The LimeSDR open-source software defined radio (SDR) project has received a boost, quite literally, in the form of the frequency-extending LMS8001 Companion Board, announced as part of the LimeSDR Mini crowdfunding campaign.
Built around a Lime Microsystems LMS8001 frequency shifter chip, the Companion Board allows any LimeSDR module – from the upcoming low-cost LimeSDR Mini through to the original LimeSDR and LimeSDR PCIe and also QPCIe designs – to boost their upper frequency range from 3.8GHz to 10GHz. “As a low-cost, compact, and highly configurable platform,” AB Open’s Andrew Back explains, “it also lends itself to use with other configurations, too.”
Naturally, the LMS8001 Companion Board is as open as the LimeSDRs it’s designed to support: board design and firmware sources are already available on the Myriad RF GitHub repository under the permissive Apache 2.0 (firmware) and Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (hardware and documentation) licences.
Anyone building devices or platforms with network connectivity are advised to read up on two major security vulnerabilities publicly revealed this week: the KRACK Attack against Wireless Protected Access (WPA) Wi-Fi networks and the ROCA vulnerability in Infineon security chips.
These first of these attacks is by far the most wide-ranging: the KRACK Attack is a key reinstallation attack which allows any client connected to a WPA or WPA2 network – which is to say any Wi-Fi client, from embedded devices through to smartphones, tablets, and laptops – to be tricked into installing a false key. Once installed, the key allows an attacker to decrypt the WPA traffic stream or inject malicious content at will. Patches have been made available for most mainstream operating systems, but it is likely to be quite some time before the majority of client devices are protected.
The second, meanwhile, has a long history behind it: ROCA, the Return of Coppersmith’s Attack, refers to a vulnerability in popular Infineon security chips used in smartcards, embedded systems, Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs), identity documents, and authentication tokens to generate and protect cryptographic keys. A flaw in these chips going back to 2012 at least allows for any 2,048-bit or smaller private key to be derived from its public half – effectively breaking the encryption. As with KRACK, patches for the ROCA vulnerabilities are being made available though it is likely to be quite some time before hte updates make their way to end users – especially in the case of embedded systems with no field update capability.
Chip-maker IQ-Analog has announced the first successful execution of code on a 14nm RISC-V application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), which it hopes will run at speeds up to 1GHz.
A dual-core chip built on a 14nm process node at GlobalFoundries, a semiconductor fabrication specialist spun out from AMD, the test chip has successfully downloaded and executed code on the company’s in-house NanoRisc5 and public ETH-Zurich RISC-V cores – albeit at a reduced speed for testing purposes.
“While we have not bought up the 1GHz clock source yet to test full speed operation (1GHz for NanoRisc5, 500MHz for ETH-Zurich), we have been able to conduct these initial tests using a slower 200 MHz “debug clock input” path,” says IQ-Analog’s Ken Pettit. “We still have a lot of things to bring up and test on this ASIC, but I wanted to share the news of working RISC-V cores in 14nm and extend a thank you to everyone in the RISC-V community for developing the RISC-V architecture and infrastucture.”
The RISC-V ecosystem has grown larger still this week with the announcement that chip maker Gowin Semiconductor has joined the RISC-V Foundation, making it the first field-programmable gate array (FPGA) specialist from China to do so.
“As the first China based FPGA manufacturer to be the member of RISC-V Foundation, Gowin’s mission is to contribute to the affiliation by developing the RISC-V ecosystem and disseminating the RISC-V ISA to customers in China and Asia,” says Dr. Ning Song, president and chief technical officer at the company. “We are implementing RISC–V ISA in our Arora family devices to enable customers accelerate their innovation through the free, simplified RISC-V ISA and our high performance, cost effective FPGA. This product strategy is especially important in China and Asian countries as the governments and the markets here are encouraging startups and innovation.”
Founded in 2014, Gowin had previously joined the Mobile Industry Processor Interface (MIPI) Alliance in 2016.
Closer to home, Welsh chip designer Thalia has announced £640,000 in funding to drive its analogue intellectual property (IP) reuse strategy.
“This new investment is a strong endorsement of our market strategy,” says Rodger Sykes, Thalia executive chair and director. “Analogue IP re-use is one of the biggest challenges facing the electronics industry today, and customers tell us that our approach, blending advanced design automation tools and methodology with experienced, expert design resources, really provides them with a competitive edge for reduced cost and time to market.”
“Innovative technology ventures like Thalia are among our prime targets for investment,” adds Dr. Carl Griffiths, fund manager with Finance Wales. “Thalia’s increasing traction in the high value global technology space and robust business model have put them in a strong position – we’re delighted to be able to renew our commitment to the company.”
The investment will be spent on hiring additional staff, including additional analogue integrated circuit (IC) developers.
In the US, meanwhile, freshly-privatised technology firm Dell has announced the formation of a new division specifically for research and development of Internet of Things (IoT) products and services, backed by a pledge to invest ast least £760 million in IoT research and development over the next three years.
“IoT is fundamentally changing how we live, how organisations operate and how the world works,” says Michael Dell, chair and chief executive officer of Dell Technologies. “Dell Technologies is leading the way for our customers with a new distributed computing architecture that brings IoT and artificial intelligence together in one, interdependent ecosystem from the edge to the core to the cloud. The implications for our global society will be nothing short of profound.”
The new Dell Technologies IoT division will, the company has confirmed, be led by Ray O’Farrell, chief technical officer at virtualisation specialist VMware, with the three-year funding plan earmarked for new products, labs, partner programmes, and the extension of Dell’s IoT ecosystem.
Canonical founder and chief executive Mark Shuttleworth has again spoken out about his company’s focus on the Internet of Things, this time in an interview with Network World which includes the phrase “thermal pumping of yoghurt.”
Following on from his company’s pivot away from the mobile market and into embedded and IoT, Shuttleworth has repeatedly stated that he sees Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux distribution as a potential standard for IoT core infrastructure. “If you imagine people designing a robot today, they’ll say ‘here’s the size and space where the brain is going to go,’ and they don’t necessarily know in advance what kind of brain it’s going to be, and if they can say to the developers, ‘it’s going to be ARM, it’s going to be x86, but it’s going to be Ubuntu,’ the developers can start creating and testing software in the cloud. Independently, industrial designers can start figuring out weight and balance and design and packaging and all the other things they need to figure out. Those things only need to come together late in the process if you have standardised module.”
“The thing I personally love about IoT is that it’s genuine entrepreneurship – but the thing about IoT is that literally anybody that finds themselves in a particular situation is able to see how taking a small piece of electronics and some software in a particular context to make something better. So that makes it just a lot of fun from an entrepreneurial point of view.”
Electronics Weekly, meanwhile, has interviewed Canyon Bridge’s Ray Bingham on the topic of the investment firm’s plans for UK chip maker Imagination Technologies after the company was sold for a song following the departure of its largest client, Apple.
The biggest news to come from the interview: Imagination is to remain headquarted in the UK, where it has been since the company was founded in Cambridge in 1985 as VideoLogic. Better still, with the financial backing of Canyon Bridge and its investment group the company is seeking to hire additional engineers and build what Ray describes as “a hub of talent” in the region. The company, Ray told the site, is “confident in the UK’s position as a centre of technological innovation” and he, personally, is “enormously excited by the talent and expertise in the UK.
“With our backing and investment, the business can continue to invest in developing its technology, attract and hire the best engineers, and acquire and service customers globally,” Ray told the site. “Top engineers will have an opportunity to be a vital part of an exciting technological growth story. We want to tap into the UK’s rich talent pool, allowing another British technology company to remain globally relevant. We want to build a hub of talent around the business which will incentivise top engineers to join the business and to live and work in a positive environment.”
Silver Spring Networks has published the results of a survey into preferred communication networks for smart grids, suggesting that fibre-optic backhauls with mesh radiofrequency (RF) networks for the last mile are likely winners.
In the survey of 350 utility companies, 94 percent of respondents believed that their existing communication networks would be adequate for the next five years of progress. For the technologies being used to replace older networks, 74 percent announced plans to implement fibre-optic networks while 65 percent have plans to implement mesh-based radio networks within the next ten years. These mesh networks, the companies detailed, will primarily be used for field area networks (FANs) to drive distribution automation, fault detection, and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) smart meter information gathering and dissemination.
“These results show us that utilities are looking ahead to proactively prepare for the future needs – including connecting distribution automation, renewable energy, smart grid and smart city assets – for improvement in service and reliability,” claims Matt Smith, senior director of grid management at Silver Spring.
Semiconductor Engineering is continuing its Experts at the table series, which excerpts a round-table discussion with Mentor’s Jeff Miller, Arm’s Mike Eftimakis, and Sondrel’s John Tinson, with an interesting conversation on the topic of building an IoT chip.
Discussing, this time around, safety-critical devices, the decision of whether to design for local or remote processing, designing for both analogue and digital domains, and security, the series offers a great insight into how chip design companies work to build parts designed with the Internet of Things in mind – including concerns about security.
“You secure a system against known attacks,” explains Arm’s Mike Eftimakis during the conversation. “New attacks will happen. That’s why it’s very important not to be able to upgrade your security rather than having something that is frozen. You have to be able to sustain new attacks. Firmware updates are critical because you need to upgrade without access to the device.”
“The important thing here is the depth of the defence. These compartmentalisation techniques enable that. But we have to keep in mind that this is everyone’s responsibility along the supply chain,” adds Mentor’s Jeff Miller. “There were some surprising attacks recently where MEMS sensors were compromised by using vibrations in the speaker of a phone to overtake the phone. You have non-obvious connections in a device, including going through the mechanical domain. You need resilience and the ability to update a device, but you also have to plan for that at every stage and in every way.”
Noted engineer Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang has written a piece detailing his use of bitmarks, a blockchain-backed source and authenticity verification system, to fight back against recycling scams and counterfeiting in the technology industry.
“As an open hardware business, we welcome people to make their own versions of our product, but we can’t afford to give free Chibi Chips to customers that bought cut-rate clones and then report them as defective for a free upgrade to an authentic unit,” bunnie explains. “We’re also an extremely lean startup, so we can’t afford the personnel to build a full serialisation and reverse logistics system from scratch. This is where Bitmark comes in.
“They issue us bitmarks as lists of unique, six-word phrases. The six-word phrases are less frustrating for users to type in than strings of random characters. We then print the phrases onto labels that are stuck onto the back of each Chibi Chip. We release just enough of these pre-printed labels to the factory to run our authorised production quantities. This allows us to trace a bitmark back to a given production lot. It also prevents ‘ghost shifting’ – that is, authorised factories producing extra bootleg units on a midnight shift that are sold into the market at deep discounts. Bitmark created a website for us where customers can then claim their bitmarks, thus registering their product and making it eligible for warranty service. In the event of an exchange or return, the product’s bitmark is updated to record this event.”
“Overall, for the cost and convenience, the solution outperforms all the other alternatives I’ve explored to date,” bunnie claims, while also noting that he is a technical adviser to and shareholder in Bitmark. “And perhaps most importantly for hardware startups like mine that are short on time and long on tasks, printing bitmarks is simple enough for us to implement that it’s hard to justify doing anything else.”
Finally, the Dutch students behind educational digital logic simulator Boolr have announced plans to overhaul the software and release a version 2.0, designed to extend its capabilities such that it will become suitable for professional use.
The source code for Boolr is available on GitHub under the GNU General Public Licence v3.0.