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Updated: 9 hours 37 min ago

Teledyne LeCroy Debuts PCI Express 5.0 Test Solution

8 hours 11 min ago

 Teledyne LeCroy is rolling out a software solution that promises to speed physical layer testing of PCI Express (PCI-e) 5.0 transmitters and receivers.

The solution, known as QPHY-PCIE5-TX-RX, accelerates the test process by automating transmitter characterization and receiver calibration. It’s aimed at leading-edge engineers who are developing fifth-generation PCI-e chips for servers and network products. “It’s going to make it much faster than doing it manually, because it’s all automated,” Patrick Connally, technical marketing engineer for Teledyne LeCroy, told Design News. “And it’s going to be much more repeatable.”

At DesignCon, Teledyne Lecroy demonstrated the PCI-e 5.0 solution on its LabMaster 10 Zi-A oscilloscopes. (Image source: Design News)

The software solution, announced at the recent DesignCon 2019 conference, will reach the market this month. It works with Teledyne’s LabMaster 10 Zi-A oscilloscopes and Anritsu’s MP1900A signal quality analyzers, guiding the user through the process of making the necessary connections between the instruments and the device under test. It then automatically configures the system to make the appropriate measurements, performs the test procedure to spec, and compares the results to the appropriate limits in the compliance specification.

The new solution answers an industry need to move to the next level of the PCI Express (Peripheral Component Interconnect) standard. The PCI-e standard, which is essentially a high-speed serial connection, has steadily been boosting its bit rate in response to an industry demand for greater bandwidth. The third generation of the PCI-e standard, which was finished in 2010, offered speeds of 8 GT/s (giga-transfers/sec) and the fourth generation featured 16 GT/s. PCI-e 5.0, which is just rolling out now, boosts that number to 32 GT/s.

Teledyne LeCroy is targeting early adopters of the fifth-generation standard, many of whom are likely to want an automated solution. “It’s a pretty sophisticated test process and it’s time-consuming to do it manually,” Connally said. “So we’ve automated it in a closed loop system because customers are starting to ask for it now.”

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Initially, the company expects users to apply the solution to servers and data center applications. Ultimately, it will trickle down to desktop computers, laptops, and tablets, but that migration will take time, Connally said.

“In the beginning, it will be limited to a fairly small number of early adopters,” he told us. “But as the specification moves on, and the eco-system grows, then the market will get a lot bigger.”

 Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 35 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

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Shell Buys sonnen

19 hours 11 min ago

Royal Dutch Shell, generally considered to be the largest oil company in the world, has been placing a lot of bets lately on alternatives to fossil fuels. Involvement in several giant off-shore wind projects, purchase of electric vehicle (EV) charging networks, and now the acquisition of 100% of sonnen, the innovative German battery grid storage company, all point to Shell’s desire to transition to a portfolio that is not entirely dependent to oil and gas products.

A solar PV system combined with a sonnenBatterie system will allow a homeowner to cover about 75% of the yearly home energy requirement.

Buying sonnen is an interesting move for Shell. In May of 2018, the oil giant had invested $70 million in the battery company. At the time a press release from sonnen reported, “This partnership will include innovative integrated energy propositions, enhanced EV charging solutions and the provision of grid services that are based on sonnen's virtual battery pool.” The goal was to provide financing for accelerating growth in both the United States and Australia.

Sonnen was formed in Germany in 2010 to address the storage battery market for homeowners with photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays. Its sonnenBatterie is a fully integrated system that includes battery modules, an integrated power inverter, a power management systems, and electronic meters to monitor power consumption in a building, for PV solar power generation, and to feed power into the grid, or to allow power-sharing within its own sonnenCommunity. In many ways, the company competes directly with Tesla and its Powerwall home energy storage system.

Distributed Power Generation

Although oil and natural gas, fuels that Shell produces, are sources of energy that are used to generate electricity on power grids, sonnen has focused on distributed power systems such as home PV solar. By adding the company to its portfolio, the oil giant can ensure that it remains a major part of the electricity market.

“sonnen is one of the global leaders in smart, distributed energy storage systems and has a track record of customer-focused innovation. Full ownership of sonnen will allow us to offer more choice to customers seeking reliable, affordable and cleaner energy,” Mark Gainsborough, Executive Vice President New Energies at Shell, said in a news release. “Together, we can accelerate the building of a customer-focused energy system in support of Shell’s strategy to offer more and cleaner energy solutions to customers,” he added.

Christoph Ostermann, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of sonnen, echoed those thoughts in the same news release. “Shell New Energies is the perfect partner for helping us grow in a market that is expanding rapidly. With this investment we’re excited to help more households to become energy independent and benefit from new opportunities in the energy market. Shell will help drive the growth of sonnen to a new level and help speed up the transformation of the energy system,” said Ostermann.

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Meeting The Goals?

Although Shell will obviously continue oil exploration and extraction, investing some of their fossil fuel profits into renewables and alternative energy systems, such as produced by sonnen, is promising.  Shell has created a yearly Sustainability Report since 1997 and in the 2017 edition notes that, “We believe that the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are largely caused by burning fossil fuels, will transform the energy system in this century.”

In 2017, Shell announced a goal of reducing the net carbon footprint of the products that it produces by around half by 2050. The company also has a goal of a reduction of 20% by 2035. It remains to be seen whether the investments in alternative energy companies and the company’s other actions can lead to the kind of dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that will be needed to stabilize the climate.

 Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

 

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The Future of 3D Printing Is in the Materials

19 hours 41 min ago

The hype is finally beginning to dissipate when it comes to the promises of 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Ok, we get it now. 3D printing can’t actually “manufacture anything.” Practicality is becoming the new path in determining production quantity and materials. At the Pacific Design and Manufacturing show earlier this month, a panel of experts in 3D printing discussed the role of materials in assessing whether an object should be printed and how it should be printed.

The materials of the future will determine how 3D printing will fit into the world of manufacturing. (Source: 3diligent)

During the panel, The Key Differences & Benefits in Printing with Metal vs. Plastics, Cathy Lewis, consultant at CLL Management Group, noted that the application determines the material. “We need to balance our excitement about the types of material available with the needs of the specific application. If you are prototyping, stay with plastic. Then if you need a particular quality in the actual production, you can look at metal.”

Even if the production of the object needs to be metal, design iterations to get the design right may be best completed in plastic. “Design is essential. Taking your CAD knowledge and turning it into something beautiful takes time,” said Lewis. “You need design engineers who know what they’re doing, designing for performance. Play with plastic first. Then, when you do move to metal, your support structures are different, and they are more painful.”

Matching the Material to the Application

The application should determine both the material and the printing process. “We look at the application and the desired properties to help decide if laser metal is right or if something else is right,” said Melanie Lang, co-founder and managing director of Formalloy. “Metal might be required because of heat. We do a lot with aerospace and automotive, and that means some metal.”

In addition to design considerations, the life of the object in the field needs to be part of the determination on materials. “Once you get the design, then you look at materials. What is your application? Is there heat? Do we need to sterilize the part? Do you have to have a higher heat resistance to improve stiffness?” said Joe Cretella, application engineer at Protolabs. “You start to combine those properties to get to the right material.”

The quantities to be produced is another factor that needs to be taken into considerations when assessing materials. “Certain processes lend themselves to smaller parts,” said Colin Hilkene, CEO of 3Diligent. “If you are scaling up to bigger parts, you’ll need a different technology and different material.”

New Materials Are on the Way

The materials available for 3D printing are a moving target. The right material for an object may not be on the market yet. But it may be coming. “Companies continue to innovate with materials. The greatest number of new patent applications are in materials science, and much of that is for 3D printing,” said Lewis. “In the next five years, we will see an explosion of materials that have never been thought of before.”

While metal 3D printing has commanded attention during recent years, there may be non-metal materials coming that surpass the qualities of metal. “Materials is a big growth area with a steep learning curve,” said Lang. “There are a lot of new materials coming online. You can take something bronze and replace it with bronze-ish that has improved properties.”

Waiting for the 3D Printing Industry to Mature

At this point in its development, 3D printing still has plenty of growth before it reaches anything like technological maturity. As an example, post-production processing for many 3D printed objects is still a time-consuming part of the production process. “One of the biggest misconceptions about 3D printing is that you push a button and the part comes out,” said Lang. “You might have to remove it off a build plate and do machine work on it.”

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Even with the promise of improved materials coming down the pike, the 3D print process itself still needs improvement. “The machines have to get faster. It’s not just the materials we’re waiting for,” said Hilkene. “The materials can work on scale to drive prices down. You also need to know about materials properties. A lot of times, 3D metal does better than casting.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 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.

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Why 3D Printing Is Going to Need Blockchain

Wed, 2019-02-20 12:30
(Image source: Pixabay)

If 3D printing technology wants to get ahead of its inherent security issues, the best way would be to adopt blockchain.

Speaking at the 2019 Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show, Jack Heslin, President of 3D Tech Talks, a 3D printing consultancy, said as 3D printing becomes cheaper, easier, faster, and more ubiquitous, the very nature of the technology is going to demand the security afforded by blockchain.

It's all about what Heslin called the Digital Thread of Additive Manufacturing (DTAM), “the single, seamless strand of data that stretches from the initial design to the finished, 3D-printed part.”

If you've never heard of such a thing for 3D printing that's okay, because Heslin said such a thing really doesn't exist. “The [3D printing] process is linear, but it's not single or seamless,” he said.

3D-printing moves through several stages: from concept, to CAD file, to generative design (when available), to the actual 3D print. Then comes the post print process, and finally support if and when it is needed. All these steps each represent a point of vulnerability in which a 3D print can be corrupted or even stolen, putting company's intellectual property at risk. “The digital thread of manufacturing has vulnerabilities. Design files can be stolen,” Heslin said. The one that scares me the most is that design files can be hacked to deliberately put in a flaw...I'm not saying it's happening right now, or it's easy to do, but it is a concern.”

Research has already shown 3D printing has a growing need for cybersecurity. Researchers from New York University's Tandon School of Engineering for example have found that there are serious security issues around 3D printing that could present significant safety hazards due to counterfeit parts and products, or products being deliberately printed with hidden flaws and built-in failures.

The Liberator (shown) is a single-shot gun that can be 3D-printed using unsecured files available on the Internet. (Image source: NotLessOrEqual [CC0]) 

In 2016 researchers from the University of California, Irvine demonstrated a novel approach to 3D printer hacking when they revealed that the source code to produce 3D-printed parts can be stolen by recording the sounds the printer makes.

All of this leads to implications for a number of issues Heslin pointed out. Aside from printers being taken offline by malicious entities and concerns of stolen IP there are also larger issues, particularly around gun safety. For several years now a debate has raged about 3D-printed guns. Recently, a would-be domestic terrorist in Texas was arrested and sentenced after he was found in possession of an illegal AR-15 assault rifle that he was able to assemble with the help of 3D printed parts created using files freely available on the Internet.

One step beyond this, Heslin noted, would be the illegal and unauthorized printing of military machine parts and weapons or hacking 3D printer files to do deliberate damage to sensitive equipment or machines. In a 2016 paper, “dr0wned – Cyber-Physical Attack with Additive Manufacturing” a team of researchers were able to hack a PC connected to a 3D printer and from there make secret alterations to the 3D printing files for a $1000 drone that caused its propellor to fail mid-flight.

So how does blockchain address all of this? Blockchain works by creating a distributed, encrypted ledger across any number of parties that can be used to verify not only identities but also the status of any particular job. That means every entity involved in any stage of a 3D print is aware of what all the others are doing at any time in a safe and secure manner. Since a blockchain is decentralized, meaning no single entity owns it, stealing or altering a 3D printed file from a blockchain is not about tricking a single computer or printer – you'd have to hack every entity that was a part of that particular chain, which is exponentially more difficult, if not sometimes impossible.

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“When you have multiple stakeholders in the process you have to ask is consensus required across stakeholders,” Heslin said. In that regard blockchain can provide authority to print and authority to send files to be printed.

He also pointed to the audit trail benefits offered. “We all know about Six Sigma and ISO – a lot of it is about audit trails,” Heslin said. “Blockchain, by nature, is an audit trail. It shows every edit and iteration in the process.” Furthermore, because the audit trail is decentralized it becomes immutable and cannot be erased.

Even as early the conceptual level there are benefits. “If you're a design engineer and you send parts to a service bureau to be 3D printed, you don't know if anyone else printed that part,” Heslin said. “Look at a site like Thingiverse. You can see how many times a file has been downloaded, but you have no idea how many times something has been printed...or if its being sold without your permission.”

There are already companies working on this. In 2017 GE filed a patent for an additive manufacturing (AM) system that is “an AM device configured to implement a distributed ledger system...wherein the the distributed ledger is a blockchain ledger.” The basic premise of the system is to use blockchain to identify and verify builds, and the authors of those builds, in an AM system.

Wipro, an India-based IT consultancy, is developing a blockchain system for AM specifically targeted at fighting IP theft. As the company's website states:

“3D printing empowers small manufacturers to create new products anywhere. The creators can share the files to a secluded printing facility. Blockchain can help set up such small independent value chain to make the production processes nimbler. The smart contracting application can ease out the transactions to assure integrity of product history, production process details, ownership and much more. It will also help to locate the most feasible printing facility and reduce the negotiation time regarding price, date of availability etc. At last the blockchain would capture the digital trail of the product, with details such as the type of raw material used, the source of raw material, production parameters, technical specifications, where it was manufactured, how it was stored and maintained etc.”

Where blockchain is typically looked at more on the software end, as with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that have made it so popular, Heslin said 3D printing holds an “interesting extra layer in that this deals with physical products.”

And while cyberattacks against 3D printers have been confined mostly to research labs, 3D printers will only become a more enticing target for hackers as more and more printers are connected via the IoT and more and more companies trust 3D printers with sensitive files and information.

There's a shift happening in which what's most valuable won't be the end product, but rather the information that enables that end product, Heslin said. “You can't say with certainty that we can do this. But this issue is serious enough you have to address this.”

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

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What Is Synthetic Biology? And How Will it Transform Manufacturing?

Wed, 2019-02-20 05:00
Just Egg is created by using plant cells to produce a product with the same texture, taste, and nutritional value as real eggs. (Image source: Just)

When engineers think of raw materials they often think of the various ores and minerals that make up our devices and their components. Biologists, on the other hand, think in terms of the cells that make up the basic building blocks of various organisms.

But that distinction may be dissolving thanks to an emerging field called synthetic biology. It's a field that combines engineering principles and biology. And if its ideas proliferate we may someday use more and more biological materials in our devices...and we may be crafting those materials in a manner similar to how we assemble electronic and mechanical components in a factory. Imagine being able to assemble food products in the same way we assemble cell phones or cars – by combining a standardized and reliable set of base components.

“The world is changing and traditional means of manufacturing and sustenance aren't going to get us where we need to go,” Sridhar Iyengar CEO of Elemental Machines, a data science and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions provider to companies in the synthetic biology industry among others, told an audience at the recent 2019 Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show. “It's estimated there will be 10 billion humans on the planet by 2050. It's a problem in terms of transportation, food, sustainability, housing, and building materials...We can't continue manufacturing products for human sustenance the way we have.”

But synthetic biology offers a solution by aiming to use biology to make products, Iyengar said. Imagine, for example, if biological materials could be created in factory, using machines that can build biological systems using artificial means.

Iyengar was first to admit the concept sounds like science fiction. But there are actually some striking examples of synthetic biology being applied today that he pointed out to the audience.

The Chicken or the Egg

Can you make eggs without chickens? According to San Francisco-based Just you can. And the company does. One of its products Just Egg is an egg product made from plants. “An egg is just a bunch of molecules and proteins,” Iyengar said. “[Synthetic biology] sees animals as manufacturers. If you deconstruct it, an egg is a bunch of proteins. Proteins are hard to make in a lab, but guess what's extremely good at making proteins...cells.”

By exacting proteins from mung beans the company is able to use those proteins to create a substance with texture, consistency, and taste of egg yolk. It is also cholesterol-free and requires less water and fewer carbon emissions than raising chickens, according to Just.

Another company, Not Company, is taking a similar approach to milk, creating milk without cows (it's called Not Milk). From a biological standpoint, “milk is a bunch of proteins with additional molecules like fats and carbs,” Iyengar pointed out, meaning again, it can be produced using the right combination of reconfigured cells.

He added that widespread use and production of cow-free milk would also have a positive environmental impact. “Cows emit methane. Methane is about 20 times more damaging to the environment than CO2 from cars. In that sense, cows are more dangerous than cars.”

And if you think all of this is limited to less hearty foods, Just and other companies like San Francisco-based Memphis Meats are developing cell-based meat that doesn't require animals.

Emeryville, CA-based Bolt Threads creates fabrics and other materials using yeast proteins to create synethic spider silk. Aside from making a $314 tie (which Bolt Threads sells), spider silk is hailed by many researchers for its tensile strength and other properties that could lead to the development of next-generation composite materials.

A video from Just explains how the company was able to manufacture meat for chicken nuggets by re-engineering proteins. 

The Cancer Question

Synthetic biology can utilize plant or animal cells. Think of each cell as a factory, only one that makes biological products instead of electrical and mechanical components and parts. By modifying those cells in a lab by inserting new raw materials (in this case DNA, instead of raw minerals) cells can be configured and reconfigured to produce whatever is needed. Thus a plant cell can produce egg-like protein, or an animal cell can produce meat without the need of having to raise and slaughter an animal.

But this is also where limitations and challenges come in, according to Iyengar. “One of the problems of using animal cells is that they grow old and die. So on one hand you need to continuously get more and more donor cells and when you do that the growth phase can be very tricky,” he said.

“Ideally what you want is the same cells over and over again,” Iyengar added. This is because different cells are like their own separate factories, each requiring unique protocols. Once you differentiate a cell it needs its own process, which defeats all of the efficiency offered by synthetic biology.

There is one type of animal cell that doesn't die however – a cancer cell. Cancer cells will grow ad infinitum and provide an endless number of factories and materials for synthetic biologies. “But in order to make this work you're using donor cells that are in a way cancerous...That's not very appealing,” Iyengar said.

The current solution, he said, is to take donor cells and grow them up inside of bioreactors that facilitate their development as though they were in a natural environment. He also said the larger industry is moving toward the idea of creating repositories of stem cells that can be used to create any type of cell needed for synthetic biology.

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Would You Brew Your Dinner?

There are still significant technological and social hurdles for synthetic biology, Iyengar said the biggest ones today have to do with public perception. After all, it's not very appetizing to tell someone their steak dinner was made with cancer cells.

There is also the issue of cost. 3D printing has been suggested as a viable means of producing meats for example by companies such as Spain-based Nova Meat, which creates meats with the texture and taste of real meat, but using plant-based means.

“The challenge with 3D printing is cost,” Iyengar said. “Mass-produced foods are costly and won't scale with 3D printing.” He did however note that molding is an option that could scale. “[Synthetic biology companies] are actually borrowing a lot of ideas from injection molded plastic and things like that,” he said.

But even with that scale there's still a need to bring down the overall manufacturing costs. “Manufacturing the first lab-grown burger cost $3000, that was seven or eight years ago. Now it still costs a few hundred, he said. “The price is coming down with new tools.”

And none of this even factors in the regulatory side. Iyengar noted that FDA, FTC, various lobbying groups, and more are going to have a vested interest in the technology. Is a lab-grown steak still a steak? Should it then be regulated like meat, for example?

The bright side is there are already examples of synthetic biology moving away from self assembly and moving toward mass production. Beer is probably one of the oldest examples. “Most beer is genetically modified,” Iyengar said. “The idea of brewing your steak dinner may not be very attractive, but humans have been doing it for hundreds of years. You can brew your dinner the same way you brew beer. That's one way synthetic biology will massively transform sustainability.”

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

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Correction:  A previous version of this article said the spider silk tie from Bolt Threads cost $700. The correct price is $314.

Why Cybersecurity Demands Are Outpacing Mitigation Efforts

Wed, 2019-02-20 04:30

On January 28, the U.S. Department of Defense released a report from the Pentagon’s combat testing office announcing that the U.S. military’s cybersecurity capabilities “aren’t advancing fast enough to stay ahead of the ‘onslaught of multipronged’ attacks envisioned by adversaries.” On January 29, news broke of a bug in Apple’s Facetime software, allowing users to access someone else’s microphone without their consent. Both of these organizations, leading their respective industries, within a week have demonstrated the overwhelming challenge of software security.

If companies want to ramp up their security efforts, it requires both contextual and scalable approaches working in tandem. (Source: SmartBear)

Software teams in 2019 are building more complex projects, with more distributed teams, in a more competitive technical landscape. On top of this immense challenge, teams have to mitigate against the risk of cyberattacks, in both their new software and in their existing code. To date, most companies have shown that they don’t have a reliable practice in place.

The Unstructured Heritage of Cybersecurity

The field of cybersecurity is still relatively nascent. The spread of viruses by lone malevolent actors through email and websites started in the 90s, but there was little financial gain. In response, antivirus software solutions were developed and deployed. Following the turn of the century, cyberattacks started to target companies primarily, turning credit card hacks and corporate breaches into routine headlines. This not only exposed the vulnerabilities in systems for companies like TJX, Target, Home Depot, and Staples, but it also revealed that most companies weren’t focused on cybersecurity as a business priority.  

Companies then began to introduce new security programs to discourage attacks, rewarding hackers with bug bounties and positions at their companies. While these new recruits brought technical expertise to teams, hackers by nature have a penchant for setting off on their own and subverting systems. The challenge now is for companies to create structured and predictable security workflows that mitigate against unstructured and unpredictable attacks.

Scalable Security Practices and Limits of Automation

One way that teams have added some security structure to their development is by adopting tools for penetration testing, vulnerability analysis, and monitoring. In Cisco’s 2018 Annual Cybersecurity Report, 39 percent of chief information security officers interviewed said that their organizations were completely reliant on automation. Complete reliance specifically on machine learning and artificial intelligence was also prevalent, 34 percent and 32 percent respectively.

This shouldn’t be surprising, given that organizations that really need to scale quickly can’t reasonably do so through hiring alone, especially given the complexity and breadth of some organizations’ software. Automation does and should play a critical role.

However, automated tools inherently lack a contextual sense for business risk. Assessing risk is one of the most challenging aspects of security efforts since every project is likely to have vulnerabilities.

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) advocates for a focus on manual security code reviews, saying, “A human reviewer can understand the context for certain coding practices, and make a serious risk estimate that accounts for both the likelihood of attack and the business impact of a breach.” Extending more context to security teams means including them at every stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Building a Security Review Quality Gate Across Your SDLC

Bugs and vulnerabilities are cheaper to remedy the sooner that they are can be found in the SDLC. That’s why so many teams are looking to shift their testing left. The same principle applies to security. OWASP outlines how security teams should be involved reviewing:

  • Application security requirements in the planning phase
  • Security architecture in the design phase
  • Source code, coding practices, and test plans in the development phase
  • Penetration testing in the testing phase
  • Configuration management and secure deployment

With all of these touchpoints, cross-functional collaboration is critical. For code reviews specifically, there are often limits to how effective security professionals can be at fully understanding what code is doing if they aren’t proficient in the applied language or framework. Effective communication between development and security teams is critical in order to cross-pollinate subject area knowledge and best practices. In a report published by SmartBear in 2018, 73 percent of survey respondents found “sharing knowledge across their team” as one of the key benefits of code review.

If they aren’t already, teams should set a regular cadence for meetings to discuss application architecture, related services, and key inputs and outputs. It can be challenging for teams to ensure that all of these reviews are taking place in a documented and organized way. This is especially true for teams that track their reviews manually, over email, or in a spreadsheet. Tools like Collaborator facilitate a structured review process for all the code and documents associated with a project. Teams can customize approval workflows and ensure that their process is captured with review metrics and defect reports.

Cristina Chaplain, director of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, reflected on the recent Pentagon report saying, “DoD testers routinely found mission-critical vulnerabilities in systems under development, and in some cases, repeatedly over the years tended to discount the scale and severity of the problem.”

Scanning tools can identify critical vulnerabilities, but without a tool-based review structure in place as a development quality gate, the tangible deadline pressures can encourage teams to move on without addressing issues.

When teams adopt a structured review process with security practices embedded, knowledge sharing becomes central to the project culture. This is especially important given that training and skill development is in such great demand across industries.

Growing Teams and Training Through Peer Reviews

In the Cisco study referenced earlier, 27 percent of respondents said that “lack of trained personnel” was the greatest obstacle to security, up from 22 percent in 2015. This isn’t to say that companies aren’t hiring for security. The study also found that the median number of security professionals at an organization rose from 25 in 2015 to 40 in 2017. Companies need to accelerate hiring to match security demands and actively create opportunities for those experts to mentor and train junior team members. Since peer reviews take place across the SDLC, they can be an effective, structured vehicle for this kind of onboarding and knowledge transfer.

The Common Weakness Enumeration project supported by MITRE currently lists over 800 known types of software security weaknesses. With every new CWE type identified, the potential business risk stemming from inadequate security practices increases.

If companies want to ramp up their security efforts faster, it requires both contextual and scalable approaches working in tandem. In practice, that means structured workflows that prioritize cross-functional reviews and tooling that can dramatically expand security test coverage, ideally leveraging AI or machine learning to continuously improve.

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For most companies, adopting a structured mitigation program means taking a transformational approach. Process change is never easy, but along the way, prioritizing code quality and knowledge sharing in your organization empowers teams to truly excel in all aspects of their development.

Patrick Londa is the digital marketing manager for Collaborator at SmartBear. With a background growing agile startups in the clean tech and digital health space, Patrick is now focused on software quality, process traceability, and peer review systems for companies in highly-regulated, high-impact sectors.

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Efficient Fabrication Method Achieved for Nano-Sized Processors

Wed, 2019-02-20 04:00

More complex electronic and computing devices call for smaller and faster semiconductors, which means scientists around the world are working with new materials on the nanoscale to achieve the design goals for next-generation technology.

To this end, an international team of researchers led by New York University Tandon School of Engineering Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Elisa Riedo has made a breakthrough in fabricating atom-thin processors using a new method for fabricating metals that scientists believe can replace silicon for next-generation chips. The work was described in an NYU news release.

Researchers in the PicoForce Lab modified hot-probe equipment called NanoFrazor by SwissLitho to invent a new process of fabricating 2D semiconductors. Here, the equipment patterns a one-atom-deep layer of molybdenum disulfide with electrodes. (Image source: New York University Tandon School of Engineering)

Atomically Small Chips

The team—comprised of researchers in New York, Switzerland, and Japan, among others—has demonstrated that lithography using a probe heated above 100 degrees Celsius outperformed standard methods for fabricating metal electrodes on 2D semiconductors, such as molybdenum disulfide (MoS₂). This is one of the various transitional metals that are among the materials scientists believe may supplant silicon for atomically small chips.

The team’s new fabrication method—called thermal scanning probe lithography, or t-SPL—offers a number of advantages over today’s electron beam lithography, EBL, which is used in metals manufacturing and semiconductor fabrication, Riedo said.

Improved Quality

Thermal lithography significantly improves the quality of the 2D transistors, offsetting what’s called the Schottky barrier, which hampers the flow of electrons at the intersection of metal and the 2D substrate in semiconductor designs, researchers said. Another advantage of t-SPL is that, unlike EBL, the thermal lithography allows chip designers to easily image the 2D semiconductor and then pattern the electrodes where desired.

T-SPL fabrication systems also promise significant initial savings as well as operational costs, researchers said. This is because they dramatically reduce power consumption by operating in ambient conditions, which eliminates the need to produce high-energy electrons and to generate an ultra-high vacuum. Finally, researchers can easily scale up the new thermal fabrication method for industrial production by using parallel thermal probes, Riedo said. Scientists outlined the research results in a paper in the journal Nature Electronics.

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Rapid Advancement

The recent work is the result of more than 10 years of study and experimentation that Riedo has undertaken in thermal lithography, first with IBM Research-Zurich and later SwissLitho, a company founded by former IBM researchers. In fact, it’s a process based on a SwissLitho system that the team developed and used for the current research.

Riedo said that she hopes the new method the team developed will take most fabrication out of clean rooms and into individual laboratories, where materials science and chip design can advance at a more rapid pace. Indeed, clean rooms are generally scarce and require expensive equipment and specific conditions, and researchers are limited in the time they can spend there to work on new technologies.

With any luck, methods like the one Riedo’s team designed can become on par with the same evolution 3D printers have allowed in materials fabrication for various industries, she added. In a similar way, t-SPL tools with sub-10 nanometer resolution—running on standard 120-volt power in ambient conditions—also could become ubiquitous in research labs, allowing for more rapid advancement of technologies.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

 

3D-Printed Soft Robots Can Be Remotely Controlled

Tue, 2019-02-19 05:00

Researchers have developed a new 3D printing method and material for fabricating flexible, soft, mesh structures that can be remotely controlled, opening the door for soft robots with unique capabilities as well as new directions in medical research.

A team at North Carolina State University (NC State) developed the structures, which they can control with applied magnetic fields while floating on water, they said in a news release. The structures can grab small objects and carry water droplets, making them potentially useful soft robots that mimic creatures living on water surfaces, as well as for other uses, such as for cell research.

Researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) have used 3D printing to fabricate soft, mesh-like structures shown here that can be remotely controlled using magnetic fields. (Image source: NC State)

Two Areas of Study

The work shows the intersection of two scientific areas of study, showing how their combination can be useful for future scientific advancements, said Orlin Velev, a distinguished professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State. “This research shows capabilities in the emerging field of combining 3D printing and soft robotics,” he said.

Indeed, using 3D printing for this purpose makes the fabrication of soft robots easier and more efficient, researchers said. These robots have a number of advantages over their rigid counterparts, including more safety for human-robot interactions, the ability to move more fluidly, and access to smaller, more confined spaces.

Something Like Toothpaste

To develop the structures, researchers created an “ink” from silicone microbeads that are bound by liquid silicone and contained in water. The resulting material—what’s called a “homocomposite thixotropic paste”—resembles common toothpaste; like the teeth-cleaning agent, it can be squeezed easily out of a tube but then maintains its shape without dripping.

In their research, the team used a 3D printer to shape the paste into mesh-like patterns, which were then cured in an oven to create flexible silicone structures. The resulting structures can be controlled—i.e., stretched and collapsed—by applying magnetic fields to them, researchers said.

“This self-reinforced paste allows us to create structures that are ultra-soft and flexible,” said Sangchul Roh, an NC State Ph.D. student in Velev’s lab and first author of a paper on the work published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

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Controlled By Magnetic Fields

Researchers achieved the ability to control the structures using a magnetic field by embedding iron carbonyl particles into the paste, said Joseph Tracy, professor of materials science and engineering and a senior co-investigator on the project. These particles are widely available and have a high magnetization, he said.

“The structures are also auxetic, which means that they can expand and contract in all directions,” Velev explained. This allowed researchers to control the shape both before and after applying the magnetic field using the 3D-printing process, he said.

To prove their method works, the team designed reconfigurable meshes, a structure that could “grab” a tiny ball of aluminum foil, and a structure that can “carry” a single water droplet and then release it on demand through the mesh, they said.

While the experiments show only an early-stage proof-of-concept for a soft robotic actuator, researchers plan to continue their work to create more complex robots, Velev said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

 

Gigabit Industrial Ethernet Performance

Tue, 2019-02-19 04:30

Gigabit Industrial Ethernet performance over EtherCAT, and with a 10 Gbit/s variant already introduced as a proof-of-concept technology study, puts the focus on the potential benefits of blazing speed in factory automation applications. The needs of individual applications obviously vary but clearly next level Gbit Ethernet speeds create new possibilities especially in supporting highly data-intensive applications.

EtherCAT G moves Beckhoff’s networking technology to the next performance level while maintaining compatibility with standard EtherCAT. (Source: Beckhoff Automation)

“The 1 Gbit/s communication of EtherCAT G will provide significant benefits for data intensive and highly dynamic applications, especially those involving machine vision, advanced motion control and high-end measurement technology,” Sree Potluri, I/O Product Specialist for Beckhoff Automation recently told Design News. “EtherCAT G10, which increases the communication speed to 10 Gbit/s, will support even faster data transmission in these circumstances.”

Potluri added that, beyond the increased communication rates, the larger benefit will be increased bandwidth. For example, Beckhoff EtherCAT measurement modules that support eXtreme Fast Control (XFC) and oversampling functionality provide 50 kilosamples per second at a resolution of 100 ppm. And if the networks use a large number of these modules, the bandwidth can fill up quickly in a standard EtherCAT network. However, according to Potluri, the 100 Mbit/s EtherCAT introduced in 2003 will continue to support numerous applications for machine builders and end users.

Application Possibilities

As far as applications are concerned, the idea is that EtherCAT G will extend rather than replace the capabilities of the 100 Mbit/s standard, and it will be possible to use both performance levels on the same network with the addition of a branch controller. Engineers will likely choose EtherCAT G when applications require both very high bandwidth and rapid responses, such as in systems that incorporate numerous motion axes, expansive condition monitoring systems or GigE vision systems.

Through the branch controller model, machine vision components could operate via EtherCAT G or EtherCAT G10 all the way to the EtherCAT master, for example, while separate slaves communicate via standard EtherCAT and connect to the main trunk via an EtherCAT G Coupler. Potluri added that the key is flexibility and the solution, with multiple tiers of communication speeds linked via interoperable branches, demonstrates that Beckhoff still has a long game for EtherCAT.

Higher Speeds, So What?

One reason that gigabit Ethernet hasn’t made more inroads in industrial automation up until now is that users have had questions about the benefits of higher communications speeds and its effect on throughput.

“In addition to preserving the core features of EtherCAT including robust diagnostics, distributed clocks and processing on the fly, higher communication speeds and throughput of EtherCAT G significantly decrease PLC cycle times,” Potluri added. “Control systems can be made even more powerful as a result, supporting more robust IoT implementations.”

All of this is crucial in applications where many GigE machine vision cameras are involved, such as for quality assurance or track and trace applications. An example would be pharmaceutical production, in which it is critical to quickly identify product defects using high-speed vision and reliably update databases to ensure consumer health and safety. Shorter cycle times will enable more rapid processing of large data sets in real-time. Propagation delay times and the network topology will determine the actual increases in data throughput and, therefore, decreases in cycle times, but the improvements will be quite impressive in any case.

Branch Controller Model

One benefit of EtherCAT G technology is its implementation of a branch controller model that provides an ability to combine EtherCAT and EtherCAT G in a heterogeneous network.  This enables system designers to add-on EtherCAT G to an existing network with minimal disruption to current operations.

“The EtherCAT G branch controller model supports the principles of simplicity and high performance by providing exceptional flexibility in gigabit network topologies,” Potluri said. “However, EtherCAT still remains the dominant choice for the field level. Any machine or system can still enjoy the advantages of EtherCAT G without undergoing a complete rip and replace of network components.”

The EtherCAT G branch controller model enables the connection of EtherCAT, EtherCAT G and EtherCAT G10 segments. (Source: Beckhoff Automation)

The existing flexibility of 100 Mbit/s EtherCAT to connect with legacy fieldbuses continues with EtherCAT G. This and the branch controller model make it possible to incorporate legacy networks and equipment using standard EtherCAT within the same topology as state-of-the-art vision systems and very large-scale motion control that would benefit from EtherCAT G performance.

The communication bandwidth and cycle times improve either way through the implementation of EtherCAT G, although the level of performance improvement depends on the scale of the retrofit or the amount of new equipment installed on the faster network. For example, a machine network with 128 daisy-chained servo axes would have a communication time of 237 µs over standard 100 Mbit/s EtherCAT. Using 1-Gbit/s EtherCAT G with eight separate segments of 16 servomotors, the communication time would decrease sevenfold to 34 µs. However, if the plant could not retrofit an entire existing system, it could still implement a main EtherCAT G trunk between the master and separate couplers, allowing segments of 16 axes to use standard EtherCAT.

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In this type of application, the communication time would decrease to 49 µs, which is still a significant reduction from 237 µs. When EtherCAT G10 arrives, these types of reductions will be exponentially greater. Most importantly, EtherCAT users now have a flexible migration path that allows them to reap rewards in the future. The EtherCAT G branch controller model, combined with ramped up communication speeds and bandwidth, makes this possible.

Al Presher is a veteran contributing writer for Design News, covering automation and control, motion control, power transmission, robotics, and fluid power.

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Dual-Hinged Truck Tailgate Opens Two Different Ways

Tue, 2019-02-19 04:00

A new truck tailgate swings down in traditional fashion, or opens side-by-side, like a pair of French doors.

The tailgate, unveiled at last week’s Chicago Auto Show, aims to make curbside loading easier. It is said to simplify lifting of bulky items and provide a faster, more comfortable way for users to step up into the truck bed. It even allows for forklift loading.

Fiat Chrysler, which introduced it on the 2019 Ram 1500 pickup, says the door is a one-of-a-kind design. “There are swing gates out there and there’s been split gates out there,” Rob Wichman, chief engineer for Ram products, told Design News. “But there’s never been a split-gate that comes down as a normal tailgate.”

When the center latches are open, the 60/40 split doors can open from the sides. (Image source: Design News)

The tailgate, which is oriented in a 60/40 split, has four configurations: open flat; open left door only; open right door only; or open both side-to-side doors.

Fiat Chrysler engineers said the challenge to making such a door was to ensure that when the side-by-side doors are open, the user can’t accidently try to swing the tailgate down. In essence, the tailgate has to “know” what position it’s in. It accomplishes that through the use of an electronic control module in the tailgate that communicates with the switches in the door’s latches. When the side-by-side door latches are closed, the module allows the tailgate to swing down. When they’re open, it prevents the door from swinging down.

When the center latches are locked, users can swing the tailgate down in traditional fashion. The tailgate’s load rating is 2,000 lbs. (Image source: Ram Truck)

Known as the multifunction tailgate, the new design was three years in the making, and required numerous contributions from mechanical, electrical, and software engineers. Team members on the project were tasked with making sure that users couldn’t find ways to accidently defeat or damage the tailgate. They said the control module ensures it can’t be defeated, but they also needed to add a molded rubber liner on the interior side of one of the doors to prevent damage if users tried to shut them in the wrong order.

Engineers also employed three detents to control the opening swing of the doors. Using the detents, the doors can be opened to 24, 36, or 88 degrees (all the way open). Doing so enables the doors to be more effectively controlled in tight quarters. “If you’re hooked to a trailer or if a car is parked behind you, and you don’t want it all the way open, the detents stop it,” Wichman said.

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Finally, the engineering team added a retractable center-mount step to enable users to climb onto the bed when the doors are open. “The step deploys so you can get in and out of your bed really easily,” Wichman said. “You open the gate, deploy the step, and – one, two—you’re in the bed.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 35 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

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Growth In Electric Buses Is the Key To Electrification

Mon, 2019-02-18 07:00

The rollout of BYD's 50,000th electric bus in its Hangzhou factory. (Image source: BYD)

Electric buses are the best way for electric vehicles (EVs) to deliver on their promise of dramatically improving air quality and reducing CO2 emissions.

According to Bloomberg, production of electric buses will advance more rapidly than electric cars, spurred on by lower ownership and operating costs in addition to reduced emissions. There are already more than 300,000 electric buses on the road worldwide, with 99% of them deployed in China. Bloomberg expects 80% of the world’s bus fleet to be electric by 2040.

One company that has expanded its electric bus business from its Chinese roots to a worldwide scale has been BYD (“Build Your Dreams”). Since building its first pure electric bus , the K9, in the city of Changsha in 2010, BYD has actively sought markets for its vehicles. The company now has electric bus projects in 300 cities worldwide. In January of this year it rolled out its 50,000th electric bus from its Hangzhou factory, a bus that is expected to enter service in Badajoz, a city in southwestern Spain.

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In a press release about the production of its 50,000th bus, Wang Chuanfu, President and Chairman of BYD Company Limited said, “Our track record demonstrates a clear market recognition of and trust in BYD products,” He went on to add, “BYD has set a ‘Gold Standard’ for the pure electric bus market because of its rock-solid product quality, a complete supply chain and product solutions, and leading core technologies in areas such as batteries, motors and electronic controls. This is a thumb's up for not only China's electric vehicle industry—but the world's.”

Battery-operated electric buses are proving to have significantly lower overall costs than their diesel-powered equivalents. For example, BYD has demonstrated a 60% saving in operating costs as well as a 75% saving in maintenance costs compared to a standard diesel-powered articulated bus in a fleet in the Colombian city of Medellín.

Electric buses typically have a range of 200-250 kilometers (120-155 miles) between charges, allowing most buses to run a half-day or more before requiring the battery to be recharged. Wireless recharging is one area that is under study and might allow the buses to be recharged while on their route.

In the US, BYD has delivered battery-electric buses to more than 40 cities, including Atlanta. The company has built a 450,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Lancaster, California and has 750 employees in the US.

 Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

 

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Amazon Invests in Rivian – Will GM Follow?

Fri, 2019-02-15 14:40

Rivian’s R1T is an electric pickup truck that reportedly offers a maximum 400-mile range  (Image source: Rivian Automotive LLC)

The buzz around Rivian Automotive gained a few more decibels this week, as the tiny electric truck manufacturer netted a major investment from Amazon and considered a possible pitch from General Motors.

The upstart truck maker, which installed itself as the latest EV media sensation at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show, today announced a $700 million investment from Amazon. Earlier this week it also reportedly considered overtures from GM.

The news was further proof that more and more mainstream companies are seeing electrification as inevitable and are looking for a piece of the action. It also served notice that the pickup truck, once considered impractical as a target for electrification, is now viewed as the next big challenge.

Industry analysts said that the strategies of Amazon and GM make sense. “If you can make an electric pickup with 400 miles of range, 11,000 pounds of towing capacity, and a 1,800-pound payload, as Rivian says it can, then it puts your electric vehicle right at the heart of the full-size pickup truck market,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst for Navigant Research.

Delivery Trucks

Although Amazon didn’t detail its reasoning, most analysts believe the investment in Rivian is a natural extension of Amazon's growing delivery services efforts. Increasingly of late, the company has been “in-sourcing” some of its work in logistics, and has even built up a fleet of aircraft for transporting cargo.

Analysts said Amazon is likely to apply the same sort of approach to package delivery. “You could see where they would want to have their own fleet of delivery vans, especially if they could make them electric,” Abuelsamid said. “Having an investment in Rivian gives them an opportunity to use their ‘skateboard’ platform, and then put a customized body on top of it that they could apply to their own fleet.”

Abuelsamid suggested that Amazon might pair the electric trucks with its much-publicized drone idea. An electric van, for example, might serve as a container for dozens of drones, which could then be deployed on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. “The truck might pull into a neighborhood, and the driver would load packages on the drones, which would then go out and drop the packages on peoples’ doorsteps,” he said. “It could make the delivery process more efficient than going door to door.”

Abuelsamid added that the appeal of an electrified truck would be twofold: It would be quieter and its operating costs would be lower than those of gasoline-burning trucks.

A Possible Skunkworks

The connection to General Motors is less clear. In a call with Design News, a GM spokeswoman said only that the automaker “admired Rivian’s contribution” to the electric vehicle market, but declined to comment further.

Still, the move toward electrification of pickups is on virtually every automaker’s mind right now. Ford Motor Co. plans to introduce a hybridized version of the immensely-popular F-150 pickup next year. Moreover, Ford chairman William Clay Ford Jr. has openly discussed the idea of a battery-powered F-150. Other automakers are similarly announcing plans to electrify their SUVs.

The reason for doing so is obvious. In the US market, cars are falling out of style. Many automakers have announced plans to discontinue selected sedans. Meanwhile, pickup trucks are gaining ground. Last year, pickups from Ford, Chevy, and Ram were the top-three-selling vehicles in the US.

Rivian’s concepts might help address the need for electrification of the pickup truck market. Although its vehicles haven’t been publicly proven, Rivian claims 0-60 mph launch times ranging from three seconds flat to 4.9 seconds. It also has announced a maximum all-electric range of more than 400 miles. The vehicles are built atop a “skateboard” with a battery capacity of up to 180 kWh – more than twice that of an entry-level Tesla Model S.

Rivian’s vehicles are built on top of a proprietary “skateboard” platform that houses a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery that can be sized as big as 180 kWh. (Image source: Rivian Automotive LLC)

According to analysts, buying a stake in Rivian would make absolute sense for GM, even though the giant automaker already has a pickup truck platform and a pure electric car in-house. The investment would enable GM to continue producing its gasoline- and diesel-based pickups while learning whether there’s a real market for electric trucks

“It would just be a really good opportunity for them to do a skunkworks-type project that doesn’t mess with what they already do so well,” Brett Smith, a program director at the Center for Automotive Research, told Design News.

Going outside to electrify its pickups would also give GM a chance to see whether the electrified pickup is even a feasible idea. Many automotive engineers question whether such large vehicles could be electrified at costs that appeals to consumers, Smith said.

Meanwhile, any effort to electrify its own trucks could end up interfering with sales of GM’s already-successful products, such as the Silverado. “If you think about what [GM] would have to do to their plants to put in a new product, it could end up costing them a lot more than $700 million,” Smith said.

Doing it outside, at a company like Rivian, would enable GM to keep its current programs intact. “Why would they want to mess with a well-oiled machine?” Smith asked.

Capital Still Needed

For Rivian, which is still a startup, a cash-infusion of $700 million, and possibly more, would serve as a needed shot in the arm. The company has yet to sell a truck, and although it has secured a manufacturing plant in central Illinois, it is likely to need more than a billion dollars of additional capital to begin setting up production lines.

Moreover, the company’s technology is virtually unknown, and truck consumers tend to be conservative in their buying choices. “Pickup truck buyers are notoriously loyal,” Abuelsamid said. “It’s a really hard segment to break into. It’s extremely unlikely that Rivian would be able to come in and take over the full-size truck market, no matter how good their product might be.”

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By forging relationships with GM and Amazon, Rivian would have a built-in customer base, which would give the company an opportunity to generate more scale and drive its costs down. It would also provide Rivian with time to await the development of better, cheaper batteries. Analysts pointed out that the company’s 180-kWh battery, at today’s costs of $200/kWh, would be priced at about $36,000 apiece.

“Taking an additional investment from Amazon, GM, or someone else was almost an inevitability anyway before they could get into production,” Abuelsamid said. “This gives Rivian something to draw on.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 35 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

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The Best of the 2019 Chicago Auto Show

Fri, 2019-02-15 07:00

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 35 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

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