IoTUK Boost hardware

Community Round-Up: IoTUK Boost Deadline, RISC-V Workshop, Nvidia’s TX2, Microchip’s CEC1702, Cypress PSoC4 Hacked, DPS5005 Firmware, OpenScope Success, a Goodenough Battery, RF Modules, and Bunnie’s Book

Technology journalist Gareth Halfacree is running the AB Open Community Round-Up series, offering a fortnightly glimpse at what’s happening in and around open source hardware and software, wireless and related topics.

Applications for the IoTUK Boost innovation programme, run in Calderdale by AB Open in partnership with IoTUK, RS Components, The Things Network, and Calderdale Council, come to a close on the 15th of March – so if you’re interested and you haven’t yet applied, now is the time to do so.

Those chosen from the pool of applicants to take part in the programme will receive access to a wide-area wireless access network based on Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) Long-Range WAN (LoRaWAN) technology, the hardware required to begin building a project upon it, a two-day hands-on workshop, 12 months of support, and opportunities to showcase their creations – and all for free. While the programme is being run under the Things Calderdale umbrella, those outside the area – including individual entrepreneurs – are welcome to apply, providing you’re willing and able to travel to the workshop and can make use of the Calderdale-spanning LoRaWAN network or an equivalent in your local region.

Full details on the application process are available on the Things Calderdale website, but your email must arrive before the 15th of March to be considered!

On the topic of deadlines, registration and the call for presentations for the sixth annual RISC-V workshop are now open ahead of the event’s opening day on the 8th of May 2017.

Open to anyone in the RISC-V community, from those building their own hardware or gateware implementations of the open RISC-V architecture to engineers simply experimenting with any of the off-the-shelf implementations currently available, the sixth RISC-V Workshop is to take place in Shanghai, China with an opening session on the 8th of May acting as an introduction to RISC-V itself.

The introductory day will be followed by a two-day lecture series, for which the call for presentations is now open. The final day of the event, on the 11th of May, is the only one not open to the public: meetings of RISC-V Foundation members. Those interested in attending the events as a guest will find tickets available from the official website, while those looking to present should fill in the form to submit their application.

Anyone working in the field of embedded deep-learning, machine-vision, and other computationally-intensive projects may be interested to read of Nvidia’s Jetson TX2 computer-on-module (COM), which the company claims offers twice the compute performance of its predecessor the TX1 in the same 7.5W power envelope.

Based around an Nvidia Tegra system-on-chip (SoC) featuring ARM processor cores and 256 high-performance highly-parallel graphics processor cores, Nvidia’s Jetson TX2 is powerful but restrictive: the design of the system is proprietary, exploitation of the hardware’s capabilities limited to selected languages and APIs largely centred around Nvidia’s CUDA, but the system does at least run a customised variant of GNU/Linux for which the source code is readily available.

For those looking to secure lower-power projects, Microchip has announced the launch of the CEC1702 microcontroller with embedded cryptographic hardware for improved security.

“The acceleration of the Internet of Things has brought higher visibility to the security considerations of new designs,” explained Ian Harris, vice president of Microchip’s computing products group, of his company’s decision to launch the new microcontroller. “One of the hardest challenges to solve in a connected system is the ability to ensure that the boot code has not been compromised. The CEC1702 eliminates this issue by making it easy for designers to verify pre-boot authentication and then provide firmware updated from known, trusted resources.”

More details regarding the ARM Cortex-M4-based CEC1702, including two development boards dubbed the Clicker and Clicker 2 created by MikroElektronika, are available from the company’s official product page.

While Microchip looks to improve the security of the IoT, Dmitry Grinberg has found a flaw that could spell trouble for users of the Cypress PSoC4 family of microcontrollers: a way to unlock the previously-inaccessible ‘supervisor mode.’

The low-cost Cypress PSoC4 range of microcontrollers includes a supervisory memory region, dubbed SROM, access to which is denied and the contents of which is a closely-guarded Cypress secret. Dmitry’s analysis of the chip revealed a means of accessing the SROM, which can be used for good to double the amount of memory available on the chip – or for evil by implanting invisible malware strains that cannot be detected under regular means.

“So, if you want to unlock more flash in your chip, you’ll need to write a 0x00 byte to 0x0FFFF142. This will, however, brick your chip unless you recalculate the checksum,” Dmitry writes of his findings. “But there is a simpler way. There is a byte you can write to disable checksum, so write 0x01 to 0x0FFFF169. That is all – double the flash on your CY8C4013SXI-400. Enjoy!”

Elsewhere, Johan Kanflo has also been working out ways to bypass vendor lockouts on hardware – but as a means of extending the capabilities of a low-cost programmable power supply rather than implanting Trojan code in microcontrollers.

Working with the low-cost DPS5005 programmable power supply, Johan was able to reverse engineer the STM32-based microcontroller and write an open-source alternative firmware: OpenDPS. Using OpenDPS, multiple new features are added to the device including remote control via a UART serial port and the ability to wire the device into an ESP8266 microcontroller for wireless network control.

The source code for the OpenDPS firmware is available on Johan’s GitHub repository under the permissive MIT Licence.

The OpenScope crowdfunding campaign covered back in February has now reached its successful close, raising nearly $110,000 to produce an open hardware oscilloscope with in-browser software and wireless connectivity.

Following the success of the campaign, creator Digilent has been able to reach a stretch goal allowing for each of the scope boards to ship with an accessory kit, enhanced logging capabilities, and Bode plot functionality. The first boards are schedule to reach backers in May this year for early-bird backers and June for the remainder, with a second production run scheduled to ship in August to meet the extra demand. Full details are available on the project’s Kickstarter page.

A team of engineers led by John Goodenough, inventor of lithium-ion batteries, has announced a breakthrough in a low-cost solid-state battery type which could offer three times the capacity and a considerably longer lifespan than today’s equivalents.

While the battery technology, which uses glass electrolytes and an alkali-metal anode, has the potential for application wherever lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries are used today, the team behind it believes its first implementation will come in high-capacity batteries for electric vehicles. “Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted,” explained Goodenough. “We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries.”

The team has not yet announced a timescale for commercialisation of the technology, but is reportedly looking to partner with battery makers on development and testing of implementations.

If you’re planning a project based around wireless connectivity you may want to attend Wilson Lee’s upcoming webinar on choosing an RF module later this month, in partnership with Electronic Design.

A senior manager at Tektronix, Wilson promises to cover a range of aspects in the webinar on the 21st of March including considerations relating to spectrum use, power, and linearity, picking a suitable spectrum analyser, various features available for tracking down signal anomalies, and environmental factors which can influence the choice of module for a given project.

The webinar is scheduled to take an hour, with registration available on Electronic Design’s website.

Finally, noted engineer Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang’s book The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making & Breaking Hardware has been published, following a last-minute delay to its release at the tail end of 2016.

Less a technical manual as an autobiographical retrospective of his career, bunnie’s book collects personal essays and interviews on topics ranging from intellectual property protections in China – or the lack thereof – to his experience in building the open-hardware Novena laptop. While primarily aimed at ‘hackers’ and ‘makers’ more than professional engineers, it’s safe to say that anyone with an interest in electronics will find the book of interest.




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