the company’s wireless MCU offerings.

Thomas Wenzel showcases the latest version of Atmel’s connected car solution, AvantCar 2.0. Focusing on user requirements for next-generation vehicles, this futuristic center console concept delivers an advanced human machine interface (HMI). Beyond that, the new centerstack includes curved touchscreens highlighting HMI in upcoming automobiles using Atmel technologies including XSense, maXTouch, AVR MCUs and local interconnect network.

Bosch Sensortec’s Fabio Governale and Divya Thukkaram unveil the latest extension board for the incredibly-popular Xplained platform. Featuring a BNO055 intelligent 9-axis absolute orientation sensor, the next-gen device connects directly to Atmel’s Xplained board making it ideal for prototyping projects for the Internet of Things, wearables and gaming markets, as well as for applications like personal health and fitness, indoor navigation, and others requiring context awareness and augmented reality for a more immersive experience.

David Lindstrom of Percepio takes us through some of the innovative features of Atmel Studio 6.2, including the MTB support available on the new SAM D21 board. As the demo reveals, it’s super easy to get started, enable Trace View and run the system using the all-in-one collaborative environment for embedded design.

Sankaranarayanan Kitchiah delves deeper into Atmel’s BLDC motor control development platform using a SAM D21 MCU and the Atmel Data Visualizer (ADV) application.

Video: Thread Stack mbed OS on an ARM Cortex-M using Atmel 802.15.4 radios


Watch an Embedded World 2015 demo of a Thread Stack mbed OS on an ARM Cortex-M using an Atmel 802.15.4 radio.


Seppo Takalo, ARM Senior Software Engineer, shares some the latest updates from Thread Stack, the native support for thread development built into ARM mbed OS. In the video below, Takalo shows off the integrated stack on an ARM Cortex-M using an Atmel 802.15.4 radio.

Set it and forget it! Sprinkl is a smart irrigation system

Let’s face it, not only can watering your lawn can be a hassle, it can often times be a waste of resources as well. Luckily, Dallas-based startup Sprinkl has developed a smarter way to automate lawn sprinklers capable of reducing water usage by up to 50%. Not only is it great for your water bill, but is surely good news for drought-ridden homeowners throughout the country.

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The innovative system is comprised of a patent-pending controller and multiple sensor units. Each weatherproof wireless sensor unit relays soil measurements back to the controller using a power-efficient 802.15.4 mesh network — driven by an ATmega256RFR2 — where additional information, such as local watering restrictions, is used to determine per-zone watering schedules.

Sprinkl is built on the Android OS, runs on a 1GHz processor and can even last seven years on a single lithium battery. Equipped with a capacitive touchscreen, the team stuck on some valve controls, enabling the system to command separate zones. Currently, Sprinkl comes in both 8- and 16-zone packages.

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Furthermore, the smart irrigation system is also Wi-Fi enabled, meaning that it can pull weather forecasts and water conservation schedules directly from the cloud. Once watering and soil measurements are uploaded, homeowners can easily plot the data in their web browsers. Think of it of as a Nest thermostat for your lawn. Based on the sensors’ readings, the controller determines just the right amount of water to distribute.

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According to our friends at PubNub, Sprinkl needed a real-time infrastructure to power their mobile API integration layers with their cloud system to ensure that its cloud and mobile apps were up-to-date based on any changes happening on a user’s controller. In order to achieve just that, Sprinkl seamlessly implemented the PubNub Data Stream Network, significantly reducing development time, as well as development complexity for their real-time backend.

“The Internet is at turning point in the home. Lighting and HVAC controllers have really evolved over the past four years, but irrigation and lawn care technology have been lagging behind,” explained Noel Geren, Managing Member of Sprinkl. “With Sprinkl we wanted to bring an evolutionary product to market; a gorgeous and extensible Android touch based controller that can automatically determine how much water to use per-zone, saving up to 50% on monthly watering bills and preserving earth’s precious resources.

Sprinkl is an ideal alternative for those looking for a smarter, more intuitive watering system for their lawns and landscapes. Interested in learning more? Head over to its official website here.

 

Swift01 is an open-source mesh networking module

Developed by Flint, Michigan-based startup Swiftlet Technology, Swift01 — which recently made its Kickstarter debut — is an open-source, wireless hardware module that enables Makers and hobbyists to build fully-functional systems for the Internet of Things.

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“Have you ever wished that you could simply hook things together wirelessly? Have you ever wanted to automate everything in your house, but didn’t want to spend $35+ on a wireless module for each node in the network? This is exactly what drove me to envision the Swift01,” writes Dan Kurin, Swiftlet Founder and CEO.

The team notes that the preliminary hardware design, including an 802.15.4-based Atmel System-on-Chip (SoC) equipped with an Atmel | SMART SAM D ARM Cortex-M0+ MCU, has been finalized.

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Additional key specs include:

  • Board size: 0.7″ x 1.4″
  • Power input: 3.4-5.5V
  • On-board 2.4GHz trace antenna
  • 3.3V serial UART interface
  • 10 I/Os including expandable serial interface and analog I/Os
  • On-board serial memory for future features

Since Swift01 is based around the concept of mesh networking, the module boasts several software components such as a full IEEE 802.15.5 network stack to court the network traffic, a serial bootloader to allow for updates, an AT Command interface to enable configuration of the network stack and to send messages, as well as an AES message signing add-on to ensure authenticity.

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In an effort to seamlessly create and join networks designed particularly for sensing and control functions, Swift01 offers Makers a wide-range of applications, ranging from monitoring in-house temperature and reconfiguring lighting to remotely collection weather information and controlling home theaters.

“Given that we’re developing open source technology, crowdfunding the development of the tech made perfect sense,” explained Kurin. “This is true democratic development: technology by the people and for the people.” Backers of the campaign can contribute at a number of different dollar levels and, in return for their contribution, receive a finished good in the spring of next year.

As for how the software on the module will be structured, the Swiftlet Technology team has shared an update on its architecture here.

Architecture

In terms of its RF driver, the team says that it features all of the lowest-level software for handling the behavior of the PHY (transceiver). “Much of this has already been written by Atmel and is included in the Atmel Software Framework (ASF).”

If all goes to plan, production for beta-level hardware is expected to kick off in early January with shipments to initial backers slated for Feburary. Interested in learning more or backing this open-source, open protocol project? Click on over Swiftlet Technology’s Kickstarter campaign!

Zigbee Smart Energy Profile

The much anticipated Zigbee Smart Energy Profile 2.0 was recently released. Representing an effort spanning more than three years, this milestone includes contributions from NIST, IETF and the Zigbee Alliance. Various companies also participated in the initiative, including utility, meter, silicon and software stack vendors.

Smart Energy – the application profile that drove the Zigbee Alliance development of the Zigbee IP (ZIP) –  is the first public profile requiring ZIP instead of the current Zigbee and Zigbee PRO underlying stacks. Zigbee IP (ZIP) and SEP 2.0 offer TCP/IP based interoperability for smart energy networks, thereby facilitating participation in the Internet of Things (IoT) without the need for special gateways. In fact, ZIP is designed to be physical layer (phy) agnostic and is capable of running across various platforms including 802.15.4 Wireless, WiFi, Power Line Carrier Ethernet and more.

SEP 2.0 is built using numerous mainstream protocols such as TLS/HTTPS, XML, EXI, mDNX  and REST. Each SEP 2.0 device boasts an optimized HTTP server serving up and responding to data objects defined by an XML schema. Security is ensured by familiar HTTPS with strong authentication, while an RFC compliant IPv6 stack provides the network with specific routing and translation layers for the wireless PHY.  The SEP 2.0 presentation from the Zigbee Alliance is available here [PDF].

Two recommended implementation strategies for SEP 2.0 in devices are Single Chip and Multi-Phy. Single Chip implementations use a dedicated microcontroller and RF transceiver (or a combined SoC) running a dedicated stack. This strategy works particularly well when adding Zigbee SEP 2.0 support where there is no other network or TCP/IP stack in low to mid range devices. A good example might be a thermostat or load control device, both of which require communications with other smart energy devices – even if they are equipped with a small processor dedicated to the control and UI functions of the device.

The Multi-Phy implementation –  a new way of looking at Zigbee – offers advantages in devices equipped with multiple network interfaces and/or a capable processor such as an Atmel SAM4, SAM9, or SAMA5 MPU or MCU. In such cases, the 802.15.4 transceiver (like the AT86RF233) becomes the network interface PHY layer underneath the IPv6 stack and SEP 2.0 layers running on the processor. Since the IPv6 stack is a compliant implementation, other network PHYs are also supported by the stack. Running two or more physical interfaces with a single processor is certainly not an issue, as devices that communicate via Zigbee, WiFi, PLC, and Ethernet can be designed. Because a single processor and IPv6 stack are used, the cost will ultimately be lower than duplicating these functions in a separate chip dedicated to Zigbee SEP 2.0.

Single Chip and Multi-Phy implementation

Single Chip and Multi-Phy implementation

The multi-phy implementation is also ideal for gateway devices bridging different physical layers. And since SEP 2.0 is built using standard web protocols, once you bridge the smart energy network to the Internet, managing your home energy devices from a tablet or smartphone is no stretch at all and brings us closer to the reality of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Atmel, along with software stack partner Exegin Technologies, offers robust and compliant solutions for Zigbee IP and SEP 2.0. There is already interest from leading networking and utility companies, with deployment of certified devices expected before the end of 2013. The critical design decision most of us have to consider? Whether to dedicate the cost and complexity of a single chip Zigbee solution – or optimize it and lower cost with a software stack and radio transceiver solution that offers shared resources and the possibility of multiple networks.