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Articles from 2017 In October

Powering small-satellite constellations with plastic integrated circuits

Powering small-satellite constellations with plastic integrated circuits

IntersilSatellites typically have long missions (15 to 20 years) and span a wide range of orbits, including geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and deep spaceflight. These large vehicles in deep space have high radiation level requirements and must meet stringent reliability and quality demands so that electronic integrated circuits (ICs) aren't impacted by radiation. With the development of small-satellite constellations that bring broadband Internet access to every corner of the world, there is concern about the length of time these small-satellite constellations can endure the radiation they are subjected to in low Earth orbit (LEO).

These LEO small-satellite constellations—positioned below the Van Allen radiation belt, where most of the destructive particles are trapped—have low radiation and less stringent reliability and quality requirements than their large cousins, according to a new white paper from Intersil Corp. (Milpitas, CA), a Renesas Company. The paper explains how satellite makers are addressing market demands—GEO versus LEO small-satellite constellations—and compares new radiation-tolerant plastic ICs with the commercial off-the-shelf “radiation hardened” ICs that are widely available today.

Companies supporting small-satellite technology are working to navigate the fragmented GEO versus LEO market and develop ways to “engage without dramatically changing their business model.” There also needs to be industry specifications or quality standards to address the small-satellite supplier base, said Intersil’s paper.

“Seeing this emerging need and convergence of requirements for larger satellite constellations in higher LEO altitudes sparked Intersil to engage its customer base. Through in-depth engagements, Intersil has created a cost-effective, radiation-tolerant product development and manufacturing flow to address these emerging small-satellite needs. The result is a new family of products that are being released in small-form-factor, surface-mount plastic packages, typically with nickel/palladium/gold (Ni/Pd/Au) lead finishes,” said Intersil’s paper.

These ICs will have one-time characterization during development and undergo harsher testing including a military temperature range of -55° to 125°C. “The parts will also be qualified on an AEC-Q100-like basis with up to 2,000 hours of burn-in testing, exposure to 500 temperature cycles and package moisture sensitivity testing. This is a significantly different development and manufacturing flow compared with traditional radiation-hardened products, which have large ceramic packages, radiation assurance testing in the product screening flow, and temperature and burn-in testing on each part in production, all of which drives up the IC cost.”

For large constellations of small satellites in LEO, a single event effect (SEE) occurring would likely be lower than in GEO, but “is still of concern” for these satellites “at an altitude close to or getting into the Van Allen Belt. For heavy digital content ICs, like a microprocessor, an SEE is typically not a catastrophic event. However, when it comes to the device that is powering the microprocessor or processing sensor data signals to the microprocessor, this could be a different story.”

If a satellite’s power device or “operational amplifier are impacted from a heavy ion or particle in such a way that its output is disturbed to unacceptable levels in a transient event, these devices can potentially damage or destroy the device connected to the output, like a microprocessor,” which could mean total “mission failure” for the entire satellite.

Intersil is launching three initial radiation-tolerant, plastic packaged ICs, which will help reduce the size, weight and power of small satellites. “These parts combine commercial-like performance, reliable packages and the radiation performance needed for satellite constellation programs that are cost effective and dramatically minimize program risks,” said Intersil.

In addition to large satellite constellation programs, these products are also suitable for other applications such as launch vehicles, medical equipment, high altitude avionics (aircraft electronics) and nuclear power plants.


Digital Transformation May Be Key for Medical Device Compliance

STUX/PIXABAY.COM Digital Transformation May Be Key for Medical Device Compliance

Medical supply chain executives find regulatory compliance, and the associated complexity, increased administration, and bureaucracy a major hurdle. However, there is hope on the horizon for medical device manufacturers (MDMs) struggling to comply with UDI guidelines and other regulatory requirements governing the medical device industry.

A Much-Needed Transformation in the Wings

In order to keep up with the demands placed on it by regulatory entities, the medical device industry needs to transform itself. The transformation in question is a digital one. It involves taking all of the technological developments that have transformed other industries and applying them to every aspect of the medical device manufacturing process.

We’ve seen a similar transformation in the pharma industry, where it has resulted in the total revamping of the pharmaceutical product supply infrastructure, from manufacturing to packaging and dispensing to patient delivery. If MDMs take a similar approach, the results will be nothing short of a revolution in the way they do business, including simplifying the road to regulatory compliance.

This is a look at how a digital transformation impacts the medical device label production process and the related regulatory requirements.

Goodbye Paper

Offline catalogs are prevalent in the medical device industry. Paper-driven processes make compliance with regulations like the Unique Device Identification (UDI) system, 21 CFR Part 11 and the EU’s medical device regulations (MDR) a costly, time-consuming nightmare.

Post-transformation, paper-based catalogs and manual checks are things of the past. All of the information needed to produce and maintain labels has gone digital. Data can be accessed and updated in real time. Manufacturers can easily track products in the event of an issue and correct errant information more quickly and efficiently.

With all the production data at your fingertips, you will be able to search for anything in the system: print jobs, label content, specific users. It will be like having Google for your label data, but you can control the level of access each system user has. By taking full control of your label production process, you will be in the driver’s seat when it comes to regulatory compliance.

Going digital will also give you a complete version control history. You will be able to track who made what changes to a template, preview those changes before they are printed, and reproduce labels years later in order to respond to customer queries or audits.

The Key to Clean Data

Transitioning your database from paper binders to a document management system will also give you an opportunity to clean up your database. If you’re juggling multiple offline label catalogs, the idea of reviewing all of your data to check for accuracy can be a daunting one. Some companies haven’t cleaned up their data since Y2K. With the digital transformation opening the door to a centralized label database, suddenly you can get a handle on your label data and address any data quality issues before they create problems.

A New Approach to Quality Assurance

Despite all of the modern advancements we’ve seen in quality control, the number of recalls is actually going up. In fact, a recent Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry (MDDI) article noted that in 2016, the industry had the highest number of medical device recalls since 2000. What’s more, the number of units recalled in the third quarter of 2016 reached the highest level in four years.

After digital transformation, best practice quality assurance will be about having the right technologies at each stage of the production process so you can validate that each step has been completed according to the specifications and requirements defined for that process. The right technologies may include a modern label management system that can facilitate the transition from paper-based processes to full digitalization and provide the necessary transparency and traceability to monitor label production.

From Fragmented Systems to One Solution

Today, device manufacturers print labels for numerous markets and several languages in various locations. It’s not a simple process to make changes to these labels, since legacy printing systems use label templates that cannot be easily modified. Looking toward future requirements, as barcodes and unique identifiers need to be added and recorded for every saleable unit, digitalization provides a big benefit.

In a digital world, everything is connected. There are no longer disparate systems and home-grown solutions. The IT department, instead of spending time implementing label change requests and updating templates, is focused on helping the organization develop a deeper understanding of its production processes and how to optimize these steps. Label design is placed in the hands of the business users, the ones who are closer to the customers. This also paves the way for centralizing label creation and setting up centers of excellence with super-users who can ensure you’re getting the most business value out of your label management system.

Every Printer Is Your Friend

Post-transformation, label templates will be intelligent, able to adapt dynamically to the printers being used, even adjusting the resolution of the label and barcode information so that labels print correctly, regardless of the printer. No more hard-coded templates and manual checks for template variations. Everything is handled by the system. Complete integration with all printers will also mean less unscheduled downtime, as users can be notified when printers are offline and view the real-time status of all label print jobs.

Ensuring Consistency across the Supply Chain

Of course, this newfound template flexibility doesn’t have to be limited to your own production sites. After undergoing a labeling digital transformation, you can then extend your processes to third-party vendors and contract manufacturers via web printing. You can choose which aspects of a label template are open to editing by an external party, pre-defining certain fields before sending the template. The type of printer becomes irrelevant, and you can ensure consistent labels across the board.

Going Digital Improves the Process

As this example of how a digital transformation changes the labeling process reveals, digitalization can give medical device manufacturers a better handle on much-needed data. The potential of improvements through digitalization may extend beyond the label production process to other areas of medical device manufacturing. It offers insight into the production process, helps identify flaws in the process, and improves productivity. These benefits could combine to allow manufacturers to make smarter choices for the business.

How Blockchain is the Key to a Secure IoT

How Blockchain is the Key to a Secure IoT

Blockchain, the technology behind the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, is looking like the best bet to creating a secure IoT. 
(Image source: Pixabay)

IoT cybersecurity is a complex problem, one that many experts are willing to discuss but not many engineers are not willing to tackle. But as blockchain, the underlying technology behind Bitcoin, seeks a home outside of the clandestine world of crytocurrency, it may find its greatest application in providing a desperately needed way of securing our smart factories, smart homes, and other IoT networks.

In a talk at Arm TechCon 2017, Ben Smeets, a Senior Expert in Trusted Computing at Ericsson Research, suggested blockchain as the solution to the increasingly labyrinthine task of securing an ever-increasing number of connected devices. Securing IoT, he said, will require engineers to rethink how we think of digital identity. We cannot rely on simple username/password protection to verify the ID of people and devices. Think of how many logins you have for different web services and devices such at WiFi routers already and you can see how unscalable and unruly the problem gets as the number of devices and networks increases.

Smeets and his team at Ericsson Research have proposed a new way of looking at digital Ids they call “ID Brokering.” “[With ID Brokering] identity is not the credential itself. It is the description of the link between the identifier and its credential,” Smeets said. If you use Google, Facebook, or any other single sign on service you've seen the convenience of having one login to access multiple services. It's great for humans, but not so much for devices, Smeet said. What's more, there's only one level of security – if someone gains access to one system they have implicit access to every system by virtue of the single login. A glaring issue like this is what allows cyberattacks like the 2016 Mirai malware attack, which targeted and hijacked IoT devices, to happen. If devices only need one level of verification to access a network, then who's to believe they aren't doing what they're supposed to if their credentials check out?

The solution for Smeets and his team though is not to pile on extra layers of authentication, but rather to distribute them. And that's where blockchain comes it. Because the blockchain functions via a distributed and encrypted ledger shared across all of a network's users and devices, it creates a network of authentication that is verifiable and not easily hacked. With blockchain implemented, a device cannot access a network unless it is verified through the entire ledger. In this scenario attacks like Mirai become significantly more difficult, if not impossible, because a hacker would need to modify the entire ledger, and not just the credentials of any one device.

Ericcson Research demonstrated a proof-of-concept of this idea at the 2017 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this past March. The researchers set up a small WiFi network that used blockchain authentication instead of a typical username/password setup.

Other use cases are also emerging. Also speaking at Arm TechCon, Qiang Li, VP and Chief Scientist at CloudMinds Technology, a cloud-based artificial intelligence and robotics startup, discussed his company's use of a blockchain-based authentication system for its cloud-distributed AI platform. The company's Human Augmented Robotic Intelligence (HARI) platform is a human-in-loop AI system in which artificial intelligence acts as the main control of a robot or device, but can also switch to a human agent in real time when it is needed. A robot performing a repair for example, could turn itself over to human control when it is unsure how to complete a task, then learn from the human operator to better train itself to perform the task autonomously in the future. Li said that security has become a top concern for Cloudminds as it develops its technologies.

“When you have a robot in every home security will be an issue,” Li said. “Devices will need to be authenticated to connect to cloud-based AI.” To this end Cloudminds has been experimenting with blockchain-based authentication as well as implementing another function of blockchain, smart contracts, to help automate tasks within a network.

Smart contracts are automated tasks that are performed only when the ledger verifies it to be authentic. In a typical network device B may be programmed to perform a task once device A is done with its own. Easy enough, but again security issues come into play if someone starts pretending to be device A or starts having device A tell B to perform some task it isn't supposed to. Imagine a hospital network in which devices, like a wireless infusion pump, may be instructed to administer medications or life-saving treatment based on certain conditions and you can envision how serious a threat this could be.

“Smart contracts can make blockchain function as your operating system,” Li said. Not only could devices accessing the AI be secured, the actions they perform could also be secured using smart contracts. By implementing a smart contract a device's action would have to be verified by the entire blockchain ledger before it could be performed.

Blockchain's security applications have been gaining traction the past two years. In the March 2017 issue of the Journal of Supercomputing, researchers from Sangmyung University in Cheonan Republic of Korea published a paper outlining a scheme for using blockchain technology to verify firmware updates. In a 2016 paper researchers from the UNSW Sydney School of Computer Science and Engineering detailed a use case of utilizing blockchain to secure a smart home network.

That said, blockchain implementation is not without its challenges. In a 2017 paper presented at an international conference on Internet of Things, Big Data and Security in Porto, Portugal, Paul Fremantle, a research student at the University of Portsmouth School of Computing, outlined some specific challenges with implementing blockchain for security. “A significant concern is the inability to process blockchains on small devices,” the paper says. Having a ledger distributed across potentially thousands (someday maybe even trillions) of devices and sensors requires a great deal of code and processing power to work seamlessly, and that's simply a task that some devices, particularly older IoT devices are not equipped to handle. Some, like the UNSW Sydney have made their own suggestions on how to solve this, such as a network design that intermixes different flavors of blockchain. But Fremantle has proposed creating a middleware that acts as a bridge between the blockchain and IoT devices, offloading the heavy processing work to the middleware instead of the devices themselves.

Blockchain security is still in its infancy and no real-world implementations have hit the market. But if the conversation around IoT security has been clear about one thing, it's that IoT brings a new set of security issues that will require a new way of thinking. Perhaps the solution to securing IoT isn't to lock devices behind digital iron gates, but instead to let the security be distributed.


ESC Silicon Valley is Back!
The Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) is back in Silicon Valley and it’s bigger than ever. Over three days, Dec. 5-7, 2017, receive in-depth education geared to drive a year’s worth of work. Uncover software design innovation, hardware breakthroughs, fresh IoT trends, product demos, and more that will change how you spend time and money on your next project.  Click here to register today!

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at Design News, covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, and robotics. 


Expanding Polymer Creates Printable, ‘Peel and Go’ Self-Folding Structures

Expanding Polymer Creates Printable, ‘Peel and Go’ Self-Folding Structures
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new method that produces a printable polymer structure that begins to fold itself up as soon as it’s peeled off the printing platform. (Source: Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory/MIT)

Researchers have developed a new method that produces a printable polymer structure that begins to fold itself up as soon as it’s peeled off the printing platform, opening the door for new designs in printed electronics and other applications.

A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) printed the so-called “peel-and-go” structures using a new printer-ink material that expands after it solidifies. This is different than typical materials, which contract slightly as they solidify, creating a limitation for which designers have had to find workarounds.

The team previously had been working with printable structures that will fold themselves into useful 3D shapes when heated or immersed in water, but the new breakthrough gives scientists even more design freedom, said Subramanian Sundaram, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering who worked on the project.

“If you want to add printed electronics, you’re generally going to be using some organic materials, because a majority of printed electronics rely on them,” he said. “These materials are often very, very sensitive to moisture and temperature. So if you have these electronics and parts, and you want to initiate folds in them, you wouldn’t want to dunk them in water or heat them, because then your electronics are going to degrade.”

The team developed the polymer material that was used for the peel-and-go structures by accident when trying to develop ink for printing more flexible components. Researchers inadvertently discovered one experimental material that expanded slightly after it hardened.

Identifying the potential usefulness of expanding polymers, the team began experimenting with mixture modifications, eventually developing one that let them build joints that would expand enough to fold a printed device in half, Sundaram said.

Devices printed in a conventional 3D-printing process are built up in layers. In the prototypes using the new material, researchers deposited the expanding material at precise locations in either the top or bottom few layers. The bottom layer adhered slightly to the printer platform, which was enough to hold the device flat as the layers built up. However, as soon as researchers peeled the finished device off the platform, the joints made from the new material begin to expand, bending the device in the opposite direction.

The team published a paper on their work in the American Chemical Society’s journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

In addition to developing the material and method, researchers also sought to understand why the material expands, which they hope will help them design material tailored to specific applications. This might include materials that resist the slight contraction of 1 percent to 3 percent contraction typical of many printed polymers after curing, they said.

The explanation lies in the molecular chains of the polymer-based ink and how short and longer chains interact, as well as its reaction to exposure to ultraviolet light—the aforementioned curing—in 3D-printing processes, researchers said.

In the near term, technique has applications for the custom manufacture of sensors, displays, or antennas the functionality of which depends on their 3D shape, according to researchers. In the long term, they envision the development of printable robots.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years.


Cordis Comes Back for Another Stent

Medinol Cordis Comes Back for Another Stent
Cordis will have exclusive distribution rights to sell Medinol's EluNIR drug-eluting stent in the United States if FDA approves the device.

Cordis is getting back into the coronary stent game. The company, which is now owned by Cardinal Health, landed exclusive rights to sell Medinol's coronary stent portfolio in the U.S.

Milpitas, CA-based Cordis is already selling Medinol's NIRxcell cobalt-chromium bare-metal stent and, assuming FDA approves Medinol's EluNIR drug-eluting stent (DES), Cordis will distribute it as well. Medinol is based in Israel.

In addition to the Medinol agreement, Cordis recently launched the Tryton Side Branch Stent and two percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) balloon catheters. The Medinol agreement, along with the availability of the Tryton stent and Meril PTCA balloon catheters, reestablishes Cordis in the U.S. market with a significant interventional cardiology portfolio, said Peter Van Haur, vice president of North America sales and marketing at the company.

"By adding these new products to our portfolio, we can make the most significant contribution to the healthcare system and deliver the innovative products and solutions that our customers and their patients are seeking," he said.

Cordis used to be one of the biggest players in the coronary stent market under Johnson & Johnson, but J&J decided to quit making stents in 2011. At the time, the company said the decision was due to evolving market dynamics in the drug-eluting stent business, including lower demand, pricing and reimbursement pressure, and a stringent regulatory environment.

Dublin, OH-based Cardinal Health bought Cordis from J&J in 2015 for close to $2 billion.

Cordis noted that Medinol's NIRxcell stent has been tested on more than 1,000 patients and has been shown to be "highly effective in numerous clinical trials." The EluNIR DES has shown a lot of promise in two randomized clinical trials including more than 2,200 patients in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Israel. Data from the BIONICS study, which included 1,919 patients from 76 sites in eight countries, was submitted to FDA to support approval of the EluNIR stent for patients with narrowing or blocked arteries. The device was recently cleared for sale in Europe, the company noted.

The Tryton stent was the first dedicated bifurcation device to reach the U.S. market. It is approved for the treatment of de novo coronary bifurcation lesions involving large side branches. Cordis also launched that device through a U.S. distribution agreement with Durham, NC-based Tryton Medical. FDA approved the device earlier this year, nine years after it was approved in Europe. The stent is deployed using a standard, single-wire, balloon-expandable stent delivery system. A conventional drug-eluting stent is then placed in the main vessel. The Tryton stent has been used to treat more than 12,000 patients worldwide.

10 Pros and Cons of Working in Medtech

<p>We asked medtech professionals who participated in the <a href="">2017 <em>MD+DI</em> Medtech Salary Survey</a> about job satisfaction and the reasons behind their satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Here, in their own words, are five reasons medtech professionals gush about their jobs, as well as five common gripes.</p><p> </p><div style="background:#eeeeee;border:1px solid #cccccc;padding:5px 10px;"><p><a href="">Whether you’re looking to move your career forward or get your foot in the door at a medical device or diagnostics company, we’ll have tips and tricks to help you get ahead in our upcoming webinar, “Jumpstart Your Career in Medtech,” on Tuesday, November 14, 2017. Register for free now.</a></p></div>

Global Robot Sensor Market to Expand 50% by 2022

Global Robot Sensor Market to Expand 50% by 2022

Sensors on robots are becoming increasingly important as robotics applications expand across a wide range of industries, from automotive and agriculture through manufacturing, entertainment, logistics, military, and healthcare. With the total number of robots increasing and cost of sensors going down, there’s a robust market for sensors on robots. The overall dollars spent on sensors for robotics is expanding even while the cost-per-sensor is decreasing.

robots, robotics, sensors, IoT, wireless, BBC ResearchThe sensor market for robotics is experiencing double-digit growth in dollars spent. A recent report from BCC ResearchSensors for Robotics: Technologies and Global Markets – finds that the global sensors market for robotics is expanding at a 12.6% annual rate and is set to increase 50% in overall dollars in the next five years.

The report notes that the market for sensors on robots will continue to be dominated by commercial applications, with more than 80% of the market. The commercial market is led by industrial applications and followed by the healthcare and automotive segments. The consumer market is also expanding.

A Wide Range of Sensor Types

Analysts were challenged in compiling the data, since sensors for robots come in different categories. “The biggest issue in putting together the report was grabbing data in all the sensor categories,” Michael Sullivan, BCC analyst and author of the report, told Design News. “There are four core sensor functions: vision, which is optical image processing; touch for tactile; hearing, which involves audio sensors; and movement or motion detection for guidance systems. Those are four large buckets.”

While individual robots are wearing more sensors, the number of robots entering the market is also increasing. “The growth in sensors is reflective of the robotics market expansion,” said Sullivan. “Lower-cost sensors are entering in, and that’s producing a higher density of sensors.”

The sensors used on robots are connected in different ways, both wired and wireless. The growth in IoT systems in industrial settings has increased the ease and decreased cost of deploying sensors in robots. “The sensors inside the robots are wired, while the exteroceptive sensors require wireless connections,” said Sullivan. “The wireless segment is driven by IoT. That has really taking off compared to the market for wired sensors.”

Sensors Growth by Commercial Segment

Among commercial robotics, the segment that dominates is industrial. “I was surprised by the strength of the industrial market. In our research, we found that more than 40% of the sensor market for robotics is in industrial settings,” said Sullivan. “In industry, it’s the more robots the better. There is a tradition of robotics, and there are a lot of opportunities for deployment, since industrial robots produce an ROI.”



Medical was the second largest segment for sensors on robots. Even while the segment is large and growing, it’s a segment that is adopting robotics at a cautious pace. “We’re seeing increasing growth in healthcare, with 25% of the sensor market for robots,” said Sullivan. “Yet healthcare is not the fastest growing market. In healthcare, there are privacy concerns, plus the critical effects of the technology slows adoption. You have a high level of sophistication in surgical robotics, but you also have tremendous caution.”

While collaborative robots have caught the imagination of small- to mid-size companies, these human-friendly robots make up a small portion of the overall market for robot sensors. “There’s growth in collaborative robots, but not to an extreme extent. We’re picking up the trend, but it’s having a minor impact of the sensor market,” said Sullivan. “If you look down the road, the impact will be stronger. Sensors for collaborative robots will grow, since you need more sensors on those robots, but it’s not a game-changer quite yet.”


The Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) is back in Minnesota and it’s bigger than ever. Over two days, Nov. 8-9, 2017, receive in-depth education geared to drive a year’s worth of work. Uncover software design innovation, hardware breakthroughs, fresh IoT trends, product demos, and more that will change how you spend time and money on your next project. Click here to register -- Use the code " SAVE15ESCMINN" to save 15% on conference passes.


Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Image courtesy of BCC Research.


Using Customer IoT Data to Improve Products

Using Customer IoT Data to Improve Products

As companies figure out how to manage IoT data, how to store it, and how to analyze it, it’s becoming clear that data coming back from customer usage can have a considerable impact on the next iteration of the product. There’s plenty of promise for connecting cloud-based PLM systems to IoT management systems. As a result, engineers could get data that reveals exactly how the product acts in the hands of the customer.

Arena Solutions, IoT, field data, product design, design team, quality team, privacy, securityHow about a coffeemaker that’s connected via IoT? That may sound silly, but there are connected coffee makes already on the market by Nespresso, Starbucks, and others.

With IoT data coming from the coffee maker, engineers can find out:

  •       How many cups of coffee customers are making every day
  •       Whether the coffeemaker is in a warm office or a garage
  •       How well it’s performing
  •       How often it's being used
  •       Whether the coffee is hot when it comes out of the filter

And so on. Information like this might lead to the creation of an entirely new product: a coffee maker designed to make perfect coffee in a cold garage.

The product data will give the design team an accurate view of the aggregate use of the product, which can alter future design decisions. “With the telemetric data coming from an IoT-connected product, you can see the environment of the product and see how the product is used,” Steve Chalgren, EVP of engineering and CTO at Arena Solutions, told Design News. “You can see how many cups of coffee the user is making. If they’re turning it on twice a day to make 10 cups, how long with that switch last?”

The Feedback Loop in the Cloud

The data coming in from the product changes the nature of the company that’s making the product. Suddenly, software becomes a critical part of the company’s management. “The IoT makes a physical product company into a cloud company,” said Chalgren. “From product development side, it’s a feedback loop that hasn’t existed with physical products before.”

One of the industrial sectors that most aggressively seeks customer behavior is the automotive industry. “The feedback is invaluable for automotive companies. Automakers get to see how customers are using their vehicles. That feedback is the holy grail for physical product companies,” said Chalgren. “Before, you had to do surveys from warrantee cards. Then they’d go to maintenance records to see if customers are driving the car hard.”

For the design team, data on how customers use the product can go right into the design of the next generation of the product. “It’s amazing how the feedback informs the product development process. It takes the guesswork out. In the past, you talked with customers to get feedback after the fact. But that’s like a crime scene where everything is remembered inaccurately,” said Chalgren. “Now you can see whether people are actually using a particular feature. It becomes this virtuous cycle of product information.”

What About Customer Privacy?

For Arena Solutions, the notion of watching how customers use the product is not an abstract concept. Arena watches how its PLM tools are getting deploy by users. “We see an opportunity to use IoT data, and we’re working to deliver it for our customers. At Arena, we can see user and customer behavior. We use it to make the product better,” said Chalgren. “It’s part of the loop to enhance our product. We can see how they’re using each page -- are they getting stuck and cancelling out?”



Chalgren makes it clear there are boundaries and procedures to make sure that observing product usage does not include observing individual customers. “Watching customer behavior doesn’t require personal data. We have very strict data security, so we’re not roaming around in people’s data,” said Chalgren. “There are standard operating procedures. We look at customer processes and we see it in an aggregate way.”

What Are Companies Doing with IoT-Obtained Data?

As well as feeding IoT data to the design team, it can also be piped to the quality team. “You can use the data to track quality issues. How many devices are out there? What’s the acceptable rate of bad devices? If the rate of bad devices goes above an acceptable rate, does it trigger a response?” said Chalgren. “You can connect the data into the PLM or quality management system. Pragmatically, it’s very easy to do. Those integrations are not hard to write.”

The concept of monitoring IoT data on products in the field has been around for a few years. But is it in fact happening, or is it just talk, just a promise? “When I talk to people in the Valley, they have the data and they’re looking at the data as part of their product development,” said Chalgren. “That is surely happening. They’re connecting the data into the PLM. Yet in most cases outside the Valley, it’s more of a promise than it’s actually being done.”


The Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) is back in Minnesota and it’s bigger than ever. Over two days, Nov. 8-9, 2017, receive in-depth education geared to drive a year’s worth of work. Uncover software design innovation, hardware breakthroughs, fresh IoT trends, product demos, and more that will change how you spend time and money on your next project. Click here to register -- Use the code " SAVE15ESCMINN" to save 15% on conference passes.


Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Image courtesy of Arena Solutions.


Is Anyone Listening When We Talk About Cybersecurity?

Is Anyone Listening When We Talk About Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is frustrating. It's frustrating not just to practice and implement, but also frustrating to talk about, write about, and discuss. Talking about cybersecurity with designers, engineers, and even IT professionals – particularly those excited about IoT – can feel akin to trying to tell a lifelong friend to quit smoking. The larger engineering community takes a view on cybersecurity not unlike how a patient with a chronic illness might look at a doctor's appointment. No matter how bad the problem gets, there's always a part of you that can look in the mirror and tell yourself you'll always have tomorrow to deal with it.

Even in the face of bold evidence – the Mirai malware, the Target hack, the Sony leaks, the Equifax hack, ect. – showing us on a regular basis how woefully inadequate our systems of protection are, even with NATO officially recognizing cyberspace as a domain of operations – a potential realm of warfare right alongside land, sea, and air...we still look at cybersecurity and impose the same rationale that lets us watch the horrors of the 10 o'clock news and sleep like babies – “It won't happen to me.”

And yet we keep talking about it. Not because we necessarily want to, but because we have to. Because the people developing IoT technologies have a responsibility, and they must be made to listen. Because someday, very soon, our lives will depend on it.

Perhaps this is why Arm decided to make cybersecurity the centerpiece of discussion at the 2017 Arm Techcon. The company has even gone as far as to release a security manifesto, outlining its commitment to cybersecurity in IoT.

Between several keynotes and panels, all offering warnings and possible solutions to the potential cybersecurity crisis we will face as IoT devices proliferate, it may have been easy for any first-time attendee to assume Arm TechCon was a cybersecurity conference.

The Hierarchy of IoT Needs

Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs.

(Image source: User:Factoryjoe (Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Abraham Maslow, the founder of humanistic psychology, believed humans functioned on a pyramidal hierarchy of needs. At the bottom are physiological needs like food and wood, then comes safety and shelter. Only once the basest needs are met can humans hope to attain higher needs; love, self-esteem, and eventually some form of enlightenment, which Maslow dubbed self-actualization.

In a conference keynote, Dipesh Patel, President of the IoT Services Group at Arm, said that IoT has its own hierarchy of needs, with security being one of the most basic needs. “Security must be a first-class citizen,” Patel said, saying that security, along with simplicity and scalability, will be an absolute necessity for IoT to proliferate. “For IoT to scale we have to make it very easy to be created, deployed, and managed through it's lifecycle,” he said. Naturally, Patel espoused the virtues of Arm's own products and initiatives in delivering on all of this – particularly its Mbed platform for developing IoT products and its new Platform Security Architecture (PSA), a proposed framework, based on industry best practices, for building secure IoT devices.

Masayoshi Son, CEO of Arm's parent company, Softbank, has pledged the lofty goal of having one trillion IoT sensors deployed in the world by 2035. It's certainly an exciting idea in terms of having so much technology integrated into our daily lives, but noted technology journalist Stacey Higginbotham told an audience at her own keynote that even considering such a thing also forces us to re-examine our very relationship with technology and how we create it.

How do you secure a trillion anything? Higginbotham asked, adding that she believed even PSA doesn't go far enough. For Higginbotham a trillion devices isn't just a massive distribution of technology, it's an ecosystem, man-made rather than natural, but still just as deep and complex as any forest, jungle, or desert on Earth. As such she believes we will have to think about IoT in the same way we think about the natural world – as a complex, dynamic system that is always around us and always working. “IoT is much more intrusive, but also much more invisible” she said. “So we have to guide this ecosystem in the direction that we want.”

Higginbotham suggested that old models of security aren't working. And even the hacks we worry about today are old school and not native to the trillion-sensor world we're headed toward. New technology like IoT means new hacks, things like bad data. Higginbotham shared a story of a client of her's who runs a farm that uses soil moisture sensors to tell when crops needed to be watered. A malicious individual was able to spoof a soil sensor, telling the system an area was dry, leading to excessive watering that resulted in the farmer being fined for overusing water. Right now we teach computers in terms of if/then (if the soil is dry, then water it), but we need to teach computers about lying and how to recognize when they're being lied to.

Arm's Dipesh Patel discusses IoT's hierarchy of needs during his keynote presentation. 
(Image source: Twitter: @JohnHeinleinARM)

More Sensors, More Problems

A radical new world, where IoT sensors outnumber humans by nearly 1,000 to one, is going to require radical new solutions for security. In a Arm TechCon session on “Brokering of IoT Identities,” Ben Smeets a Senior Expert in Trusted Computing at Ericsson, proposed blockchain, the underlying technology behind Bitcoin, as a solution to IoT security. Rather then relying on new systems of centralized security, Smeets proposed using blockchain's distributed ledger for the purposes of authentication. The concept makes sense. Why should a distributed network of sensors, all likely using different protocols and standards have to rely on a centralized form of security? Ericsson partnered with Arm and demonstrated a proof-of-concept of this idea at Mobile World Congress 2017.

For Higginbotham another solution involves rethinking how engineers, and everyone else, codes. “The idea of forcing everyone to learn to code to live in the IoT world is insane,” she said. As more and more devices interact it will only require increasingly complex coding and all of that added complexity will come with a higher risk for glitches and bugs that would be like welcome mats to hackers. More devices will mean a greater need for automation, and that means a greater need to make coding less difficult. The question then is can designers and engineers model systems dynamic enough that any engineer can use them...that will allow us to rely on computers, but also maintain a measure of control?

Noted tech journalist and IoT expert, Stacey Higginbotham, told Arm attendees that IoT is creating an ecosystem that will force us to rethink our approach to security.
(Image source: Twitter, @JohnHeinleinARM)

And all of those seeking solutions may be ignoring the biggest cybersecurity threat to IoT – humans themselves. In her keynote cybersecurity consultant and, founder of the cybersecurity website, Jessica Barker, told Arm TechCon attendees that cybersecurity is really all about people. All of the hardware- and software-based security measures in the world won't be enough to safeguard against the social engineering hacks that target people – employees of companies who can be tricked via fake emails, phone calls, social media, or other methods into doing the criminals' work of illegally accessing a system or device for them.

In an interview with Design News Barker noted that sometimes targeting people can even be the easiest method into a system. “One of the cheapest and most effective ways to target an organization is to target its people. Attackers use psychological tricks that have been used throughout mankind,” Barker said. “Using the Internet, con tricks can be carried out on a large scale. The criminals do reconnaissance to find out about targets over email. Then they effectively take advantage of key human traits.”

Cybersecurity expert Jessica Barker told the Arm Techcon audience that humans are IoT's greatest security vulnerability. 
(Image source: Twitter, @charleslord)

Here and Now vs. Tomorrow

For Maslow our current state of wellbeing, our quality of mental health, was easily reflected by our position on the hierarchy of needs. Negative traits, neuroses, and disorders can be traced back to your desire or want for a particular need on the hierarchy. Humanistic psychology emphasizes free will and self-determination, making each individual responsible for his or her own well being and journey toward actualization. In the humanistic sense, the psychologist's job is to point these truths out to the individual so that they can take the best course of action for themselves. Of course, doing this requires the individual to have a level of maturity that makes them capable of self examination.

Taking this perspective, perhaps IoT hasn't matured to the point where its aches and pains can easily be diagnosed. Maybe we can't diagnose the security issues because they haven't become prominent enough yet? Perhaps IoT is still in its infancy and its real issues won't be clear until adolescence?

But can engineers afford to wait? Humanistic psychologists tend to emphasize the here and now, addressing needs as they manifest in the present. But if IoT isn't concerned with the future it will likely find that a trillion unsecured devices is too big of a problem to solve by the time it gets there. “Adapting to this world is going to take time, but we have to do it and in a way that respects human creative the dynamic of computers,” Higginbotham said.

But even knowing all of this one has to wonder if there is anyone out there listening. If so, are they going to do anything before it's too late?  

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Chris Wiltz is a senior editor at  Design News  covering emerging technologies, including VR/AR, AI, and robotics.

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