Microsoft Unveils Secure MCU Platform with a Linux-Based OS

By Eric Brown

Microsoft has announced an “Azure Sphere” blueprint for for hybrid Cortex-A/Cortex-M SoCs that run a Linux-based Azure Sphere OS and include end-to-end Microsoft security technologies and a cloud service. Products based on a MediaTek MT3620 Azure Sphere chip are due by year’s end.

Just when Google has begun to experiment with leaving Linux behind with its Fuchsia OS —new Fuchsia details emerged late last week— long-time Linux foe Microsoft unveiled an IoT platform that embraces Linux. At RSA 2018, Microsoft Research announced a project called Azure Sphere that it bills as a new class of Azure Sphere microcontrollers that run “a custom Linux kernel” combined with Microsoft security technologies. Initial products are due by the end of the year aimed at industries including whitegoods, agriculture, energy and infrastructure.

Based on the flagship, Azure Sphere based MediaTek MT3620 SoC, which will ship in volume later this year, this is not a new class of MCUs, but rather a fairly standard Cortex-A7 based SoC with a pair of Cortex-M4 MCUs backed up by end to end security. It’s unclear if future Azure Sphere compliant SoCs will feature different combinations of Cortex-A and Cortex-M, but this is clearly an on Arm IP based design. Arm “worked closely with us to incorporate their Cortex-A application processors into Azure Sphere MCUs,” says Microsoft. 

Azure Sphere OS architecture (click images to enlarge)

Major chipmakers have signed up to build Azure Sphere system-on-chips including Nordic, NXP, Qualcomm, ST Micro, Silicon Labs, Toshiba, and more (see image below). The software giant has sweetened the pot by “licensing our silicon security technologies to them royalty-free.”

Azure Sphere SoCs “combine both real-time and application processors with built-in Microsoft security technology and connectivity,” says Microsoft. “Each chip includes custom silicon security technology from Microsoft, inspired by 15 years of experience and learnings from Xbox.”

The design “combines the versatility and power of a Cortex-A processor with the low overhead and real-time guarantees of a Cortex-M class processor,” says Microsoft. The MCU includes a Microsoft Pluton Security Subsystem that “creates a hardware root of trust, stores private keys, and executes complex cryptographic operations.”

The IoT oriented Azure Sphere OS provides additional Microsoft security and a security monitor in addition to the Linux kernel. The platform will ship with Visual Studio development tools, and a dev kit will ship in mid-2018.

Azure Sphere security features (click image to enlarge)

The third component is an Azure Sphere Security Service, a turnkey, cloud-based platform. The service brokers trust for device-to-device and device-to-cloud communication through certificate-based authentication. The service also detects “emerging security threats across the entire Azure Sphere ecosystem through online failure reporting, and renewing security through software updates,” says Microsoft.

Azure Sphere eco-system conceptual diagram (top) and list of silicon partners (bottom)

In many ways, Azure Sphere is similar to Samsung’s Artik line of IoT modules, which incorporate super-secure SoCs that are supported by end-to-end security controlled by the Artik Cloud. One difference is that the Artik modules are either Cortex-A applications processors or Cortex-M or -R MCUs, which are designed to be deployed in heterogeneous product designs, rather than a hybrid SoC like the MediaTek MT3620.Hybrid, Linux-driven Cortex-A/Cortex-M SoCs have become common in recent years, led by NXP’s Cortex-A7 based i.MX7 and -A53-based i.MX8, as well as many others including the -A7 based Renesas RZ/N1D and Marvell IAP220.

MediaTek MT3620

The MediaTek MT3620 “was designed in close cooperation with Microsoft for its Azure Sphere Secure IoT Platform,” says MediaTek in its announcement. Its 500MHz Cortex-A7 core is accompanied by large L1 and L2 caches and integrated SRAM. Dual Cortex-M4F chips support peripherals including 5x UART/I2C/SPI, 2x I2S, 8x ADC, up to 12 PWM counters, and up to 72x GPIO.

The Cortex-M4F cores are primarily devoted to real-time I/O processing, “but can also be used for general purpose computation and control,” says MediaTek. They “may run any end-user-provided operating system or run a ‘bare metal app’ with no operating system.”

In addition, the MT3620 features an isolated security subsystem with its own Arm Cortex-M4F core that handles secure boot and secure system operation. A separate Andes N9 32-bit RISC core supports 1×1 dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi.

The security features and WiFi networking are “isolated from, and run independently of, end user applications,” says MediaTek. “Only hardware features supported by the Azure Sphere Secure IoT Platform are available to MT3620 end-users. As such, security features and Wi-Fi are only accessible via defined APIs and are robust to programming errors in end-user applications regardless of whether these applications run on the Cortex-A7 or the user-accessible Cortex-M4F cores.” MediaTek adds that a development environment is avaialble based on the gcc compiler, and includes a Visual Studio extension, “allowing this application to be developed in C.”

Microsoft learns to love LinuxIn recent years, we’ve seen Microsoft has increasingly softened its long-time anti-Linux stance by adding Linux support to its Azure service and targeting Windows 10 IoT at the Raspberry Pi, among other experiments. Microsoft is an active contributor to Linux, and has even open-sourced some technologies.

It wasn’t always so. For years, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took turns deriding Linux and open source while warning about the threat they posed to the tech industry. In 2007, Microsoft fought back against the growth of embedded Linux at the expense of Windows CE and Windows Mobile by suing companies that used embedded Linux, claiming that some of the open source components were based on proprietary Microsoft technologies. By 2009, a Microsoft exec openly acknowledged the threat of embedded Linux and open source software.

That same year, Microsoft was accused of using its marketing muscle to convince PC partners to stop providing Linux as an optional install on netbooks. In 2011, Windows 8 came out with a new UEFI system intended to stop users from replacing Windows with Linux on major PC platforms.


Azure Sphere promo video

Further information

Azure Sphere is available as a developer preview to selected partners. The MediaTek MT3620 will be the first Azure Sphere MCU, and products based on it should arrive by the end of the year. More information may be found in Microsoft’s Azure Sphere announcement and product page.

Microsoft | www.microsoft.com

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on April 16.

And check out this follow up story also from LinuxGizmos.com :
Why Microsoft chose Linux for Azure Sphere

 

Tiny, Rugged IoT Gateways Offer 10-Year Linux Support

By Eric Brown

Moxa has announced the UC-2100 Series of industrial IoT gateways along with its new UC 3100 and UC 5100 Series, but it offered details only on the UC-2100. All three series will offer ruggedization features, compact footprints, and on some models, 4G LTE support. They all run Moxa Industrial Linux and optional ThingsPro Gateway data acquisition software on Arm-based SoCs.

 

Moxa UC-2111 or UC-2112 (left) and UC-2101 (click image to enlarge)

Based on Debian 9 and a Linux 4.4 kernel, the new Moxa Industrial Linux (MIL) is a “high-performance, industrial-grade Linux distribution” that features a container-based virtual-machine-like middleware abstraction layer between the OS and applications,” says Moxa. Multiple isolated systems can run on a single control host “so that system integrators and engineers can easily change the behavior of an application without worrying about software compatibility,” says the company.

MIL provides 10-year long-term Linux support, and is aimed principally at industries that require long-term software, such as power, water, oil & gas, transportation and building automation industries. In December, Moxa joined the Linux Foundation’s Civil Infrastructure Platform (CIP) project, which is developing a 10-year SLTS Linux kernel for infrastructure industries. MIL appears to be in alignment with CIP standards.

Diagrams of ThingsPro Gateway (top) and the larger ThingsPro eco-system (bottom) (click images to enlarge)

Moxa’s ThingsPro Gateway software enables “fast integration of edge data into cloud services for large-scale IIoT deployments,” says Moxa. The software supports Modbus data acquisition, LTE connectivity, MQTT communication, and cloud client interfaces such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. C and Python APIs are also available.

 

Moxa’s UC-3100 (source: Hanser Konstruktion), and at right, the similarly Linux-driven, ThingsPro ready UC-8112 (click images to enlarge)

Although we saw no product pages on the UC-3100 and UC-5100, Hanser Konstruktion posted a short news item on the UC-3100 with a photo (above) and a few details. This larger, rugged system supports WiFi and LTE with two antenna pairs, and offers a USB port in addition to dual LAN and dual serial ports.

The new systems follow several other UC-branded IoT gateways that run Linux on Arm. The only other one to support ThingsPro is the UC-8112, a member of the UC-8100 family. This UC-8100 is similarly ruggedized, and runs Linux on a Cortex-A8 SoC.

UC-2100

The UC-2100 Series gateways runs MIL on an unnamed Cortex-A8 SoC clocked at 600MHz except for the UC-2112, which jumps to 1GHz. There are five different models, all with 9-48 VDC 3-pin terminal blocks and a maximum consumption of 4 Watts when not running cellular modules.

The five UC-2100 models have the following dimensions, weights, and maximum input currents:

  • UC-2101 — 50 x 80 x 28mm; 190 g; 200 mA
  • UC-2102 — 50 x 80 x 28mm; 190 g; 330 mA
  • UC-2104 — 57 x 80 x 30.8mm; 220 g; 800 mA
  • UC-2111 — 77 x 111 x 25.5mm; 290 g; 350 mA
  • UC-2112 — 77 x 111 x 25.5mm; 290 g; 450 mA

All five UC-2100 variants default to a -10 to 60°C operating range except for the UC-2104, which moves up to -10 to 70°C. In addition, they are all available in optional -40 to 75°C versions.

Other ruggedization features are the same, including anti-vibration protection per IEC 60068-2-64 and anti-shock per IEC 60068-2-2. A variety of safety, EMC, EMI, EMS, and hazardous environment standards are also listed.

The first three models ship with 256MB DDR3, while the UC-2111 and UC-2112 offer 512MB. These two are also the only ones to offer micro-SD slots. All five systems ship with 8GB eMMC loaded with the MIL distribution.

The UC-2100 systems vary in the number and type of their auto-sensing, 1.5 kV isolated Ethernet ports. The UC-2101 and UC-2104 each have a single 10/100Mbps port, while the UC-2102 and UC-2111 have two. The UC-2112 has one 10/100 and one 10/100/1000 port. The UC-2104 is the only model with a mini-PCIe socket for 4G or WiFi.

The UC-2111 and UC-2112 offer 2x RS-232/422/48 ports while the UC-2101 has one. It would appear that the UC-2102 and UC-2104 lack serial ports altogether except for the RS-232 console port available on all five systems.

The UC-2100 provides push buttons and dip switches, an RTC, a watchdog, and LEDs, the number of which depend on the model. A wall kit is standard, and DIN-rail mounting is optional. TPM 2.0 is also optional. A 5-year hardware warranty is standard.

Further information

The UC-2100 Series gateways appear to be available for order, with pricing undisclosed. More information may be found on Moxa’s UC-2100 product page. More information about the UC-2100, as well as the related, upcoming UC-3100 and UC-5100 Series, will be on tap at Hannover Messe 2018, April 23-27, at the Arm Booth at Hall 6, Booth A46.

Moxa | www.moxa.com

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on April 16.

IoT: From Gateway to Cloud

Starting Up, Scaling Up

In this follow on to our March “IoT: From Device to Gateway” Special Feature, here we look at technologies and solutions for the gateway-to-cloud side of IoT. These solutions ease the way toward getting a cloud-connected system up and running.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

After exploring the edge device side of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) last month, now we’ll look at cloud side the equation. Even though the idea of Internet-linked embedded devices has been around for decades, multiple converging technology trends have brought us to the IoT phenomenon of today. The proliferation of low cost wireless technology has coincided with significant decrease in the costs of computing, data storage and sensor components. Meanwhile, that same computing and storage are now widely available as cloud-based platforms that can scale linearly.

Much attention has been focused on the size of the growing IoT market in terms of revenue and number of devices. But another interesting metric is the number of IoT developers working on IoT-based systems. According to analysts, that number will approach 10 million within the next few years and a lot of that growth will be among smaller firms starting from the ground up or adding IoT to their infrastructure for the first time. For those smaller organizations the process of getting started with cloud-connected infrastructure can be a hurdle. And even after that step, there’s the issue of scaling up as the need arises to expand their IoT implementation.

Feeding both those needs, a number of companies ranging from IoT specialists to embedded software vendors to microcontroller vendors have over the past six months, rolled out a variety of solutions to help developers get started with their cloud-connected IoT system and scale that system to larger numbers of IoT edge nodes and increased cloud-based service functionality.

IoT for the Masses

With both those trends in mind, Atmosphere IoT positions itself as focused on the mass market of IoT developers. Formerly part of Anaren, Atmosphere IoT Corp. was previously Anaren’s IoT Group before Anaren divested that division in January into the newly formed Atmosphere IoT Corp. For its Atmosphere IDE product, the company provides an interesting business model. Atmosphere IDE is available for free—anyone can log on and use it. Once you get over 5 connected things and want to have Atmosphere IoT store more data and manage more things, you start paying incrementally. The idea is to make it easy for developers to generate code and get prototype systems and a limited pilot program up and running. When users are ready to scale up or when they find commercial success, they can scale linearly because all of Atmosphere’s software is built on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

Photo 1
The Cloud View part of Atmosphere IDE lets developers use cloud elements to quickly connect their projects to Atmosphere Cloud, sending data from an embedded system to the cloud for a cohesive sensor-to-cloud solution.

 

Using the IDE, developers can create either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Smart projects and choose between supported platforms including Anaren hardware and the Intel Curie module. On the cloud development side, the Atmosphere IDE provides easy cloud connectivity access, connecting IoT devices to the cloud application to take advantage of data hosting, analysis, reporting, real-time monitoring and much more. The Cloud View (Photo 1) part of the IDE lets developers use cloud elements to quickly connect their projects to Atmosphere Cloud, sending data from an embedded system to the cloud for a cohesive sensor-to-cloud solution.

Industry 4.0 Solution

For its Industry 4.0 IoT solution, Mentor in February introduced its Mentor Embedded IoT Framework (MEIF). MEIF is a comprehensive, cloud vendor-agnostic embedded software framework designed to help developers create, secure and manage “cloud-ready” smart devices for Industry 4.0 applications. MEIF features well-defined interfaces engineered to complement and extend cloud vendor embedded software development kit (SDK) APIs. …

 

Read the full article in the April 333 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

Linux and Coming Full Circle

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

In terms of technology, the line between embedded computing and IT/desktop computing has always been a moving target. Certainty the computing power in small embedded devices today have vastly more compute muscle than even a server of 15 years ago. While there’s many ways to look at that phenomena, it’s interesting to look at it through the lens of Linux. The quick rise in the popularity of Linux in the 90s happened on the server/IT side pretty much simultaneously with the embrace of Linux in the embedded market.

I’ve talked before in this column about the embedded Linux start-up bubble of the late 90s. That’s when a number of start-ups emerged as “embedded Linux” companies. It was a new business model for our industry, because Linux is a free, open-source OS. As a result, these companies didn’t sell Linux, but rather provided services to help customers create and support implementations of open-source Linux. This market disruption spurred the established embedded RTOS vendors to push back. Like most embedded technology journalists back then, I loved having a conflict to cover. There were spirited debates on the “Linux vs. RTOS topic” on conference panels and in articles of time—and I enjoyed participating in both.

It’s amusing to me to remember that Wind River at the time was the most vocal anti-Linux voice of the day. Fast forward to today and there’s a double irony. Most of those embedded Linux startups are long gone. And yet, most major OS vendors offer full-blown embedded Linux support alongside their RTOS offerings. In fact, in a research report released in January by VDC Research, Wind River was named as the market leader in the global embedded software market for both its RTOS and commercial Linux segments.

According the VDC report, global unit shipments of IoT and embedded OSs, including free/non-commercial OSs, will grow to reach 11.1 billion units by 2021, driven primarily by ECU-targeted RTOS shipments in the automotive market, and free Linux installs on higher-resource systems. After accounting for systems with no OS, bare-metal OS, or an in-house developed OS, the total yearly units shipped will grow beyond 17 billion units in 2021 according to the report. VDC research findings also predict that unit growth will be driven primarily by free and low-cost operating systems such as Amazon FreeRTOS, Express Logic ThreadX and Mentor Graphics Nucleus on constrained devices, along with free, open source Linux distributions for resource-rich embedded systems.

Shifting gears, let me indulge myself by talking about some recent Circuit Cellar news—though still on the Linux theme. Circuit Cellar has formed a strategic partnership with LinuxGizmos.com. LinuxGizmos is a well-establish, trusted website that provides up-to-the-minute, detailed and insightful coverage of the latest developer- and maker-friendly, embedded oriented chips, modules, boards, small systems and IoT devices—and the software technologies that make them tick. As its name in implies, LinuxGizmos features coverage of open source, high-level operating systems including Linux and its derivatives (such as Android), as well as lower-level software platforms such as OpenWRT and FreeRTOS.

LinuxGizmos.com was founded by Rick Lehrbaum—but that’s only the latest of his accolades. I know Rick from way back when I first started writing about embedded computing in 1990. Most people in the embedded computing industry remember him as the “Father of PC/104.” Rick co-founded Ampro Computers in 1983 (now part of ADLINK), authored the PC/104 standard and founded the PC/104 Consortium in 1991, created LinuxDevices.com in 1999 and guided the formation of the Embedded Linux Consortium in 2000. In 2003, he launched LinuxGizmos.com to fill the void created when LinuxDevices was retired by Quinstreet Media.

Bringing things full circle, Rick says he’s long been a fan of Circuit Cellar, and even wrote a series of articles about PC/104 technology for it in the late 90s. I’m thrilled to be teaming up with LinuxGizmos.com and am looking forward to combing our strengths to better serve you.

This appears in the April (333) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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NXP IoT Platform Links ARM/Linux Layerscape SoCs to Cloud

By Eric Brown

NXP’s “EdgeScale” suite of secure edge computing device management tools help deploy and manage Linux devices running on LSx QorIQ Layerscape SoCs, and connects them to cloud services.

NXP has added an EdgeScale suite of secure edge computing tools and services to its Linux-based Layerscape SDK for six of its networking oriented LSx QorIQ Layerscape SoCs. These include the quad-core, 1.6 GHz Cortex-A53 QorIQ LS1043A, which last year received Ubuntu Core support, as well as the octa-core, Cortex-A72 LS2088a (see farther below).



Simplified EdgeScale architecture
(click image to enlarge)
The cloud-based IoT suite is designed to remotely deploy, manage, and update edge computing devices built on Layerscape SoCs. EdgeScale bridges edge nodes, sensors, and other IoT devices to cloud frameworks, automating the provisioning of software and updates to remote embedded equipment. EdgeScale can be used to deploy container applications and firmware updates, as well as build containers and generate firmware.

The technology leverages the NXP Trust Architecture already built into Layerscape SoCs, which offers Hardware Root of Trust features. These include secure boot, secure key storage, manufacturing protection, hardware resource isolation, and runtime tamper detection.

The EdgeScale suite provides three levels of management: a “point-and-click” dashboard, a Command-Line-Interface (CLI), and the RESTful API, which enables “integration with any cloud computing framework,” as well as greater UI customization. The platform supports Ubuntu, Yocto, OpenWrt, or “any custom Linux distribution.”


Detailed EdgeScale architecture (above) and feature list (below)
(click images to enlarge)
EdgeScale supports cloud frameworks including Amazon’s AWS Greengrass, Alibaba’s Aliyun, Google Cloud, and Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge. The latter was part of a separate announcement released in conjunction with the EdgeScale release that said that all Layerscape SoCs were being enabled with “secure execution for Azure IoT Edge computing running networking, data analytics, and compute-intensive machine learning applications.”

A year ago, NXP announced a Modular IoT Framework, which was described as a set of pre-integrated NXP hardware and software for IoT, letting customers mix and match technologies with greater assurance of interoperability. When asked how this was related to EdgeScale, Sam Fuller, head of system solutions for NXP’s digital networking group, replied: “EdgeScale is designed to manage higher level software that could have a role of processing the data and managing the communication to/from devices built from the Modular IoT Framework.”


LS102A block diagram
(click image to enlarge)
The EdgeScale suite supports the following QorIQ Layerscape processors:

  • LS102A — 80 0MHz single-core, Cortex-A53 with 1 W power consumption found on F&S’ efus A53LS module
  • LS1028A — dual-core ARMv8 with Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN)
  • LS1043A — 1.6 GHz quad-core, Cortex-A53 with 1 0GbE support, found on the QorIQ LS1043A 10G Residential Gateway Reference Design and the X-ES XPedite6401 XMC/PrPMC mezzanine module
  • LS1046A — quad-core, Cortex-A72 with dual 10 GbE support (also available in dual-core LS1026A model)
  • LS1088a — 1.5 GHz octa-core, Cortex-A53 with dual 10 GbE support, which is also supported on the XPedite6401
  • LS2088a — 2.0 GHz octa-core, Cortex-A72 with 128-bit NEON-based SIMD engine for each core, plus a 10GbE XAUI Fat Pipe interface or 4x 10GBASE-KR — found on X-ES XPedite6370 SBC.

Further information

NXP’s EdgeScale will be available by the end of the month. More information may be found on its EdgeScale product page.

NXP Semiconductors | www.nxp.com

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on March 16.

IoT Security Solution for NXP MCUs

NXP Semiconductors has introduced its new A71CH Secure Element (SE), a trust anchor, ready-to-use security solution for next-generation IoT devices, such as edge nodes and gateways. Designed to secure peer-to-peer or cloud connections, the chip comes with the required credentials pre-injected for autonomous cloud onboarding and peer-to-peer authentication. The solution is a Root of Trust (RoT) at the silicon level, with security functionalities such as encrypted key storage, key generation and derivation to protect private information and credentials for mutual authentication.

Unique to the chip, is its ‘Plug & Trust” approach supporting easy integration of security and cloud onboarding. It does this using host libraries and a development kit compatible to different NXP microcontrollers (MCU and MPU) platforms such as Kinetis and i.MX. Also, example code and various application notes are available to streamline the design process.

Thanks to the collaboration with Data I/O, embedded systems developers further benefit from an easy personalization service on the A71CH for any quantities in addition to NXP’s trust provisioning service. As a result, the new security IC gives developers, even those with limited security expertise, freedom to innovate and deploy secure solutions.

The A71CH provides the following set of key features:

  • Protected access to credentials
  • Encrypted/authenticated interface to host processor
  • Certificate-based TLS set-up (NIST P-256)
  • TLS set-up using pre-shared secret (TLS-PSK)
  • Connectionless message authentication (HMAC)
  • ECC key generation & signature verification
  • Symmetric key derivation
  • Encrypted vault for product master secrets (key wrapping, derivation, locking)
  • Encrypted key injection

 

NXP Semiconductors | www.nxp.com

April Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The April issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. And we’ve got a healthy serving of embedded electronics articles for you. Here’s a sneak peak.

Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber?  Don’t be left out! Sign up today:

 

Here’s a sneak preview of April 2018 Circuit Cellar:

NAVIGATING THE INTERNET-OF-THINGS

IoT: From Gateway to Cloud
In this follow on to our March “IoT: Device to Gateway” feature, this time we look at technologies and solutions for the gateway to cloud side of IoT.  Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines the tools and services available to get a cloud-connected IoT implementation up and running.

Texting and IoT Embedded Devices (Part 2)
In Part 1, Jeff Bachiochi laid the groundwork for describing a project involving texting. He puts that into action this, showing how to create messages on his Espressif System’s ESP8266EX-based device to be sent to an email account and end up with those messages going as texts to a cell phone.

Internet of Things Security (Part 2)
In this next part of his article series on IoT security, Bob Japenga takes a look at side-channel attacks. What are they? How much of a threat are they? And how can we prevent them?

Product Focus: 32-Bit Microcontrollers
As the workhorse of today’s embedded systems, 32-bit microcontrollers serve a wide variety of embedded applications—including the IoT. This Product Focus section updates readers on these trends and provides a product album of representative 32-bit MCU products.

GRAPHICS, VISION AND DISPLAYS

Graphics, Video and Displays
Thanks to advances in displays and innovations in graphics ICs, embedded systems can now routinely feature sophisticated graphical user interfaces. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child dives into the latest technology trends and product developments in graphics, video and displays.

Color Recognition and Segmentation in Real-time
Vision systems used to require big, multi-board systems—but not anymore. Learn how two Cornell undergraduates designed a hardware/software system that accelerates vision-based object recognition and tracking using an FPGA SoC. They made a min manufacturing line to demonstrate how their system can accurately track and categorize manufactured candies carried along a conveyor belt.

SPECIFICATIONS, QUALIFICATIONS AND MORE

Component tolerance
We perhaps take for granted sometimes that the tolerances of our electronic components fit the needs of our designs. In this article, Robert Lacoste takes a deep look into the subject of tolerances, using the simple resistor as an example. He goes through the math to help you better understand accuracy and drift along with other factors.

Understanding the Temperature Coefficient of Resistance
Temperature coefficient of resistance (TCR) is the calculation of a relative change of resistance per degree of temperature change. Even though it’s an important spec, different resistor manufacturers use different methods for defining TCR. In this article, Molly Bakewell Chamberlin examines TCR and its “best practice” interpretations using Vishay Precision Group’s vast experience in high-precision resistors.

Designing of Complex Systems
While some commercial software gets away without much qualification during development, the situation is very different when safety in involved. For aircraft, vehicles or any complex system where failure unacceptable, this means adhering to established standards throughout the development life cycle. In this article, George Novacek tackles these issues and examines some of these standards namely ARP4754.

AND MORE IN-DEPTH PROJECT ARTICLES

Build a Marginal Oscillator Proximity Switch
A damped or marginal oscillator will switch off when energy is siphoned from its resonant LC tank circuit. In his article, Dev Gualtieri presents a simple marginal oscillator that detects proximity to a small steel screw or steel plate. It lights an LED, and the LED can be part of an optically-isolated solid-state relay.

Obsolescence-Proof Your UI (Part 1)
After years of frustration dealing with graphical interface technologies that go obsolete, Steve Hendrix decided there must be a better way. Knowing that web browser technology is likely to be with us for a long while, he chose to build a web server that could perform common operations that he needed on the IEEE-488 bus. He then built it as a product available for sale to others—and it is basically obsolescence-proof.

 

 

IoT: From Device to Gateway

Modules for the Edge

Connecting to the IoT edge requires highly integrated technology, blending wireless connectivity and intelligence. Feeding those needs, a variety of IoT modules have emerged that offer pre-certified solutions that are ready to use.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

he Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most dynamic areas of embedded systems design today. Opportunities are huge as organizations large and small work to develop IoT implementations. IoT implementations are generally comprised of three main parts: the devices in the field, the cloud and the network (gateways) linking them together. This article focuses on the “things” side—in other words, the smart, connected edge devices of the IoT. For more on IoT gateways, see “IoT Gateway Advances Take Diverse Paths“ (Circuit Cellar 328, November 2017).

Because this sub-segment of technology is growing and changing so fast, it’s impossible to get a handle on everything that’s happening. The scope that comprises IoT edge devices includes a combination of embedded processors and microcontrollers that provide intelligence. It also includes various wireless, cellular and other connectivity solutions to connect to the network. And it includes sensors to collect data and battery technologies to keep the devices running.

Connecting the various nodes of an IoT implementation can involve a number of wired and wireless network technologies. But it’s rare that an IoT system can be completely hardwired end to end. Most IoT systems of any large scale depend on a variety of wireless technologies including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee and even cellular networking.

What’s most interesting among all that, are not those individual pieces themselves, but rather an emerging crop of modular IoT products that combine intelligence and connectivity, while also taking on the vital certifications needed to get IoT implementations up and running. With all that in mind, the last 12 months have seen an interesting mix of module-based products aimed directly at IoT.

Certified IoT Modules

Exemplifying those trends, in September 2017, STMicroelectronics (ST)introduced the SPBTLE-1S, a ready-to-use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) module that integrates all the components needed to complete the radio subsystem (Photo 1). The BLE module integrates ST’s proven BlueNRG-1 application-processor SoC and balun, high-frequency oscillators and a chip antenna.

Photo 1
The SPBTLE-1S is a BLE module that integrates all the components needed to complete the radio subsystem. It’s BQE-approved, and FCC, IC and CE-RED certified to simplify end-product approval for North America and EU markets.

Developers can use this module to bypass hardware design and RF-circuit layout challenges. The SPBTLE-1S is BQE-approved, and FCC, IC and CE-RED (Radio Equipment Directive) certified to simplify end-product approval for North America and EU markets. ST’s Bluetooth 4.2 certified BLE protocol stack is included, and the supporting Software-Development Kit (SDK) contains a wide range of Bluetooth profiles and sample application code.

The device is packaged in a space-efficient 11.5 mm x 13.5 mm outline and has a wide supply-voltage range of 1.7 V to 3.6 V. The SPBTLE-1S module is well suited for small, battery-operated objects powered by various types of sources such as a primary button cell or rechargeable Li-ion battery. High RF output power of +5 dBm and good receiver sensitivity help to maximize communication range and reliability.

The BlueNRG-1 SoC at the heart of the SPBTLE-1S implements the complete BLE physical layer (PHY), link layer and network/application-processing engine comprising a low-power ARM Cortex-M0 core with 160 KB flash, 24 KB RAM with data retention and a security co-processor. The SoC also implements smart power management, with a DC/DC converter capable of powering the SPBTLE-1S module to ensure optimum energy efficiency. Users can leverage an extensive set of interfaces, including a UART, two I²C ports, SPI port, single-wire debug and 14 GPIOs, as well as peripherals including two multifunction timers, a 10-bit ADC, watchdog timer and real-time clock and a DMA controller. There is also a PDM stream processor interface, which is ideal for developing voice-controlled applications.

IoT Module for Development

Riding the IoT wave, all the major microcontroller vendors have beefed up their module-based IoT solutions in order to make it easier for developers to design in their MCUs. One example along those lines is the LPC54018 IoT module, developed by NXP in partnership with Embedded Artists. …

Read the full article in the March 332 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos.com Form Strategic Partnership

Partnership offers an expanded technical resource for embedded and IoT device developers and enthusiasts

Today Circuit Cellar is announcing a strategic partnership with LinuxGizmos.com to offer an expanded resource of information and know-how on embedded electronics technology for developers, makers, students and educators, early adopters, product strategists, and technical decision makers with a keen interest in emerging embedded and IoT technologies.

The new partnership combines Circuit Cellar’s uniquely in depth, “down-to-the-bits” technical articles with LinuxGizmos.com’s up-to-the-minute, detailed, and insightful coverage of the latest developer-  and maker-friendly, embedded oriented chips, modules, boards, small systems, and IoT devices, and the software technologies that make them tick. Additionally, as its name implies, LinuxGizmos.com’s coverage frequently highlights open source, high-level operating systems including Linux and its derivatives (e.g. Android), as well as lower-level software platforms such as OpenWRT and FreeRTOS.

Circuit Cellar is one of the electronics industry’s most highly technical information resources for professional engineers, academics, and other specialists involved in the design and development of embedded processor- and microcontroller-based systems across a broad range of applications. It gets right down to the bits and bytes and lines of code, at a level its readers revel in. Circuit Cellar is a trusted brand engaging readers every day on its website, each week with its newsletter, and each month through Circuit Cellar magazine’s print and digital formats.

LinuxGizmos.com is a free-to-use website that publishes daily news and analysis on the hardware, software, protocols, and standards used in new and innovative embedded, mobile, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.  The site is lauded for its detailed and insightful, timely coverage of newly introduced single board computers (SBCs), computer-on-modules (COMs), system-on-chips (SoCs), and small form factor (SFF) systems, along with their software platforms.

“The synergies between LinuxGizmos and Circuit Cellar are great and I’m excited to see the benefits of this partnership passed on to our combined audience,” said Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief, Circuit Cellar. “LinuxGizmos.com has the kind of rich, detail-oriented structure that I’m a fan of. Over the many years I’ve been following the site, I’ve relied on it as an important information resource, and its integrity has always impressed me.”

“I’ve been a fan of Circuit Cellar magazine since it was first launched, and wrote a series of articles for it in the late 90s about PC/104 embedded modules,” added Rick Lehrbaum, founder and Editor-in-Chief of LinuxGizmos.com. “I’m thrilled to see LinuxGizmos become associated with one of the computing industry’s pioneering publications.”

“I see this partnership as a perfect way to enhance both the Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos brands as key information platforms,” stated KC Prescott, President, KCK Media Corp. “In this era where there’s so much compelling technology innovation happening in the industry, our combined strengths will help inform and inspire embedded systems developers.”

Read Announcement on LinuxGizmos.com here:

Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos.com join forces

Dotdot Spec to Run on Thread’s IP Network

The Zigbee Alliance and Thread Group have announced the availability of the Dotdot specification over Thread’s IP network. This enables developers to confidently use an established, open and interoperable IoT language over a low-power wireless IP network. This is expected to help unify the fragmented connected device industry and unlock new markets.

Dotdot is the Zigbee Alliance’s universal language for the IoT, making it possible for smart objects to work together on any network. Thread is the Thread Group’s open, IPv6-based, low-power, secure and future-proof mesh networking technology for IoT products. These two organizations have come together to deliver a mature, scalable solution for IoT interoperability that isn’t confined to single-vendor ecosystems or technologies.

Dotdot-over-Thread-no-sub-01The early Internet faced the same challenges as today’s IoT. Currently, connected devices can struggle to deliver a seamless experience because they speak different languages (or in technical terms, use different “application layers”). For the internet, the industry solved this problem with open, universal protocols over IP. Dotdot’s common device language over Thread’s IP network extends this same proven approach to the Internet of Things. With Dotdot over Thread, product and platform vendors can ensure the high-quality, interoperable user experiences needed to drive growth, while IP allows vendors to maintain a direct connection to their device.

It’s important to note that Dotdot over Thread is not another new standard. Dotdot enables the open, mature, and already widely adopted application layer at the heart of Zigbee to work across Thread’s IP network. It uses the same network technology fundamental to the internet. For product managers, new standards represent risk. Dotdot and Thread are backed by global, industry-leading companies and represent two of the most robust, widely deployed, and well-supported connectivity and interoperability technologies, driving billions of products and networks already in homes and offices.

The Dotdot specification is available today to Zigbee Alliance members. Additional resources, including the Dotdot Commissioning Application, will be available in Summer 2018, along with the opening of the Dotdot Certification program from the Zigbee Alliance. Thread launched its 1.1 specification and opened its certification program in February 2017. The Zigbee Alliance and Thread Group now share a number of common authorized test service providers, and are working with them to ensure an efficient, seamless certification process for Dotdot over Thread adopters. More information on this program will be announced soon.

The Zigbee Alliance | www.zigbee.org

Thread Group | www.threadgroup.org

Automotive-Grade IoT Gateways

Eurotech has expanded its range of Multi-service IoT Gateways with the launch of the DynaGATE 10-12 and the announcement of the DynaGATE 10-06. Both systems are carrier pre-certified, with an integrated LTE Cat 1 cellular, GPS, Wi-Fi, BLE, E-Mark and SAE/J1455 certifications and a -40 ºC to +85 ºC operating temperature.

The DynaGATE 10-12 is a low-power gateway based on the TI AM335X Cortex-A8 (Sitara) processor family, with 1 GB RAM and 4 GB eMMC. It features a 6 to 36VDC power supply with transient protection and vehicle ignition sense, 2x protected RS-232/RS-485 serial ports, 2x CAN bus interfaces, 3x noise and surge protected USB ports and 4x isolated digital I/Os. The DynaGATE 10-12 is suitable for on-board applications, with a metal enclosure, high retention connectors and screw-flange terminal blocks.

The connectivity capabilities of the DynaGATE 10-12 include an internal LTE Cat 1 modem with dual Micro-SIM support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy, 2x Fast Ethernet ports, and an internal GPS (optionally with Dead Reckoning) for precise geolocation.

DynaGATE 10-06.jpgThe DynaGATE 10-06 (shown) is an IP67, heavy-duty IoT gateway for Automotive applications. It features an internal battery that provides minutes of uninterrupted operation in case of power failure. Based on the NXP i.MX 6UltraLite Cortex-A7 processor, with 512MB RAM and 4GB eMMC, the DynaGATE 10-06 features a 6 to 36V power supply with protections and vehicle ignition sense, 3x protected RS-232/RS-485 serial ports, 2x CAN bus interfaces, 1x noise and surge protected USB port and 2x protected digital I/O. All these interfaces are available through a rugged AMPSEAL connector.

The DynaGATE 10-06 connectivity capabilities range from an internal LTE Cat 1 modem with dual Micro-SIM support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy, to a dedicated GPS with optional Dead Reckoning and 2x Fast Ethernet ports on rugged M12 connectors.

In addition, the DynaGATE 10-12 and DynaGATE 10-06 connectivity capabilities can be expanded through the ReliaCELL 10-20 family, that includes several 2G/3G/LTE global, rugged cellular modules certified by leading carriers. The DynaGATE 10-12 is also expandable with Eurotech ReliaLORA 10-12, a LoRa LPWAN Gateway unit, and the ReliaIO 10-12, a DAQ unit that provides analog inputs, more digital I/O interfaces and other functionalities.

The DynaGATE 10-12 and the DynaGATE 10-06 come with a genuine Oracle Java SE Embedded 8 Virtual Machine and Everyware Software Framework (ESF), a commercial, enterprise version of Eclipse Kura, the Java/OSGi edge computing platform for IoT gateways. Distributed and supported by Eurotech, ESF adds advanced security, diagnostics, provisioning, remote access and full integration with Everyware Cloud (EC), the Eurotech IoT integration platform (separately available).

Eurotech | www.eurotech.com

Partner Program to Focus on Security

Microchip Technology has also established a Security Design Partner Program for connecting developers with third-party partners that can enhance and expedite secure designs. Along with the program, the company has also released its ATECC608A CryptoAuthentication device, a secure element that allows developers to add hardware-based security to their designs.

Microchip 38318249941_bf38a56692_zAccording to Microchip, the foundation of secured communication is the ability to create, protect and authenticate a device’s unique and trusted identity. By keeping a device’s private keys isolated from the system in a secured area, coupled with its industry-leading cryptography practices, the ATECC608A provides a high level of security that can be used in nearly any type of design. The ATECC608A includes the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS)-compliant Random Number Generator (RNG) that generates unique keys that comply with the latest requirements from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), providing an easier path to a whole-system FIPS certification.

Other features include:

  • Boot validation capabilities for small systems: New commands facilitate the signature validation and digest computation of the host microcontroller firmware for systems with small MCUs, such as an ARM Cortex-M0+ based device, as well as for more robust embedded systems.
  • Trusted authentication for LoRa nodes: The AES-128 engine also makes security deployments for LoRa infrastructures possible by enabling authentication of trusted nodes within a network.
  •  Fast cryptography processing: The hardware-based integrated Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC) algorithms create smaller keys and establish a certificate-based root of trust more quickly and securely than other implementation approaches that rely on legacy methods.
  •  Tamper-resistant protections: Anti-tampering techniques protect keys from physical attacks and attempted intrusions after deployment. These techniques allow the system to preserve a secured and trusted identity.
  •  Trusted in-manufacturing provisioning: Companies can use Microchip’s secured manufacturing facilities to safely provision their keys and certificates, eliminating the risk of exposure during manufacturing.

In addition to providing hardware security solutions, customers have access to Microchip’s Security Design Partner Program. These industry-leading companies, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform, provide complementary cloud-driven security models and infrastructure. Other partners are well-versed in implementing Microchip’s security devices and libraries. Whether designers are looking to secure an Internet of Things (IoT) application or add authentication capabilities for consumables, such as cartridges or accessories, the expertise of the Security Design Partners can reduce both development cost and time to market.

For rapid prototyping of secure solutions, designers can use the new CryptoAuth Xplained Pro evaluation and development kit (ATCryptoAuth-XPRO-B) which is an add-on board, compatible with any Microchip Xplained or Xplained Pro evaluation board. The ATECC608A is available for $0.56 each in 10,000 unit quantities. The ATCryptoAuth-XPRO-B add-on development board is available for $10.00 each.

Microchip Technology | www.microchip.com

MCU Vendors Embrace Amazon FreeRTOS

In a flurry of announcements concurrent with Amazon’s release of its new Amazon FreeRTOS operating system, microcontroller vendors are touting their collaborative efforts to support the OS. Amazon FreeRTOS extends the FreeRTOS kernel, a popular open source RTOS for microcontrollers, and includes software libraries for security, connectivity and updateability. Here’s a selection of announcements from the MCU community:

Microchip PIC32MZEF MCUs Support Amazon FreeRTOS
curiosityMicrochip Technology has expanded its collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to support cloud-connected embedded systems from the node to the cloud. Microchip’s PIC32MZ EF series of microcontrollers now support Amazon FreeRTOS.

STMicro Adds Amazon FreeRTOS to its IoT MCU Tool Suit
STMicroelectronics has announced its collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) on Amazon FreeRTOS, the latest addition to the AWS Internet of Things (IoT) solution.

 

NXP MCU IoT Card with Wi-Fi Supports Amazon FreeRTOS
OM40007-LPC54018-IoT-ModuleNXP Semiconductors has introduced the LPC54018 MCU-based IoT module with onboard Wi-Fi and support for the new Amazon FreeRTOS on Amazon Web Services (AWS), offering developers universal connections to AWS.

 

TI SimpleLink™ MCU platform now supports new Amazon FreeRTOS (PRNewsfoto/Texas Instruments Incorporated)

TI Integrates SimpleLink MCU Platform with Amazon FreeRTOS
Texas Instruments (TI) has announced the integration of the new Amazon FreeRTOS into the SimpleLink microcontroller platform.

Renesas IoT Sandbox Supports RX65N MCU

Renesas Electronics America has expanded its Renesas IoT Sandbox lineup with the new RX65N Wi-Fi Cloud Connectivity Kit. The RX65N Wi-Fi Cloud Connectivity Kit provides an easy-to-use platform for connecting to the cloud, evaluating IoT solutions and creating IoT applications through cloud services and real-time workflows. The RX65N Wi-Fi Cloud Connectivity Kit integrates the high-performance Renesas RX65N microcontroller (MCU) and Medium One’s Smart Proximity demo with the data intelligence featured in Renesas IoT Sandbox.

RX65N_IoT_Sandbox_Wifi_Kit_UnpackedThe Renesas IoT Sandbox provides a fast path from IoT concept to prototype. It enables personalized data intelligence for system developers working with the Renesas SynergyTM Platform, the Renesas RL78 Family and RX Family of MCUs, and the Renesas RZ Family of microprocessors. The new RX65N Wi-Fi Cloud Connectivity Kit is based on the Renesas RX65N Group of MCUs, which is part of the high-performance RX600 Series of MCUs.

The new kit features the Smart Proximity demo implemented by Medium One. System developers can use workflows to extract data from the Ultrasonic Range Finder Sensor and then transmit distance data and duration length for objects close to the sensor to provide intelligence on end-user engagement with the objects. For instance, when deployed in retail environments, business owners can leverage the data to determine when and for how long shoppers view specific merchandise, providing greater insight on shoppers’ selection behaviors.

Developers can sign up for a Renesas IoT Sandbox account at www.renesas.com/iotsandbox. The data intelligence developer area is ready for immediate prototyping use. The RX65N Wi-Fi Connectivity Kit is available for order at Amazon for $59 per kit.

Renesas Electronics | www.renesas.com

NXP MCU IoT Card with Wi-Fi Supports Amazon FreeRTOS

NXP Semiconductors has introduced the LPC54018 MCU-based IoT module with onboard Wi-Fi and support for newly launched Amazon FreeRTOS on Amazon Web Services (AWS), offering developers universal connections to AWS. Amazon FreeRTOS provides tools for users to quickly and easily deploy an MCU-based connected device and develop an IoT application without having to worry about the complexity of scaling across millions of devices. Once connected, IoT device applications can take advantage of the capabilities of the cloud or continue processing data locally with AWS Greengrass.

Amazon FreeRTOS enables security-strong orchestration with the edge-cluster to further leverage low latencies in edge computing configurations, which extends AWS Greengrass core devices’ reach to the nodes. Distributed and autonomous computing architectures become possible through the consistent interface provided between the nodes and their gateways, in both online and offline scenario.

OM40007-LPC54018-IoT-ModuleNXP’s IoT module, co-developed with Embedded Artists and based on the LPC54018 MCU, offers unlimited memory extensibility, a root of trust built on the embedded SRAM physical unclonable functions (PUF) and on-chip cryptographic accelerators. Together, LPC and Amazon FreeRTOS, with easy-to-use software libraries, bring multiple layers of network transport security, simplify cloud on-boarding and over-the-air device management.

NXP enables node-to-cloud AWS connectivity with its LPC54018-based IoT module available on Amazon.com and EmbeddedArtists.com at $35 direct to consumers.

NXP Semiconductors | www.nxp.com