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Alpha 2 is the humanoid robot you’ve always wanted

A small robot with a big brain.

After watching Robin William’s title role in “The Bicentennial Man” (1999), did you dream of having a humanoid robot of your own? One that walks, talks and performs various duties, just like a member of the family? Well, the time of having your own “Bicentennial Man” is almost here. Meet Alpha 2, the smart humanoid robot by Shenzen-based startup UBTECH Robotics.


UBTECH founder and CEO James Chow has devoted his career to creating intelligent robots for family use. With Alpha 2, Chow and his team of experienced robotics experts deliver a smart and interactive humanoid with social skills and practical household service. It’s easy to underestimate this small and cute robot as a toy, but Alpha 2 is touted to be smarter than your smartphone.

Alpha 2 is an all-in-one companion, personal assistant, tutor, in-home nurse, housekeeper and more. Using his Internet-connected brain with face and voice recognition, the bot can meet many of the daily needs for each family member. Its programmed conversation skills, general knowledge database and web search function makes it a great companion, tutor or helper around the house. You can ask Alpha 2 to make calls, check voice mails, read emails, send texts and control appliances, among countless other tasks.


Not only can he take care of office work, he can take care of you. Alpha 2 can remind you when medications need to be taken, as well as control smart appliances including lights, locks and set Wi-Fi-enabled alarms and security systems. For fun, Alpha 2 can read to children, play music, dance, take photos and videos and work out with you. He has 20 joints replicating human movement, equipping it with the widest range of motion of any consumer robot to date.


To get Alpha 2 alive and kicking, you simply connect it to your Wi-Fi network, teach it to recognize your face and voice, and download the accompanying mobile app for control and additional functions. At the heart of Alpha 2 is digital servo, an automatic control system that consists of a control board, a gear set and a motor. The humanoid is comprised of eight 8kg servos (head and hands) and 12 20kg servos (lower limbs), each driven by an ATmega8 MCU.

Beyond that, he is equipped with a Samsung Exynos 5260 processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, a 3W stereo speaker, a number of sensors (accelerometer, touch and sonar), and runs the Android 4.4 OS. The cute companion has several RGB LEDs throughout his body, including his eyes, hands and chest, and offers both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. While the software is proprietary, UBTECH will provide an open API and SDK for Android app development.


Intrigued? Head over to Alpha 2’s Indiegogo campaign, where UBTECH Robotics has well surpassed its goal of $100,000. The first batch of units is expected to ship in February 2016.

Zodiac FX is the world’s smallest OpenFlow SDN switch

Zodiac FX is the first OpenFlow switch designed to sit on your desk, not in a data center.

Up until now the power of Software Defined Networking (SDN) was only available to the administrators of large corporate networks like Google and Facebook. However, one Australian company has shrunken those capabilities down to a palm-sized form factor of just 10cm x 8cm to create what they’re calling the world’s smallest OpenFlow-capable switch.


With aspirations of getting SDN into the hands of Makers, students and hobbyists, the Zodiac FX is the first OpenFlow switch meant to sit on your desk, not in a data center. The idea was initially conceived by Northbound Networks founder Paul Zanna after finding that there was a persistent gap between SDN controllers and simulation software and OpenFlow-capable hardware.

What’s nice is that the Zodiac FX packs many of the features of an OpenFlow switch all for a fraction of the cost and size. Based on an Atmel | SMART SAM4E Cortex-M4 MCU, the board includes four 10/100 Fast Ethernet ports with integrated magnetics and indicator LEDs along with a command line interface accessible via USB virtual serial port. Aside from all that, the Zodiac FX is equipped with the layer 2 and 3 switching capabilities of the Micrel KSZ8795 Ethernet controller.


Designed with the SDN development and Maker communities in mind, the Zodiac FX firmware is completely open source. This means that anyone can download the code and use Atmel Studio to produce their own custom version. From there, it can be reloaded onto the board via USB.

“The Zodiac FX firmware utilizes the Atmel Software Framework (ASF) for generic device drivers such as USB, SPI, etc. On top of this it then adds a custom written driver for the KSZ8795. FreeRTOS is used to provide task and memory management for the three core processes; Command (CLI), Switching and OpenFlow,” the team writes.

It should be noted that, although the Zodiac FX may be the company’s first foray into the hardware world, Northbound Networks has been extensively involved with SDN development utilities. Are you looking to develop an SDN application? Head over to Zodiac FX’s Kickstarter page, where the crew is seeking $30,693. While delivery for the beta version is expected to kick off in October 2015, the final units aren’t slated to ship until January 2016.

3DRacers is bringing Mario Kart to life

The next Hot Wheels? 3D print your own personalized cars and race them throughout the house.

Who could ever forget waking up on Christmas morning to find a remote-controlled race car set under the tree? Or, how about heading out to the local Toys”R”Us to grab yourself the latest Mario Kart game (or should we say ‘Kartridge’) to slip into your Super NES? Well now, Rome-based 3DRacers is seeking to revolutionize the toy and gaming industries with something that’s even more fun than a simple RC set or video game.


In fact, the Maker duo of Marco D’Alia and Davide Marcoccio is ushering in a new generation of products, ones in which will allow users to 3D print their own smartphone-enabled, Arduino-compatible racing games. Think Mario Kart on your living room floor, instead of your TV screen. Rather than steer your way through Bowser’s Castle, Donut Plains and Mario Circuit tracks, kids can now navigate their way around in-house like rugs, tables, beds and even Uncle Bob’s legs as he snores on the couch. The 3D-printable cars were designed to have exceptional ground clearance from the bottom, which lets them to speed across these fabric and carpeted areas with ease.

With 3DRacers — which was successfully funded on Indiegogo — you can drive small radio-controlled, fully 3D-printed cars with your phone or with a custom-built remote (also 3D-printed). And, what truly sets this product apart from the pack is that each car can be customized to your liking. This opens up a wide-range of possibilities from Jeeps and Corvettes, to tanks and monster trucks, to dune buggies and rally cars, to even a Back to the Future-inspired DeLorean.


While its first beta set was introduced back at Maker Faire Rome 2014, the Italian team has since launched a web-based editor where users can create a car online and 3D print it for free, or through 3DRacers’ official print partner 3DHubs. What makes it even sweeter, in the likelihood that a car is broken or lost at some point, a user can now simply make a new one. No more trips to the toy store! 


Each 3DRacer is driven by a custom-built electronic board, based on an ATmega32U4. With a focus on low-power consumption and adhering to an extremely small form factor, the team’s Arduino-compatible board is making it possible for users put personal touches on the game, as well as design a new type of Bluetooth-enabled vehicle. The board, aptly named 3DRacers Pilot, can control up to two motors and three servos, and is equipped with an embedded RGB LED, a battery charger, a custom-made gate/position detector, and is even programmable through a simple USB link.


“We choose the ’32U4 for the embedded USB, so that it could be programmed and upgraded easily without an external programmer,” a company rep tells us.


But the online editor and free creation of cars is only the beginning for the team. In true Mario Kart-like fashion, 3DRacers comes with a companion app that allows users to compete against each other in battle mode with automatic lap counters and race times, pit stops with simulated tires and fuel consumption gauges, an online scoreboard, and of course, turbo lanes and power-ups. The app is compatible with all Bluetooth Smart mobile devices, including iPhone 4S or later, iPod 5th or later, iPad 3rd/Air/Mini or later, Samsung Galaxy S3, Note 2, Nexus 4 or later.


Whether you’re looking to spark up some nostalgia, have a child that plays with Hot Wheels, or know of a friend that loves RC gadgetry, race on over to its official crowdfunding page here. Pending all goes to plan, delivery is set for this October.

Is the Internet of Things just a toy?

While some sort of IoT is possible without security, without security it would really just be a toy.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is arguably the most hyped concept since the pre-crash dot-com euphoria. You may recall some of the phrases from back then such as “the new economy,” “new paradigm,” “get large or get lost,” “consumer-driven navigation,” “tailored web experience,” “it’s different now,” among countless other media fabrications.


The IoT is the new media darling. In fact, it has been dubbed everything from the fifth wave of computing, to the third wave of the Internet, to the next big thing, to the next mega-trend, to the largest device market in the world, to the biggest efficiency booster/cost reduction technology. You get the picture.

Now, the question is whether or not the IoT will indeed be more real than just hype, as is the case with any media powered feeding frenzy. Let’s start by looking at the numbers.

Respected market researchers and giant networking companies are predicting gigantic numbers of connected devices to the tune of 20 to 50 billion units of installed base by 2020 or 2025, with some estimates even going higher. With numbers like that coming from the world’s most-followed, reputable sources, it won’t be long before high roller investors start placing enormous bets on who will be the winners of the IoT game; a game that will be make Vegas action look like a game of marbles. The IoT casino is now open.


There is really big money at stake because IoT represents a perfect storm of opportunity for venture capitalists and bold corporate acquirers — that is because many believe that half the successful IoT companies don’t even exist yet. Conditions don’t get much more attractive than that when it comes to risk capital.

Here’s a hot tip: Only bet on the companies offering systems that articulate a clear strategy that put strong security (especially authentication) as a top priority. This tip is derived from the observations of Dr. Vint Cerf (the acknowledged creator of the Internet) who declared that the IoT will require strong authentication. And, he’s right. Note well that the strongest authentication comes from hardware-based cryptographic key storage because hardware key storage beats software-based key storage every time. Inexpensive and easy-to-use integrated circuit devices already exist to do just that. The media should grasp that but don’t seem to get it yet.

The dirty little secret of the constantly-connected era is that without security, the IoT will just be a toy that consumers, governments, and corporations cannot take seriously. What good is a system of billions of interconnected things sensing and sending data (often through the cloud)  that can be  intercepted, corrupted, and spoofed? Not very much. IoT growth is dependent upon security. 

Charting the Growth

The graphs below show estimated unit shipments and the resulting installed base of IoT devices. What has also been called out in each chart are devices with on-board security, mainly hardware-based security, and those that do not have built in hardware security. Most market estimates out there tend to show the growth of the IoT in terms of installed bases, growing to many billions by 2020. Typically speaking, you will see a chart like the one below, but without the divisions between secure and insecure nodes.This is a case of the devil being in the details, because installed base charts can be very misleading. Data jockeys such as market researchers and statisticians know very well that installed base is a tricky way to present data. Fair warning: Beware of drawing conclusions from installed base charts only.

IoT Installed

The IoT case is a perfect example of how to hide the important information, because even if you remove the secure nodes, the chart still looks like there will be enormous growth. However, that masks the fact that growth will plateau without the secure nodes being a part of the picture. It is a an illusion caused by the fact that the early days of the IoT will build a base of significant numbers, but the volume shipments will fall off quickly as users reject insecure solutions precisely because they are insecure.

The installed base IoT chart is analogous to chart of automobiles in the time of Henry Ford showing the installed base of black cars (remember Model Ts came in any color as long as it was black).  That would show that black cars were the overwhelming color and it would be impossible from that chart to conclude anything other than they always would be. Obviously, such a chart would mask the market changes that in fact happened and the inflection points as to when the changes happened. Masking is exactly what the IoT installed base chart does.

It fails to show that the inflection point towards secure nodes that is starting right now, which is a shift that will happen quickly. Reason being, the need for security is becoming clear (just ask Sony, Target, Home Depot, JP Morgan, and Iranian nuclear scientists about that). As aforementioned, inexpensive hardware-based devices are available now that can provide strong security to IoT nodes.

IoT Node Chart 1

The unit shipment slide is what tells the real story. And, that is that security is becoming a requirement of IoT if growth is to be sustainable.  Simply stated: Without real security, the IoT will falter.


Security Maters

Security matters because users must trust that the nodes are who they say they are (i.e. are authentic). Additionally, confidentiality of the data is important to keep unauthorized third parties from getting the data and misusing it. Also, without data integrity mechanisms there is no way to ensure that the data have not been tampered with or corrupted. All three of these matter. A lot.

However, with all the press that the IoT receives and all the tremendous predictions of giga-volumes, you just don’t hear much other than passing comments about security. Security should, in fact, be the prerequisite of any article, discussion, or plan for IoT-based anything. Talking about the Internet of Things without addressing the security question (with specifics) is like talking about scuba diving without mentioning water.

Security gets short shrift even though it is pivotal to the IoT’s existence (and important to literally everyone in the digital universe, including the readers of this article). One main reason is that the meaning of security is not really well understood. As a result, engineers, executives, investors, and researchers alike have been mainly whistling past the graveyard hoping that their digital interests will not be attacked too badly. However, with the increasing frequency, variety, and creativity of security breaches and especially with the advent of breach-based litigation, the danger is increasing and finally more attention is getting paid. It is not hard to envision ambulance-chaser legal firms moving from class action suits regarding asbestos, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals to seeking data-breach damage rewards. In actuality, this has already started. You can almost hear the cloying ads already.


Security Defined

There are two important and fundamental questions about security and the IoT:

1. What is IoT security?

2. How do you implement it now?

To address the first item, the best way to understand it is to break it down into the three pillars of security, which are confidentiality, data integrity, and authentication (ironically referred to as “CIA”). The second inquiry is related directly to the first because implementing security is a function of how well you address the three pillars.


It is critical to address security right now because putting insecure systems into the world is just asking for trouble. There is no time to wait. Assembling a network or product dependent on a network that is filled with vulnerabilities is bad practice. The good news is that thanks to cryptographic engine integrated circuits with hardware-based secure key storage powerful solutions are clear and present.

Crypto Elements

Crypto element refers to a dedicated integrated circuit devices with crypto engines that handle crypto functions such as hashing, sign-verify (e.g.  ECDSA), key agreement (e.g.  ECDH),  authentication (symmetric or asymmetric), encryption/decryption, message authentication coding (MAC), run crypto algorithms (e.g. elliptic curve cryptography, AES, SHA), and perform many other functions. The other critical part of the equation that makes crypto elements so valuable is their ability to store cryptographic keys in ultra-secure hardware.  (The CTO of a major home networking company recently described storing cryptographic keys in software being like storing a key in a wet paper bag.)


Providing the exact type of security needed for the IoT to grow is what crypto engines like CryptoAuthentication solutions are all about. They make security both easy and cost effective. The amazing thing is that crypto engine devices were invented before the IoT even existed. Now they are arguably the ideal catalyst to drive IoT growth when they are added to the other fundamental elements of the IoT.  So, it should be clear that there are now four elements to a serious IoT node:

1. Intelligence (Microprocessors)

2. Communications (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.)

3. Sensors

4. Security

These four items will be the recurring theme of IoT nodes.   The story from here will be which  communications standards are supported, the level of integration, how security is handled (standards and methods), performance, speed, power, size, etc., not if security is there or not.

Long story short: While some sort of IoT is possible without security, without security it would really just be a toy.

25 things that you didn’t know were online

Analysts are estimating that there will nearly 5 billion smart devices over the next 12 months, with that number increasing four-fold through 2020. And, while things talking to each other online may sound like something directly out of the latest sci-fi or Disney flick, traditionally “dumb” objects found inside your living room, garage and even adorned to your bodies are becoming increasingly connected, much like computers did with the advent of the Internet.

Trash Cans


Smart trash cans with sensors and wireless links can remotely alert cleaners when they are full.

Street Lights


Intelligent street lights will illuminate only when necessary, thereby reducing light pollution and saving potentially billions of dollars. Each light will also brighten and dim automatically, as well as be fixed immediately when broken.



Parks, whose seating has remained relatively unchanged for years, will soon be equipped with solar-powered benches that can charge any USB-connected device.

Public Restrooms


Yes, even toilets and urinals will be embedded with sensors and connected to a wireless network. These smart restrooms will alert janitorial staffs in real-time after a certain number of occupants, while collected data will be analyzed to see which stalls were used most often.

Water Fountains


Smart water fountains can do more than just hydrate those passing by. These drinking stations will communicate to users, charge smartphones, and even measure air quality.

Beer Kegs


A number of establishments are outfitting their kegs with sensors that monitor beer levels, which notify operators when it’s time to tap a fresh keg. In addition, pub owners can automatically send customized social alerts to Facebook and Twitter each time a new beer goes on tap.

Coffee Makers


Now, those looking to brew their morning cup ‘o joe will be able to do so right from their mobile device. Smart coffee makers will then notify users when their beverage is ready, and offer a friendly reminder to change the filter and grounds as well.



Homeowners will be able to know who is at the door, talk to their visitors, and when necessary, grant them access all through their smartphone.



It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the shopping experience is being ushered into a much more digital-savvy era. Dressing rooms will be fitted with smart mirrors that not only allow users to try on various outfits through gesture control, but instantly share with friends and family over social media. And for those wondering, yes they can take selfies, too. These mirrors will be able locate additional accessories to round out a look, let you instantaneously read product reviews, and summon a sales associate to bring you an item in a different color or size, rather than have to get decent again and go back out to the store floor.

Parking Lots


Sensors will be connected to smart parking solutions, which will relay space availability information in real-time. Once logged-in, a web-based application can inform a driver of empty parking spots and through GPS help them navigate to its location. In addition to that, the driver can also pay right from the app.

Sports Stadiums


Following in the footsteps of Levi’s Field, a growing number of stadiums and arenas will be equipped with Wi-Fi access, ethernet ports and an array of smarter features that will be enough to make any geek cheer. In correlation with these venues becoming more connected, interactive audience participation apps will also be increasingly adopted for live, in-stadium events.

Entire Cities


With the total number set to quadruple through 2025, smart cities will be embedded with billions of sensors capable of measuring water and air pollution, monitoring traffic flow, lessening noise and energy consumption, as well as streamlining public transportation.

Mass Transit


Speaking of transit, waiting for bus, trains and subways is going be much less of a hassle. Thanks to connected, touch-enabled displays, commuters will be updated on arrival times, service changes, news and more.



Sure, energy efficiency is great and all, but Wi-Fi connected lightbulbs pack a bunch of fun features, too. Users can set the mood through their smartphone, receive appointment reminders and weather updates, as well as enhance in-home entertainment by syncing the lights to some TV shows.

Soda Machines


Have you ever used one of those soda fountains that let you create your own drink? Well, these web-enabled machines — which can be found at restaurants like Five Guys and Burger King — not only provide patrons with endless beverage options, but allow operators to know when to restock a machine and how much inventory each one requires.

Pet Feeders


Being away from home no longer means you have to hire a petsitter or worry about neglecting your furry friend. Thanks to the Internet of Things, pet owners not only can play with them remotely, but feed them with just the press of a button. Pretty pawsome, if you ask us!

Hospital Equipment

Empty Hospital Bed

Hospitals have been using sensor-laden medical devices (such as CT scanners and MRI machines) and hospital beds for quite some time now, enabling staff to visualize the flow and availability of equipment. With this implemented technology, medical centers can forecast demand, expedite room cleaning, and even diminish wait times.



Your next set of blinds will automatically adjust slats according to lighting conditions, weather, room temperature and time of day. Not to mention, blocking sun rays or maximizing the light and heat that enter the room will help you save on your cooling or heating bills.



From streaming music to recreating the weather to knowing your sleeping patterns, lamps are getting smarter.



Next-gen umbrellas will do more than just keep you dry; in fact, they will display images from the web, locate nearby friends and even alert you when the forecast calls for bad weather.



The next wave of sneakers will sport a number of sensors that track activity, relay data to mobile devices, automatically post to social media channels, and call an Uber ride.



Knowing when a baby needs to be changed is about to get much easier. Instead of having to pick up and small an infant’s diaper, the smart garment will send parents and babysitters an SMS message when wet or soiled, as well as monitor the health of infants ranging from urinary tract infections to dehydration.



The common bathroom scale has evolved over the years. Not only will these smart tools measure weight, but will track body fat, log stats, and seamlessly integrate with third-party health tracking apps.



Gardeners can easily stay on top of their pots’ moisture levels by being notified when they are in need of watering, which all can be done through its connected irrigation system. Say goodbye to dead plants!

Cupcake ATMs


IoT… Internet of Treats! Already dispersed throughout 17 U.S cities, Cupcake ATMs deliver fresh goodies in less than 10 seconds and are are restocked several times per day. Impressively, the connected machines — which can hold up to 760 cupcakes at a time — have the ability to change prices in real-time based on weather or time of day, and allow operators to more effectively and efficiently understand customers. Not only cupcakes, but expect to see most of tomorrow’s vending mechanisms become web-enabled. They will recognize users, display welcome messages, pay with the tap of a mobile device, and even offer tailored suggestions to suit one’s snack-buying behavior.

A smart future requires smarter technology made possible through the smartest chips. Discover how Atmel is transforming the world through the Internet of Things and get started on your own smart design here.

Introducing Atmel’s new LIN family for in-vehicle networking

LIN (Local Interconnect Network) is a serial network protocol used for communication between various automobile components to enable comfort, power-train, infotainment sensor, and actuator applications. The LIN Consortium was founded by five automakers (BMW, Volkswagen Audi Group, Volvo Cars, DaimlerChrysler) in the late 1990s, with the first fully-implemented version of the new LIN specification (1.3) published in November 2002. Version 2.0 was later introduced in September 2003, offering expanded capabilities and support for additional diagnostics features.

Fast forward 11 years later, Atmel is excited to announce its next-generation family of LIN transceivers, system basis chips (SBC) and voltage regulators for a wide-range of vehicle applications. The new family is the industry’s first to comply with the new original equipment manufacturer (OEM) hardware recommendations and provide scalable functionality to improve the overall system cost.


“As the leading provider of automotive LIN ICs, Atmel is committed to bringing more innovative LIN products to the market,” said Claus Mochel, Atmel Marketing Director for Automotive High Voltage Products.

All the new devices in this new family feature an LDO with outstanding minimum supply voltage of 2.3V combined with linear mode current of 130uA to support data storage even during an unexpected shut down. This new family is compliant with the latest standards including LIN 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 2.2A and SAEJ2602-2. Some members of the family also include application specific functions such as relay drivers, watchdog, high-side switches and wake up inputs to enable system designers to build innovative in-vehicle network applications in next-generation automobiles.

The devices are available in DFN packages with heat-slug and wet-able flanks to support optical solder inspection. These next-generation devices also provide a family package footprint so that designers can upgrade their designs with various devices within the LIN SBC family.

“Our expanded LIN portfolio includes pin-outs that are the first to support the new OEM hardware recommendations enabling system designers to develop differentiated LIN systems in next-generation vehicles. Atmel’s LIN family footprint makes it easier to migrate upwards and devices in the family offer application-specific functionality for various LIN-connected applications such as window lifters, sun-roofs, trunk opener or seat controls,” Mochel added.


Key features of the ATA6632/33/34 include:

  • +3.3V/5V/85mA LDO suitable for usage with low-cost multi layer ceramic capacitors
  • 2.3V lowest operating voltage
  • Very low current consumption in linear mode
  • Sleep current; Normal mode current
  • DFN 8 (3x3mm) and DFN16 (3*5.5mm), wet-able flanks included, allowing automatic optical inspection of the solder joint

In order to accelerate the design development, an evaluation kit is also available to support the new LIN devices. The ATAB663xxxA development kit allows designers to quickly start designing with Atmel’s LIN family. The kit is easy-to-use with a pre-defined set-up. All pins are easily accessible for quick testing. The kits allow designers to select master or slave operation with a mounting option for LIN pull-up resistor and series diode.

Those interested will be happy to learn that samples for all family members are now available. You can find more detailed information — including datasheets and request forms — here.

Heading to Munich next week for Electronica 2014? Cruise on over to the Atmel booth — located in Hall A5, #542 — to discover how we’re bringing the IoT to the connected car though simple, touch-enabled human machine interfaces. There, you will find a number of automotive demos, including a door handle powered by Atmel’s fourth generation LIN device that features a curved touch-enabled glass display, providing excellent multi-touch performance for future automotive applications, and utilizing Atmel’s XSense and the maXTouch 2952T.


Shouldn’t security be a standard?

Security matters now more than ever, so why isn’t security a standard feature in all digital systems? Luckily, there is a standard for security and it is literally standards-based. It is called TPM. TPM, which stands for Trusted Platform Module, can be thought of as a microcontroller that can take a punch, and come back for more.

“You guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?"

“You guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?”

The TPM is a small integrated circuit with an on-board microcontroller, secure hardware-based private key generation and storage, and other cryptographic functions (e.g. digital signatures, key exchange, etc.), and is a superb way to secure email, secure web access, and protect local data. It is becoming very clear just how damaging loss of personal data can be. Just ask Target stores, Home Depot, Brazilian banks, Healthcare.gov, JP Morgan, and the estimated billions of victims of the Russian “CyberVor” gang of hackers. (What the hack! You can also follow along with the latest breaches here.) The world has become a serious hackathon with real consequences; and, unfortunately, it will just get worse with the increase of mobile communications, cloud computing, and the growth of autonomous computing devices and the Internet of Things.

What can be done about growing threats against secure data?

The TPM is a perfect fit for overall security. So, just how does the TPM increase security? There are four main capabilities:

  1. Furnish platform integrity
  2. Perform authentication (asymmetric)
  3. Implement secure communication
  4. Ensure IP protection

These capabilities have been designed into TPM devices according to the guidance of an industry consortium called the Trusted Computing Group (TCG), whose members include many of the 800-pound gorillas of the computing, networking, software, semiconductor, security, automotive, and consumer industries. These companies include Intel, Dell, Microsoft, among many others. The heft of these entities is one of the vectors that is driving the strength of TPM’s protections, creation of TPM devices, and ultimately accelerating TPM’s adoption. The TPM provides security in hardware, which beats software based security every time. And that matters, a lot.

TPM Functions

Atmel TPM devices come complete with cryptographic algorithms for RSA (with 512, 1024, and 2048 bit keys), SHA-1, HMAC, AES, and Random Number Generator (RNG). We won’t go into the mathematical details here, but note that Atmel’s TPM has been Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 140-2 certified, which attests to its high level of robustness. And, that is a big deal. These algorithms are built right into Atmel TPMs together with supporting software serve to accomplish multiple security functions in a single device.

Each TPM comes with a unique key called an endorsement key that can also be used as part of a certificate chain to prevent counterfeiting. With over 100 commands, the Atmel TPM can execute a variety of actions such as key generation and authorization checks. It also provides data encryption, storage, signing, and binding just to name a few.

An important way that TPMs protect against physical attacks is by a shielded area that securely stores private keys and data, and is not vulnerable to the types of attacks to which software key storage is subjected.


But the question really is, “What can the TPM do for you?”  The TPM is instrumental in systems that implement “Root of Trust” (i.e. data integrity and authentication) schemes.

Root of trust schemes use hashing functions as the BIOS boots to ensure that there have been no unwanted changes to the BIOS code since the previous boot. The hashing can continue up the chain into the OS. If the hash (i.e. digest) does not match the expected result, then the system can limit access, or even shut down to prevent malicious code from executing.  This is the method used in Microsoft’s Bitlocker approach on PCs, for example. The TPM can help to easily encrypt an entire hard drive and that can only be unlocked for decryption by the key that is present on the TPM or a backup key held in a secure location.

Additionally, the TPM is a great resource in the embedded world where home automation, access points, consumer, medical, and automotive systems are required. As technology continues to grow to a wide spectrum of powerful and varying platforms, the TPM’s role will also increase to provide the necessary security to protect these applications.


Interested in learning more about Atmel TPM? Head here. To read about this topic a bit further, feel free to browse through the Bits & Pieces archive.

This blog was contributed by Ronnie Thomas, Atmel Software Engineer.