Tag Archives: tag10

PowerUp FPV turns your paper plane into a live-streaming drone

PowerUp FPV lets you experience flight from a first-person view paper airplane drone with a live-streaming camera.

Who could ever forget the simple joy of folding a piece of paper into a plane, throwing it and then watching it soar through the air? As a child, it was tons of fun. As you got older, not so much. This was something Shai Goitein and the PowerUp Toys team wanted to change. With aspirations of taking the age-old form of entertainment to new heights, the Tel Aviv-based startup has created PowerUp FPV — a kit that lets you outfit your paper plane with motorized propellers and a first-person view live-streaming camera.


Built in collaboration with Parrot, PowerUp FPV is a super lightweight camera-and-propeller rig that keeps your plane up in the air for up to 10 minutes per charge, while being capable of achieving speeds up to 20mph with a range of up to 300 feet. The kit enables you to feel as if you’ve been shrunken down and placed inside the cockpit of the paper plane.

That in itself is great, but what’s truly remarkable about PowerUp FPV is that it even has a 360-degree wide-view camera that can transmit an image back to you in real-time. This can be anything from a quick snapshot from off the wings to the ultimate ‘selfie’ with a rear-view picture as you launch your plane.


What’s more, it can be controlled either through a Google Cardboard headset, a head-mounted display or simply using an on-screen gamepad via PowerUp’s accompanying app. Connecting via Wi-Fi, you can watch the footage or wirelessly transfer it to your smartphone, and then upload it to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and several other networks. Unlike the paper plane of yesterday, PowerUp FPV also has an auto-pilot mode for easy flying, and a fast-acting crash detection system that automatically shuts down its motors and rotating blades.


In terms of hardware, PowerUp FPV employs an Atmel MCU along with a 500mAh LiPo battery, a microUSB port for charging, a microSD card, dual-band MIMO antennas, a compass sensor, a three-axis accelerometer and gyroscpe, a barometer, a Wi-Fi module for connectivity, a swivel wide-angle camera, a microphone, a buzzer, as well as a durable carbon fiber and nylon reinforced with a crash-proof bumper.

Ready for an immersive paper airplane experience? Apparently so are thousands of others, as PowerUp FPV soared past its $100,000 goal on Kickstarter in a matter of four hours. The team hopes to begin shipping in June 2016.

Atmel expands SAM G lineup for wearables and sensor hub management

A year after its debut, we’re excited to share that we’ve expanded our award-winning SAM G series of ARM Cortex-M4-based MCUs with the new SAM G54 and SAM G55.


Targeting the rapidly emerging Internet of Things (IoT) market for battery-operated devices including wearables, such as fitness bands and smart watches, sensor hub management, healthcare, gateways, bridges, audio devices and much more, the new pair of MCUs deliver the right feature mix including higher performance, ultra-low power, smaller form factors and more SRAM. These two series also pack all the features of the current SAM G family like an Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M4 MCU + FPU (floating point unit), integrated sensor fusion algorithms, down to 2.84 x 2.84mm package, high-performance frequency of up to 120MHz, ultra-low power down to 102µA/MHz in active mode, and down to 5µs wake-up.

Among the other key features for the new SAM G series:

  • High-performance throughput and efficiency with a Cortex M4-based MCU and FPU
  • Up to 512KB of Flash and up to 160KB of SRAM
  • SRAM power banking
  • Down to 2.84 X 2.84mm 49-ball WLCSP with 0.4mm pitch
  • Flexible serial peripherals and ultra-low power ADC
  • USB host and device
  • Peripheral Event System and SleepWalking
  • Atmel ultra-low power picoPower® technology
  • 64-pin QFP and QFN package options.

In order to maintain energy efficiency, many smart, connected devices use a sensor hub to aggregate and manage the sensors in the device, converting the information into usable data to improve power efficiency and performance. The new SAM G55 series gives designers the option to determine how much SRAM they will require to retain in sleep mode in order to achieve lower and better power efficiency for their designs by utilizing SRAM power banking.

“Designers are looking for simple-to-use solutions with an edge to help bring their differentiated products faster to market for both wearables and sensor hub management,” said Vince Murdica, Atmel Senior Director of Sensor Centric Systems. “Atmel’s new SAM G series delivers differentiation for these markets by offering ultra-low power, higher performance, more memory and smaller form factor, along with connectivity options on a single chip to fuel the innovation. Atmel’s expanded SAM G series builds on our portfolio of touch, security, connectivity and software solutions for this rapidly growing market.”

To accelerate the design, a SAM G55 Xplained Pro evaluation kit is currently available for the SAM G55 series. The ATSAMG55-XPRO evaluation board includes an embedded debugger, Atmel Studio integrated development platform and the Atmel Software Framework. The kit is also fully supported by third party partners IAR and Keil.

Interested in learning more? You can check out Atmel’s entire SAM G lineup here.

ECDH key exchange is practical magic

What if you and I want to exchange encrypted messages? It seems like something that will increasingly be desired given all the NSA/Snowden revelations and all the other snooping shenanigans. The joke going around is that the motto of the NSA is really “Yes We Scan,” which sort of sums it up.


Encryption is essentially scrambling a message so only the intended reader can see it after they unscramble it. By definition, scrambling and unscrambling are inverse (i.e. reversible) processes. Doing and undoing mathematical operations in a secret way that outside parties cannot understand or see is the basis of encryption/decryption.

Julius Caesar used encryption to communicate privately. The act of shifting the alphabet by a specific number of places is still called the Caesar cipher. Note that the number of places is kept secret and acts as the key. Before Caesar, the Spartans used a rod of a certain thickness that was wrapped with leather and written upon with the spaces not part of the message being filled with decoy letters so only someone with the right diameter rod could read the message. This was called a skytale. The rod thickness acts as the key.


A modern-day encryption key is a number that is used by an encryption algorithm, such as AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and others, to encode a message so no one other than the intended reader can see it. Only the intended parties are supposed to have the secret key. The interaction between a key and the algorithm is of fundamental importance in cryptography of all types. That interaction is where the magic happens. An algorithm is simply the formula that tells the processor the exact, step-by-step mathematical functions to perform and the order of those functions. The algorithm is where the magical mathematical spells are kept, but those are not kept secret in modern practice. The key is used with the algorithm to create secrecy.


For example, the magic formula of the AES algorithm is a substitution-permutation network process, meaning that AES uses a series of mathematical operations done upon the message to be encrypted and the cryptographic key (crypto people call the unencrypted message “plaintext“). How that works is that the output of one round of calculations done on the plaintext is substituted by another block of bits and then the output of that is changed (i.e. permutated) by another block of bits and then it happens over and over, again and again. This round-after-round of operations changes the coded text in a very confused manor, which is the whole idea. Decryption is exactly as it sounds, simply reversing the entire process.

That description, although in actual fact very cursory, is probably TMI here, but the point is that highly sophisticated mathematical cryptographic algorithms that have been tested and proven to be difficult to attack are available to everyone. If a secret key is kept secret, the message processed with that algorithm will be secret from unintended parties. This is called Kerckhoffs’ principle and is worth remembering since it is the heart of modern cryptography. What it says is that you need both the mathematical magic and secret keys for strong cryptography.

Another way to look at is that the enemy can know the formula, but it does him or her no good unless they know the secret key. That is, by the way, why it is so darn important to keep the secret key secret. Getting the key is what many attackers try to do by using a wide variety of innovative attacks that typically take advantage of software bugs. So, the best way to keep the secret is to store the key in secure hardware that can protect if from attacks. Software storage of keys is just not as strong as hardware storage. Bugs are endemic, no matter how hard the coders try to eliminate them. Hardware key storage trumping software is another fundamental point worth remembering.

Alright, so now that we have a good algorithm (e.g. AES) and a secret key we can start encrypting and feel confident that we will obtain confidentiality.

Key Agreement

In order for encryption on the sender’s side and decryption on the receiver’s side, both sides must agree to have the same key. That agreement can happen in advance, but that is not practical in many situations. As a result, there needs to be a way to exchange the key during the session where the encrypted message is to be sent. Another powerful cryptographic algorithm will be used to do just that.


There is a process called ECDH key agreement, which is a way to send the secret key without either of the sides actually having to meet each other. ECDH uses a different type of algorithm from AES that is called “EC” to send the secret key from one side to the other. EC stands for elliptic curve, which literally refers to a curve described by an elliptic equation.   A certain set of elliptic curves (defined by the constants in the equation) have the property that given two points on the curve (P and Q) there is a third point, P+Q, on the curve that displays the properties of commutivity, associativity, identity, and inverses when applying elliptic curve point multiplication. Point-multiplication is the operation of successively adding a point along an elliptic curve to itself repeatedly. Just for fun the shape of such an elliptic curve is shown in the diagram.


The thing that makes this all work is that EC point-multiplication is doable, but the inverse operation is not doable. Cryptographers call this a one-way or trap door function. (Trap doors go only one way, see?)  In regular math, with simple algebra if you know the values of A and A times B you can find the value of B very easily.  With Elliptic curve point-multiply if you know A and A point-multiplied by B you cannot figure out what B is. That is the magic. That irreversibility and the fact that A point-multiplied by B is equal to B point-multiplied by A (i.e. commutative) are what makes this a superb encryption algorithm, especially for use in key exchange.

To best explain key agreement with ECDH, let’s say that everyone agrees in advance on a number called G. Now we will do some point-multiply math. Let’s call the sender’s private key PrivKeySend.  (Note that each party can be a sender or receiver, but for this purpose we will name one the sender and the other the receiver just to be different from using the typical Alice and Bob nomenclature used by most crpyto books.) Each private key has a mathematically related and unique public key that is calculated using the elliptic curve equation.  Uniqueness is another reason why elliptic curves are used. If we point-multiply the number G by PrivKeySend we get PubKeySend. Let’s do the same thing for the receiver who has a different private key called PrivKeyReceive and point-multiply that private key by the same number G to get the receiver’s public key called PubKeyReceive.   The sender and receiver can then exchange their public keys with each other on any network since the public keys do not need to be kept secret. Even an unsecured email is fine.

Now, the sender and receiver can make computations using their respective private keys (which they are securely hiding and will never share) and the public key from the other side. Here is where the commutative law of point-multiply will work its magic. The sender point-multiplies the public key from the other side by his or her stored private key.  This is equates to:

PubKeyReceive point-multiplied by PrivKeySend which = G point-multiplied by PrivKeyReceive point-multiplied by PrivKeySend

The receiver does the same thing using his or her private key and the public key just received. This equates to:

PubKeySend point-multiplied by PrivKeyReceive  = G point-multiplied by PrivKeySend point-multiplied by PrivKeyReceive.

Because point-multiply is commutative these equations have the same value!


And, the rabbit comes out of the hat: The sender and receiver now have the exact same value, which can now be used as the new encryption key for AES, in their possession. No one besides them can get it because they would need to have one of the private keys and they cannot get them. This calculated value can now be used by the AES algorithm to encrypt and decrypt messages. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

Below is a wonderful video explaining the modular mathematics and discrete logarithm problem that creates the one-way, trapdoor function used in Diffie-Hellman key exhange. (Oh yeah, the “DH” in ECDH stands for Diffie-Hellman who were two of the inventors of this process.)

Are you building out for secure devices?  Protect your design investments and prevent compromise of your products? Receive a FREE Atmel CryptoAuthentication™ development tool.

Digital anonymity: The ultimate luxury item

Data is quickly becoming the currency of the digital society, of which we are all now citizens. Let’s call that “Digitopia.”

Digitopia123 copy

In Digitopia, companies and governments just can’t get enough data. There is real data obsession, which is directly leading to an unprecedented loss of privacy. And, that has been going on for a long time — certainly since 9/11. Now a backlash is underway with increasing signs of a groundswell of people wanting their privacy back. This privacy movement is about digital anonymity. It is real, and particularly acute in Europe. However, the extremely powerful forces of governments and corporations will fight the desire for personal privacy revanchism at every turn. What seems likely is that those with financial means (i.e. 1%-ers) will be at the forefront of demanding and retrieving privacy and anonymity; subsequently, anonymity could easily become the new luxury item. Ironically, digital invisibility could be the highest form of status.


Let’s explore what is creating the growing demand for a return to some anonymity. The main driver is the collective realization of just how vulnerable we all are to data breaches and snooping — thanks to Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, Russian Cyber-Vor hacker gangs stealing passwords, Unit 61318 of the People’s Liberation Army creating all kinds of infrastructure, commercial and military mischief, the Syrian Electronic Army conducting cyber attacks, Anonymous, Heatbleed, Shellshock, Target and Home Depot credit card number breaches among countless other instances of real digital danger.

What all this means is that everyone is a potential victim, and that is the big collective “ah-ha” moment for digital security. (Maybe it’s more of an “oh-no!” moment?) As illustrated by the chart below, the magnitude, types and sheer number of recent attacks should make anyone feel a sense of unease about their own digital exposure. Why is this dangerous to everyone? Well, because data now literally translates into money. And I literally mean literally. Here’s why…

Breach 1

Bitcoin Exposes the Dirty Little Secret About Money 

Bitcoin is a great starting point because it’s the poster child of the data = money equation. Bitcoin currency is nothing more than authenticated data, and completely disposes any pretense of money being physical. It is this ephemeral-by-design nature of Bitcoin that, in fact, exposes the dirty little secret about all money, which is that without gold, silver or other tangible backing, dollars, the Euro, Renmimbi, Yen, Won, Franc, Pound, Kroner, Ruble and everything else is nothing but data. Money is a manmade concept — really just an idea.

How this works can best be described by putting it into cryptographic engineering terms. Governments are the “issuing certification authority” of money. Each country or monetary union (e.g. EU) with a currency of their own is literally an “issuer.” All roads lead back to the issuer’s central bank via a type of authentication process to prove that the transaction is based upon the faith and credit of the issuer.

Banks are the links on that authentication/certification chain back that leads back to the issuer. Each link on the chain (or each bank) is subject to strict rules (i.e. laws) and audits established by the issuer about exactly how to deal with the issuer, with other banks in the system, with the currencies created by other issues (i.e. other countries), with customers, and how to account for transactions. Audits, laws, and rules are therefore an authentication process. Consumers’ bank accounts and credit cards are the end-client systems. Those end-client systems are linked back through the chain of banks via the authentication process (rules, etc.) to the issuer of the money. That linkage is what creates the monetary system.

Bitcoin was built precisely and purposefully upon cryptographic authentication and certification. It is cryptography and nothing more. There is no central issuing authority and it remains peer-to-peer on purpose. Bitcoin bypasses banks precisely so that no overseer can control the value (i.e. create inflation and deflation at their political whim). This also preserves anonymity.

The bottom line is that the modern banking system has been based upon “fiat money” since the Nixon Administration abandoned the gold standard. The Latin word “fiat” means “arbitrary agreement” and that is what money is: an arbitrary agreement that numbers in a ledger have some type of value and can act as a medium of exchange. Note that physical money (paper and coins) is only an extremely small fraction of the world’s money supply. The bulk of the world’s money is comprised of nothing more than accounting entries in the ledgers of the world’s banking system.

See?  Money = Data. Everything else is window dressing to make it appear more than that (e.g. marble columned bank buildings, Fort Knox, Treasury agents with sunglasses and guns, engraved bonds, armored cars, multi-colored paper currency, coins, etc.).

So, if money equals data, then thieves will not rob banks as often; however, those who can will raid data bases instead, despite what Willie Sutton said. Data bases are where the money is now.


By now, the problem should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention — data of any kind is vulnerable to attack by a wide variety of antagonists from hacker groups and cyber-criminals to electronic armies, techno-vandals and other unscrupulous organizations and people. The reason is simple. Yes, you guessed it: It is because data = money. To make it worse, because of the web of interconnections between people, companies, things, institutions and everything else, everyone and everything digital is exposed.

Big Data. Little Freedom.

The 800-pound gorillas of Digitopia are without a doubt governments. Governments mandate that all kinds of data be presented to them at their whim. Tax returns, national health insurance applications, VA and student loan applications, and other things loaded with very sensitive personal data are routinely demanded and handed over. Individuals and corporations cannot refuse to provide data to the government if they want the monopolized “services” governments provide (or to stay out of jail). And, that is just the open side of the governmental data collection machine.

The surreptitious, snooping side is even larger and involves clandestine scanning of personal conversations, emails, and many other things. However, there is another, non-governmental component to data gathering (I will not use the term “private sector” because it is way too ironic). Companies are now becoming very sophisticated at mining data and tracking people, and getting more so every day. This is the notion of “big data,” and it is getting bigger and bigger all the time.

The Economist recently articulated how advertisers are tracking people to a degree once reserved for fiction. (Think George Orwell’s 1984.) Thousands of firms are now invisibly gathering intelligence. Consumers are being profiled with skills far exceeding that of FBI profilers. When consumers view a website, advertisers compete via a hidden bidding process to show them targeted ads based on the individual’s profile. These ads are extremely well focused due to intensive analytics and extensive data collection. These auctions take milliseconds and the ads are displayed when the website loads. We have all seen these ads targeted at us by now. This brave new advertising world is a sort of a cross between Mad Men and Minority Report with an Orwellian script.

The Personalization Conundrum

There is a certain seductiveness associated with consumer targeting. It is the notion of personalization. People tend to like having a certain level of personalized targeting. It makes sense to have things that you like presented to you without any effort on your part. It is sort of an electronic personal shopping experience. Most people don’t seem to mind the risk of having their preferences and habits collected and used by those they don’t even know. Consumers are complicit and habituated to revealing a great deal about themselves.  Millennials have grown up in a world where the notion of privacy is more of a quaint anachronism from days gone by. But, that is all likely to change as more people get hurt.

Volunteering information is one thing, but much of the content around our digital selves is being collected automatically and used for things we don’t have any idea about. People are increasingly buying products that track their activities, location, physical condition, purchases and other things. Cars are already storing data about our driving habits and downloading that to other parties without the need for consent. So, the question is becoming at point does the risk of sharing too much information outweigh the convenience? It is likely that point has already been reached, if you ask me at least.

The Need for a Digital Switzerland

With the unholy trinity of governmental data gathering, corporate targeting, and cyber-criminality, the need for personal data security should be more than obvious. Yet, the ability to become secure is not something that individuals will be able to make happen on their own. Data collection systems are not accessible, and they are not modifiable by people without PhDs in computer science.

With privacy being compromised every time one views a webpage, uses a credit card, pays taxes, applies for a loan, goes to the doctor, drives on a toll way, buys insurance, gets into a car, or does a collection of other things, it becomes nearly impossible to preserve privacy. The central point here is that privacy is becoming scarce, and scarcity creates value. So, we could be on the verge of privacy and anonymity becoming a valuable commodity that people will pay for. A privacy industry will arise. Think of a digital Pinkerton’s.

It is likely that those who can afford digital anonymity will be the first to take measures to regain it. To paraphrase a concept from a famous American financial radio show host, privacy could replace the BMW as the modern status symbol. The top income earners who want to protect themselves and their companies will be looking for a type of digital Switzerland.

swiss army

Until now a modicum of privacy had been attainable from careful titling and sequestering of assets (i.e. numbered bank accounts, trusts, shell corporations, etc.). That is not enough anymore. The U.S. Patriot Act, European Cy­bercrime Convention, and EU rules on data retention are the first stirrings concerning a return to the right to anonymity. These acts will apply pressure to the very governmental agencies that are driving privacy away. Dripping irony…

Legal, investigational, and engineering assets will need to be brought to bear to provide privacy services. It will take a team of experts to find where the bits are buried and secure them. Privacy needs do not stop at people either. Engineers will have to get busy to secure things as well.

The Internet of Things

Everything said until this point about the loss of personal privacy also applies to the mini-machines that are proliferating in the environment and communicating with each other about all kinds of things. The notion of the Internet of Things (IoT) is fundamentally about autonomous data collection and communication and it is expected that tens of billions of dispersed objects will be involved in only a few years form now. These numerous and ubiquitous so-called things will typically sense data about their surroundings, and that includes sensing people and what those people are doing. Therefore, these things have to add security to keep personal information out of the hands of interlopers and to keep the data from being tampered with. This is called data integrity in cryptographic parlance.

What Can be Done?

To ensure that things are what they say they are, it is necessary to use authentication. Authentication, in a cryptographic sense, requires that a secret or private key be securely stored somewhere for use by a system. If that secret key is not secret then there is no such thing as security. That is a simple point but of paramount importance.


The most secure way to store a cryptographic key is in secure hardware that is designed to be untamperable and impervious to a range of attacks to get at it. Atmel has created a line of products called CryptoAuthentication precisely for this purpose.  Atmel CryptoAuthentication products — such as ATSHA204AATECC108A and ATAES132 — implement hardware-based key storage, which is much stronger then software based storage because of the defense mechanisms that only hardware can provide against attacks. Secure storage in hardware beats storage in software every time.

It is most likely that as we citizens of Digitopia continue to realize how dependent we are on data and how dependent those pieces of data are on real security, there will be a powerful move towards the strongest type of security that can be achieved. (Yes, I mean hardware.)

In the future, the most important question may even become, “Does your system have hardware key storage?” We should all be asking that already and avoiding those systems that do not. Cryptography is, as Edward Snowden has said, the “defense against the dark arts for the digital realm.”  We should all start to take cover.