Tag Archives: hardware

Powering the democratization of engineering

Eric Weddington, open-source community manager at Atmel, recently told EDN there has been a significant increase in the number of companies using Atmel-powered Arduinos and open-source hardware for prototyping as well as product development.

“Democratization of engineering: We’re already seeing that happen. Arduino has made it so easy to get involved in a complex subject, embedded engineering, which in the past has been the purview of engineers who have a wide range of skills, both hardware and software, in dealing with conflicting restraints and requirements, especially in deeply embedded systems,” Weddington explained.

“It has been a kind of very exclusive party of people who can work in embedded systems. But with open-source hardware and Arduino, and open-source software, it has become so easy to use that all of these people who have never had a chance to do [embedded engineering] before can be brought in. It opens up a lot of creativity. People come up with all sorts of uses for the Arduino.”

According to Weddington, the democratization of engineering substantially expands the pool of creative and marketable ideas. However, he also emphasized one needed to distinguish between the types of ideas that can be brought to market without formal engineering and those which require a more professional background.

“Blinking a light is always mentioned in embedded systems as the ‘hello world’ application. It’s easy to do something like that. But you really need the professional engineering background if you are going to develop something like a medical device or avionics on a plane. [Still], I don’t see the democratization of hardware taking away from the traditional professional engineering group at all; I just see it as adding to it,” he added.

“Power to the people: the democratization of engineering,” by Suzanne Deffree can be read in its entirety here on EDN.

Open source hardware sees increased use by hobbyists, engineers

Analysts at Premier Farnell expect the use of open source hardware and software to increase among professional engineers and the growing Maker community in 2013.

According to the results of a recent survey commissioned by element14, 56% of professional engineers are more likely to use open source hardware such as Arduino (powered by Atmel MCUs) and other devices, with Maker hobbyists weighing in at a rather impressive 82%.

Similarly, 52% of professional engineers and 81% of hobbyists report being more likely to use open source software in 2013 – while 54% of hobbyists have confirmed using dev kits at least once per quarter for personal projects.

“The numbers paint a very clear picture that open source hardware is showing strong traction among professional engineers and hobbyists as well as educators and students,” said Andrea Koritala, global head of technology integration at Premier Farnell.

“With a high level of crossover between professionals and hobbyists, this increase in adoption extends to the workplace. An engineer on the job is looking for access to many of the same tools and resources accessible to the hobbyist community.”

As Koritala notes, professional engineers rated reference designs as the resource that weighs most heavily in the decision to select a dev kit. Among hobbyists, the most important factor was the availability of online tutorials, webinars and videos.

“This trend also speaks to the importance of ease of access and use, as a strong community can help bring ideas and designs to life,” she explained.

“Engineers have historically been hesitant to fully embrace open source, but the sheer availability of open-source tools and resources has mitigated many of the risks associated with designing in open source for commercial use.”

The above-mentioned survey, conducted in April 2013, included responses from a mix of professional engineers, hobbyists and students. All respondents had purchased one or more dev kits or related products in the year prior to taking the survey.

Achieving a secure lockdown with Atmel’s ATSHA204

Despite its obvious importance, security often takes a backseat when it comes to designing a device or electronic component.

Perhaps one of the most shocking examples of security failure in the electronic world was highlighted last year during the Black Hat conference when a hacker demonstrated how he used a simple microcontroller to compromise hotel room doors by accessing 32-bit keys.

Unfortunately, the above-mentioned breach is hardly an isolated incident, as hacks for poorly secured hardware can be found swirling around the internet ether where they are routinely bought and sold by less-than-savory elements.

While it may seem somewhat daunting, securing a device can be made easier with an optimized authentication chip like Atmel’s ATSHA204 which includes a 4.5Kb EEPROM. This array can be used for the storage of keys, miscellaneous read/write, read-only, password or secret data. As expected, access to various sections of memory can be restricted in a variety of ways, with the configuration locked to prevent changes.

The chip also boasts a number of defensive mechanisms specifically designed to prevent physical attacks on the silicon itself or logical attacks on the data transmitted between the chip and the system. Plus, each ATSHA204 ships with a unique 72-bit serial number. By using the cryptographic protocols supported by the chip, a host system or remote server is able to prove the serial number is authentic and not a copy.

In addition, the ATSHA204 is capable of generating high-quality random numbers and employing them for any purpose, including usage as part of the crypto protocols of the chip. Access to the silicon is granted via a standard I²C interface at speeds up to 1Mb/sec. And last but certainly not least, it is compatible with most UART or serial IO controllers.

So that’s the physical spec rundown, but what about specific attacks ATSHA204 is designed to shield against? Well, the authentication chip is capable of helping to protect devices from a variety of nefarious threats, including algorithmic, protocol, microprobe, environmental, timing, bug, dumpster diving, emissions, fault and power cycling.

Meanwhile, a secure boot system prevents unauthorized modification of host firmware and protects against hackers enabling extra features without payment. And last, but certainly not least, the ATSHA204 helps thwart illicit system copies, piracy and code reverse engineering.

So while securing a device may seem like somewhat of a daunting task, especially in the face of so many critical threats, Atmel’s ATSHA204 is a comprehensive hardware-based solution that offers full applications support for both AVR and ARM systems, while helping to streamline and optimize the lockdown process.

Arduino making a mark at Maker Faire

I don’t usually make a big deal of my upcoming weekends, but when I get the chance to hang out in a human-size mouse trap, buzz around a giant Hand of Man robot, or get my code on competitively in a variety of hacker races, it’s worth talking up a bit.

Before you wonder whether I’ve managed to contract an unhealthy dose of hallucinogenic corporate cube fever, don’t panic! I’m referring to the upcoming Maker Faire, to be held at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds on the 18/19 of May.


Maker Faire, created by Make magazine back in 2006, stitches together the arts and crafts with engineering and science.


It’s a huge science fair for the general public, where Do-It-Yourselfers are free to roam around unleashed (usually on their segways) wearing propeller beanies and flashy LED pins without anybody judging them. Much.

Tinkerers little and large take center stage at Maker Faire, showing the world their zany contraptions and electrifying experiments, while trading tips and tricks for others who want to follow in their low power footsteps.

And Atmel, I’m proud to say, is all over it.

Why? Because in many ways, Atmel powers the maker movement, with its tech at the heart of so many maker designs. It helps, of course, that Atmel microprocessors are the chips of choice for the Arduino platform, both in their AVR flavor and ARM varieties.


Arduino has democratized hardware in a way that allows anyone – young or old, engineer or not, rich or poor – to scratch their own itch and create anything they can imagine.

As Arduino’s founder, Massimo Banzi, puts it, “You don’t need anyone’s permission to create something great.”

Indeed, with Arduino even finding its way into every single MakerBot 3D printer, creativity now really knows no bounds.

At Maker Faire, Atmel will be right across from our friends and partners at Arduino (Booth #625 and #619 for the location sticklers) and along with a pretty slick booth design made up entirely of cardboard furniture (Chairigami!!), we’ll have quite a bit going on.


For starters, we’ll have some MakerBot demos and an “IoTorium” (which I’m assuming is an emporium of awesome Internet of Things devices).

Speaking of awesome “things”, the folks from PuzzleBox will be pitching up in Atmel’s booth with their brain-controlled helicopters, alongside the cool riders from Faraday Bikes who will be peddling their electric bicycle wares.

We’ll also have some cute hackable Hexbugs crawling around and for those keeping an eye on the time, some smart watches from Secret Labs (shhhh!).


The Maker movement is a passionate one, and Atmel’s pretty passionate about being a part of it. If you can’t make it to Maker Faire, no sweat. You can follow all the goings on via Twitter. Just look for the hashtags @makerfaire, @atmel, @arduino.

Hope to see you there!