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Home is where the smart is!

It’s that time of the year again — the exciting rush right after the holidays and fresh on the heels of 2015 International CES in Las Vegas. As we look back at the last few years, the smart home category has always been prominent, particularly in 2013 and 2014.

Room by room, appliance by appliance, it’s becoming clearer than ever that our homes are becoming increasingly more connected. With major backing from corporations like Apple and Google as well as an onset of smart home startups on Kickstarter, it is clear that the market is ready to grow at a rapid pace. From security systems and meters to remote controls and utensils, a new generation of intelligent products is set to power and revolutionize our daily lives.

As we head into 2015, we will undoubtedly see the rise of the connected home and a variety of products infiltrate new markets, not to mention existing ones as well. We will see once ordinary household items become Internet-enabled, which not only converges both our digital and physical worlds, but will usher in a more intuitive and automated home. From the living room to the kitchen to the garage, a multitude of trends were certainly apparent on this year’s CES show floor.


In the living room

Never leave the sofa again. Speakers connected through Wi-Fi, ZigBee-controlled smart light bulbs, motion sensors on windows and universal remotes that command all your entertainment devices, touchscreens on the wall, thermostats that adjust to your preferred temperature…what more could you ask for?

In the bedroom

Not only enhancing your day-to-day functions while awake, there will also be a wide-range of connected devices designed to aid users sleep – these include smart gadgets that monitor and analyze sleep patterns to those that enable you to wake up smoothly at the optimal time of a sleep cycle.

Outside the front door

Smart cameras and burglar deterrents are ushering in an entirely new realm of home security. Cameras won’t only be capable of recognizing faces, but sounds and voices as well. This connected equipment will accurately detect those approaching your home, while also allowing you to see and speak to them using your smartphone. Meanwhile, other devices can learn and replay lighting patterns while you’re out of the house, which give off the impression of a lived-in home. Pretty soon, you’ll have your own smart bellhop and security guard.

In the garage

CES 2014 demonstrated that the futuristic automotive features had indeed arrived. The era of constantly connected vehicles are headed into the fast lane, with a number of carmakers looking to smartphone integration and more dynamic interfaces. Expect to see more capacitive touchscreen, smartphone-like dashboards and enhanced app integration. As we look ahead, we are inching so close to the day of self-driving vehicles, which will most likely be more prevalent in the coming months. Furthermore, keyless entry, passive start and vehicle-to-vehicle communication will all play an integral role in 2015. Soon, Disney won’t be the only place to find talking cars.

In the closet

2014 was a significant year for wearables, particularly wrist technology However, don’t be too surprised over the next 12 months if you see the tremendous growth of smart garments as well as devices that clip and attach. The technology is out there and being quickly adopted. Meanwhile, there will be a number of new devices looking to set the tone for health and fitness technology, while smaller companies will emerge — evident by the sheer volume of recently-launched crowdfunding campaigns. Talk about smarty pants!

Staying ahead of the curve

Back at CES 2014, we saw what the mere beginnings of curved screens through televisions. As we get closer to Jan. 6, you can expect to see a couple curved and bendable smartphones throughout the show floor. Companies are getting closer and closer to developing a truly flexible display that would let a user fold up their phone and contort it into whichever shape to easily slide into a pocket. We’re bringing flexy back! Yep!

DIY at home

Another CES, another year closer to ubiquitous 3D printers, home-brew smart devices, DIY drones in the backyard, and customized robots navigating around the house. In fact, this year’s show will see a much larger presence located inside its Robotics Marketplace. One day, we will have more open-source, programmable and autonomous bots carrying out our daily tasks, capable of observing, listening, feeling and reacting specifically to various environments. Additionally, with the widespread adoption of development platforms like Arduino, expect to see more Makers create their own web-connected projects – from home automation to smart remotes.

Securing the house

A trend that we’ll continue to see when discussing the smart home is the world emerging with security and connectivity. As the Internet of Things continues to emerge throughout our products and appliances, the need for security has never been more important than now due to the rapidly expanding number of IoT devices, which drastically multiplies the potential exposure points of attack.

This article, written by Atmel VP of Marketing Sander Arts, originally appeared on ECNMag.com on January 2, 2014. Those heading to CES 2015 can discover all the latest innovations around the smart home at #MP25760 in South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as explore next-gen wireless and lighting solutions in the Sands Expo at both the ZigBee Alliance Pavilion located in booth #71023 and the Connected Lighting Alliance in booth #70432.

What is Ambient Security?

New technology and business buzzwords pop up constantly. Hardly a day goes by that you don’t see or hear words such as “cloud”, “IoT,” or “big data.” Let’s add one more to the list: “Ambient security.”

Ambient 1

You’ll notice that big data, the cloud, and the IoT are all connected, literally and figuratively, and that is the point. Billions of things will communicate with each other without human intervention, mainly through the cloud, and will be used to collect phenomenal and unprecedented amounts of data that will ultimately change the universe.

As everything gets connected, each and every thing will also need to be secure. Without security, there is no way to trust that the things are who they say they are (i.e. authentic), and that the data has not been altered (i.e. data integrity). Due to the drive for bigger data, the cloud and smart communicating things are becoming ambient; and, because those things all require security, security itself is becoming ambient as well.  Fortunately, there is a method to easily spread strong security to all the nodes. (Hint: Atmel CryptoAuthentication.)

Big Data

At the moment, big data can be described as the use of inductive statistics and nonlinear system analysis on large amounts of low density (or quickly changing) data to determine correlations, regressions, and causal effects that were not previously possible. Increases in network size, bandwidth, and computing power are among the things enabling this data to get bigger — and this is happening at an exponential rate.

Big data became possible when the PC browser-based Internet first appeared, which paved the way for data being transferred around the globe. The sharp rise in data traffic was driven to a large extent by social media and companies’ desire to track purchasing and browsing habits to find ways to micro-target purchasers. This is the digitally-profiled world that Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other super-disruptors foisted upon us.  Like it or not, we are all being profiled, all the time, and are each complicit in that process. The march to bigger data continues despite the loss of privacy and is, in fact, driving a downfall in privacy. (Yet that’s a topic for another article.)


The smart mobile revolution created the next stage of “biggering” (in the parlance of Dr. Seuss). Cell phones metamorphosed from a hybrid of old-fashioned wired telephones and walkie-talkies into full blown hand-held computers, thus releasing herds of new data into the wild. Big data hunters can thank Apple and the Android army for fueling that, with help from the artists formerly known as Nokia, Blackberry, and Motorola. Mobile data has been exploding due to its incredible convenience, utility, and of course, enjoyment factors. Now, the drive for bigger data is continuing beyond humans and into the autonomous realm with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT).

biggering 1

Bigger Data, Little Things

IoT is clearly looking like the next big thing, which means the next big thing will be literally little things. Those things will be billions of communicating sensors spread across the world like smart dust — dust that talks to the “cloud.”

big data

More Data

The availability of endless data and the capability to effectively process it is creating a snowball effect where big data companies want to collect more data about more things, ad infinitum. You can almost hear chanting in the background: “More data… more data… more data…”

More data means many more potential correlations, and thus more insight to help make profits and propel the missions of non-profit organizations, governments, and other institutions. Big data creates its own appetite, and the data to satisfy that growing appetite will derive from literally everywhere via sensors tied to the Internet. This has already started.

Sensors manufacture data. That is their sole purpose. But, they need a life support system including smarts (i.e. controllers) and communications (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and others). There is one more critical part of that: Security.

No Trust? No IoT! 

There’s no way to create a useful communicating sensor network without node security. To put it a different way, the value of the IoT depends directly on whether those nodes can be trusted. No trust. No IoT.  Without security, the Internet of Things is just a toy.

What exactly is security? It can best be defined by using the three-pillar model, which (ironically) can be referred to as “C.I.A:” Confidentiality, Integrity and Authenticity.



Confidentiality is ensuring that no one can read the message except its intended receiver. This is typically accomplished through encryption and decryption, which hides the message from all parties but the sender and receiver.

Integrity, which is also known as data integrity, is assuring that the received message was not altered. This is done using cryptographic functions. For symmetric, this is typically done by hashing the data with a secret key and sending the resulting MAC with the data to the other side which does the same functions to create the MAC and compare. Sign-verify is the way that asymmetric mechanisms ensure integrity.

Authenticity refers to verification that the sender of a message is who they say they are — in other words, ensuring that the sender is real. Symmetric authentication mechanisms are usually done with a challenge (often a random number) that are sent to the other side, which is hashed with a secret key to create a MAC response, before getting sent back to run the same calculations. These are then compared to the response MACs from both sides.

(Sometimes people add non-repudiation to the list of pillars, which is preventing the sender from later denying that they sent the message in the first place.)

The pillars of security can be  implemented with devices such as Atmel CryptoAuthentication crypto engines with secure key storage. These tiny devices are designed to make it easy to add robust security to lots of little things – -and big things, too.

So, don’t ever lose sight of the fact that big data, little things and cloud-based IoT are not even possible without ambient security. Creating ambient security is what CryptoAuthentication is all about.

Building an Arduino-powered Enigma machine

An Enigma machine refers to a family of related electro-mechanical rotor cipher machines used in the twentieth century for enciphering and deciphering secret messages. The original Enigma was invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I. According to Wikipedia, early models were used commercially from the early 1920s, although they were later adopted by a number of militaries and governments around the world.

Recently, the ST-Geotronics crew designed and built a functioning open-source Enigma (M4) replica powered by an Atmel-based Arduino Mega (ATmega1280).

“Rather than try to immediately cram everything into the final enclosure, the ST-Geotronics gang painstakingly worked out a prototype to be sure the four 16-segment LED displays had been wired correctly and functioned properly,” explained HackADay’s John Marsh.

“The next step was laying out a swarm of buttons and resistors on a 6″x8″ perfboard. They used charlieplexing to handle the 16-segment displays (which actually have 17 LEDs each), and deceptively disguised each display as a nixie tube by mounting them vertically and encasing them in a transparent dome.”

Aside from the Atmel-powered Arduino Mega, key project components include:

  • 26 Alpha Buttons
  • 26 1/4″ Jacks Mono
  • 10 1/4″ Plugs Mono
  • 36 Pushbuttons
  • 1 On/Off/On Switch
  • 4 16Segment Orange
  • 4 Test Tubes
  • 1 Case Plywood
  • 1 Hinge & Hooks
  • 1 Half-Mortise Lock
  • 1 Perfboard
  • 38 Resistors 470 Ohms
  • 40 Resistors 1K Ohms
  • 7IRF9Z24N P-Channel MOSFET1 Piece of Metal & Spray paint
  • Battery Case
  • Rechargeable Batteries
  • Battery Charger/Connectors

Interested in learning more? You can check out the hardware side of things on Instructables, along with the relevant Arduino sketches.