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Updated: 6 hours 44 min ago

Google's Cloud AutoML Is An AI To Help Engineers Program AI

Fri, 2018-01-19 05:18

In late 2017 Google announced it had been working on AutoML (short for “automated machine learning”), a machine learning algorithm that is essentially capable of programming and training other algorithms. Now Google has introduced an alpha version of AutoML to developers in a cloud-based form, Cloud AutoML. The first release under this new service, Cloud AutoML Vision, is an algorithm targeted at machine vision applications that Google says is only the first in a family of Cloud AutoML services it plans to release.

With AutoML Google is aiming to democratizing artificial intelligence programming both by empowering engineers proficient in AI and also giving engineers with less AI knowledge an opportunity to develop machine learning applications. Programming and training a neural network can be very time consuming, even for trained and expert engineers capable of programming AI from scratch. Google wants to let developers create machine learning algorithms without the need of comprehensive neural network coding knowledge.

Cloud AutoML Vision lets developers train a custom image recognition AI using a drag-and-drop interface. (Image source: Google)

In a blog written for Google, Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Jia Li, head of R&D at Google Cloud AI, said that Cloud AutoML is meant to go a step further than the pre-trained machine learning algorithms already offered by Google, such as its Cloud Vision, Cloud Speech, and Cloud Natural Language Processing APIs, by allowing engineers to more easily create machine learning algorithms targeted at custom tasks. “There’s a very limited number of people that can create advanced machine learning models. And if you’re one of the companies that has access to ML/AI engineers, you still have to manage the time-intensive and complicated process of building your own custom ML model,” they wrote.

As a simple example, let's say you were an engineer designing a system to categorize and sort electronic components. With Google's pre-made machine learning API you'd be able to create a system that could identify various components – capacitors, resistors, transistors, ect. – but if you wanted it to distinguish between types of various components you'd have a lot more work to do and time to spend training the algorithm. That's where AutoML comes in. By training AutoML you could teach your system not only to recognize resistors, but to recognize how much resistance each type offers as well, for instance.

Cloud AutoML Vision is a direct offshoot of the first task AutoML was applied to in Google's testing – image recognition. The web-based service features a drag-and-drop interface that lets users upload images, train and manage models, and then deploy those models via Google Cloud. According to Google, models created via AutoML have already demonstrated more accuracy in identifying images than generic machine learning APIs for the same task.


Google has released a short video explaining how to use Cloud AutoML Vision.


In its blog Google says that a handful of companies and organizations are already leveraging Cloud AutoML Vision to improve workflow and outcomes for customers. Urban Outfitters and Disney Interactive are examining AutoML for creating AI that can be more detailed in recognizing the details of products (things like patterns and neckline styles of clothing and which characters are featured on them) to give customers more accurate search results and recommendations. And the Zoological Society of London is looking at leveraging AutoML to analyze images from its wildlife cameras to quickly identify and categorize animal species for wildlife population tracking purposes.

Google hasn't offered a timeline of when it plans to roll out other cloud-based AutoML services. Developers can now visit Google's Cloud Platform site to request access to the alpha version of Cloud AutoML Vision.



Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, is back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 6-8, 2018! Over three days, OKuncover software 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.

Argus, STMicroelectronics Bring Connected Vehicle Cybersecurity to the Edge

Fri, 2018-01-19 04:16

Argus Cyber Security, listed as one of our top automotive startups to watch in 2018, has entered into a partnership with semiconductor company STMicroelectronics to bring enhanced cyber security to automotive infotainment and telematics systems.

Under the new partnership, STMicroelectronics' Telemaco3P family of processors for automotive telematic and connectivity will come with Argus' Connectivity Protection software suite integrated directly into the SoC. Doing this allows the Telemaco3P to detect and block cyberattacks on vehicles in real-time and prevent malicious software, like viruses, from propagating through the in-vehicle network. Argus' cybersecurity solution will also allow automakers to track the security of connected fleet vehicles and will use big data analytics to identify emerging threats and provide secure, cloud-based updates to the vehicle software.

STMicroelectronics' Telemaco3P processors have an embedded Hardware Security Module that is ideal for loading Argus' cybersecurity software. (Image source: STMicroelectronics) 

In a press statement, Antonio Radaelli, director of the Infotainment, Automotive Digital Division at STMicroelectronics said, “With multiple layers of software security added by Argus on top of the cryptographic and key-generation accelerators designed into the Telemaco3P, this integration of hardware and software features delivers safety to passengers and data privacy of connected cars."

“Telematics applications make cars potentially vulnerable to cyberattacks,” Yoni Heilbronn, chief marketing officer of Argus Cyber Security, said in a press statement. “Consumer safety, along with impending government regulations and heightened demand for secure vehicle connectivity, make it more crucial than ever to protect vulnerable entry points into the vehicle. Our multi-layered approach, based on the technology of 39 granted and pending patents, does just that.”

Charles Averty-Taraud, program manager of STMicroelectronics' Micro and Infotainment Division, told Design News that the Telemaco3P features an embedded Hardware Security Module (HSM) that makes it ideal for integration with Argus' cybersecurity suite. “The embedded Hardware Security Module supports both symmetrical and asymmetrical cryptography that can ensure that connections to cloud and other devices are authenticated and secure,” he said. While the Telemaco3P is based on a dual ARM Cortex-A7 processor, the HSM is an isolated sub-system within the Telemaco3P that is based on an ARM Cortex-M3 processor.

Infotainment centers are a prime target for hackers seeking to gain access to a connected vehicle's systems. Once the infotainment system is hacked, depending on the make and model of the vehicle, it can grant remote access to a vehicle's radio, windshield wipers, A/C, turn signals, and even acceleration and braking systems.

Various groups have taken different approaches to vehicle security. Experts like Jay Thomas, director of field engineering for LDRA, a software verification systems provider, have advocated for a distributed, edge-based network of systems within vehicles to separately detect threats in different areas. Other entities, like Argus, have looked at cloud-based solutions to vehicle security – providing real-time remote monitoring and secure remote updates. This latest partnership between STMicroelectronics and Argus represents what could be a trend toward moving vehicle security onto the edge. In the absence of ubiquitous 5G connectivity, it will be near impossible to secure massive numbers of connected vehicles purely via the cloud.

STMicroelectronics and Argus declined to give details on any specific automakers that have signed on to integrate their new solution into future vehicles, but Averty-Taraud said STMicroelectronics is working to bring secure telematics and connectivity to all of its customer projects.

There is no word yet on if Argus plans to expand its cyber security solution into other brands' processors as well. Last year Argus entered a similar partnership with Qualcomm to integrate the Argus Connectivity Protection Suite onto the Snapdragon 820A processor, which is also used for telematics and infotainment applications in vehicles.  



Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, is back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 6-8, 2018! Over three days, OKuncover software 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.

Technology Is Changing the Manufacturing Workforce

Thu, 2018-01-18 03:37

The workforce in manufacturing in changing. Advanced manufacturing requires skilled workers, and they are in short supply across the US. Even China with its cheap labor is modernizing its plants and seeking greater numbers of skilled workers. While we often hear about the coming plant that has so much automation it needs few workers, in reality, plants are seeing a shift to skilled workers rather than a significant drawdown on the workforce.


Middle-skill workers may be the solution to the shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing. Photo courtesy of Tata Technologies.


The push to bring more skilled workers into the plant has caused a gap between the need for technicians and the available workers. “The manufacturing environment is changing, and with the rapid advancement of new technology, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find workers with the skills to use it,” Nader Mowlaee, electronics engineer and career coach, told Design News. “Manufacturers need to understand that those they hire to work on the factory floor are going to be very different in the days and years ahead.”

The notion of solving this through even greater automation is many years away – though companies are working on it. “Japan claims they’re building the world’s first automated plant. We’ll see it in 2020 or 2022,” said Mowlaee. “Other countries are adopting full automation at a slower rate. In the US, we’re far away from that. It will be at least another decade before you’re going to have a robot fixing another robot.”

The Shifting Workforce

While manual labor is still needed in advanced manufacturing, the nature of that labor – and the volume of that labor – will change. “We still need both manual and technical labor. Maybe 30% of manual labor will remain, but it will be workers in white suits and gloves working with machines that are clean and solar-powered,” said Mowlaee, who will be part of the panel presentation, Workforce Integration in the New Age of Smart Manufacturing, on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, at the Pacific Design and Manufacturing show in Anaheim, Calif. “One question that comes up is what to do with the maintenance person when there are no machines breaking. You can’t expect them to become a programmer. That doesn’t work.”

Mowlaee is also seeing a trend toward redeploying engineers into customer-facing jobs. So many of the highest-skilled plant workers will be outside the plant with customers. “If you look at the data from LinkedIn, sales and customer service is the hot topic for engineering. For engineers, positions in sales and customer relationship rank first,” said Mowlaee. “You work with the robot and then you get on the road. Companies like Rockwell are integrating their technical people with their customer interactions.”

Filling Tech Position with Middle-Skill Workers

Solving the shortage of skilled workers for manufacturing will require creativity. One move is to grab technical people before they graduate from college.  “An interesting pattern that’s emerging within the STEM industry is the increasing demand for middle-skill talent. Middle-skill jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree,” Kimberly Keaton Williams, VP of technical workforce solutions and talent acquisition at Tata Technologies, told Design News. “Due to the urgent demand, many manufacturers are recruiting students mid-degree and then training them in-house.”




Middle-skilled jobs have become a significant portion of the workforce in general, suggesting the two-year degrees or partial college may be premium background for job hunting.  “According to the National Skills Coalition, a research and advocacy group focused on workforce development, middle-skill jobs make up more than half of all jobs today and will account for 48 percent of openings between 2014 and 2024,” said Keaton Williams.


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.


Pacific Design & Manufacturing , North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, is back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 6-8, 2018! Over three days, uncover software 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!


Algae-Powered Fuel Cells with Bolster Clean-Energy Development

Thu, 2018-01-18 02:07

Researchers have taken a major step forward in the design of cleaner energy for electricity-dearth regions with the development of an algae-powered fuel cell that is less expensive to produce and five times more efficient than existing similar technology.

Key to the design of the biophotovoltaic (BPV) device—also known as a biological solar cell—developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge is that it separates charging and power delivery. This is something that’s different from the design of other such devices--which use the photosynthetic properties of microorganisms like algae to convert light an electric current for energy generation.

“Charging and power delivery often have conflicting requirements,” explained Kadi Liis Saar, a researcher on the project in the university’s Department of Chemistry. Researchers from the departments of Biochemistry and Physics also collaborated on the work. “For example, the charging unit needs to be exposed to sunlight to allow efficient charging, whereas the power-delivery part does not require exposure to light but should be effective at converting the electrons to current with minimal losses.”

BPVs generally work like this: during photosynthesis, algae produce electrons, some of which are exported outside the cell where they can provide electric current to power devices. In BPVs with a single compartment for both charging and power delivery, electrons generate current as soon as they have been secreted.

The design from the Cambridge researchers has a number of features that allow for unprecedented efficiency in a BPV system, researchers said.

First, as mentioned before, is the inclusion of two chambers, allowing for the two core processes involved in the operation of a solar cell—generation of electrons and their conversion to power—to be separated. Using this type of design, researchers could optimize the performance of both processes simultaneously, they said.

For the power-delivery unit, the team used another feature—miniaturization—to optimize the performance, researchers said. “At miniature scales, fluids behave very differently, enabling us to design cells that are more efficient, with lower internal resistance and decreased electrical losses,” explained researcher and Professor Tuomas Knowles from the Department of Chemistry and Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.


A new design of algae-powered fuel cells that is five times more efficient than existing plant and algal models, as well as being potentially more cost-effective to produce and practical to use, has been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge. (Source: University of Cambridge)


Another advantage to the two-chamber system is that it can store a charge rather than have to use it immediately, allowing for energy collected during daylight hours to be used at night, he added.

Finally, the system includes another unique element to boost performance—genetically modified algae, which minimizes the amount of electric charge dissipated during photosynthesis, researchers said.

Taken as a whole, the design resulted in a BPV with a power density of 0.5 Watts per square meters—five times that a previous design, researchers said.

This is still only about a tenth of the power density that exists in conventional solar fuel cells, but shows promise for the future of using BPVs for more cost-effective, cleaner energy production, said Christopher Howe, a professor with the Department of Biochemistry and researcher on the project.

"While conventional silicon-based solar cells are more efficient than algae-powered cells in the fraction of the sun’s energy they turn to electrical energy, there are attractive possibilities with other types of materials," he said. “In particular, because algae grow and divide naturally, systems based on them may require less energy investment and can be produced in a decentralized fashion."

The Cambridge team published a paper on its design in the journal Nature Energy.

Researchers aren’t eyeing their BPVs to be as widely used or efficient as typical solar cells are today, they said. However, areas where there is a lot of sunlight but a dearth of electricity—such as rural Africa or India—could benefit from their installation.

Moreover, because of the use of organic materials, local communities could benefit from producing the fuel cells rather than having them manufactured in large, dedicated facilities far away, researchers said.

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

Time Sensitive Networking Trend Continues into 2018

Wed, 2018-01-17 05:56

As we cross into 2018, the rise of Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) is coming into focus with a focus on new solutions for control, visualization, and cloud connectivity. TSN is a key emerging technology that is moving beyond standards into new products and offerings that are likely to gradually alter the landscape in automation and control as we move into the future.

Cisco Offer TSN Switches

Cisco claims it became the first major switch vendor to release a TSN  product for the industrial market in 2017. A partnership with TTTech has strongly supported the deployment of TSN in Cisco’s new IE4000 switch, part of a long-standing cooperation including technology development and collaboration in the IEEE TSN standardization group.


The standard version of Cisco’s new IE4000 is a 20 port Gigabit Ethernet switch, designed for industrial and ruggedized applications, that also supports Time Sensitive Networking. Image source: Cisco Systems


Cisco’s standard version IE4000 is a 20 port Gigabit Ethernet switch designed for industrial and ruggedized applications. In developing the unit’s TSN enhancement, Cisco enhanced the IE4000 with time sensitive capabilities by leveraging TTTech’s IP implementation and scheduling know how. This family of switches provides flexible and resilient industrial Ethernet products that combine secure connectivity and simple management for successfully implementing edge applications. The IE 4000 Series also offer Gigabit connectivity to Cisco’s ruggedized switching portfolio and high-bandwidth switching capacity, along with its IOS Software.


By leveraging TTTech’s experience with real-time systems and scheduling of Ethernet networks, the product integrates a network scheduling engine into the unit’s configuration management platform. Starting with IOS s/w release version 15.2(5)E2, Cisco customers will be able to take full advantage of TSN scheduling and configuration capabilities.


Deterministic Ethernet IP Solutions with TSN


TTTech is also introducing an Edge IP Solution, a GbE Layer-2 switch IP and software package that supports TSN. This new product offers a simple way to connect endpoint devices such as industrial controllers over standard Ethernet using TSN. It is suitable for device-level networking in industrial applications, and provides a method for integrating directly into a device’s FPGA to enable three/five port TSN switching and endpoint functionality.


An Edge IP Solution from TTTech adds TSN Ethernet functionality to switched endpoint devices such as industrial controllers. IP core and associated software enables fast and easy FPGA integration to create open, standard, deterministic switching functions. Image source: TTTech


The Edge IP Solution supports core functions of TSN such as time-synchronization (IEEE 802.1AS) and traffic scheduling (IEEE 802.1Qbv), as well as frame preemption (IEEE 802.1Qbu) and cut-through. It combines with the company’s Slate XNS software to assist in building topologies, creating schedules and deploying configurations for TSN networks. Configurable design blocks enable users to choose from xMII interfaces and other system parameters, and IP features can be adapted to find the right balance between size and functionality. A key feature is the simplified integration of FPGA-based devices. Interconnect logic between IP functions and subsystems can be automatically generated to save time and effort in the design of FPGA solutions.

An additional product offering from TTTech that incorporates TSN is its Nerve product line including machine- and rack-mounted devices that can be deployed within a fog computing architecture. It also offers a dedicated cloud-based service to remotely manage machine software, enable off-site service access and an ability to analyze accumulated machine data.

A new MFN 100 product offers a CODESYS soft PLC to run IEC 61131-3 control applications with real-time guarantee (up to 1ms), and an Intel Atom CPU to perform complex analytics and HMI visualization. Fieldbus support and integrated TSN Ethernet switching is also an integral part of the solution. The MFN 100 also takes advantage of fogOS and fogSM from Nebbiolo Technologies which allow it to be used as part of a scalable fog computing architecture.

The Emergence of TSN in 2018

Expect to see a constant stream of TSN products coming onto the market in 2018, as the technology is moving beyond standards development. The combination of guaranteed delivery of critical control application traffic over Ethernet, and consistent latency, is an important technology for customers looking to achieve IIoT and Industry 4.0 objectives over standard Ethernet networks. 

The key goal is for users to benefit from access to TSN-connected products that will enable a single standard Ethernet network that works across vendors to drive IT and OT convergence by implementing common management practices.


‘Hacking Manufacturing’ MIT Course Opens Manufacturing Techniques

Wed, 2018-01-17 04:59

Since 2013 academic researchers and graduate students from MIT Media Lab have been traveling to Shenzhen China for Hacking Manufacturing. The pilgrimage is based on conducting research on a manufacturer’s factory floor of industrial machines. The researchers and graduate students are part of a course titled, “Hacking Manufacturing.” 

MIT Media Lab has developed the summer course that allows academic researchers and graduate students to explore creative and innovative ways in creating new materials and industrial processes. The MIT research team created new smart fabrics and materials by modifying textile machines. Also, the MIT Media Lab venture allows the exploration into hacking PCB (printed circuit board) manufacturing processes and machines during this hands-on explorative summer course. The lessons learned from this open manufacturing event will shed light on the creation of new industrial processes and the designers that create them.

What is Hacking Manufacturing?

The Hacking Manufacturing course is designed to allow academic research of industrial machines and processes in the development of new innovative materials. The theme for the 2017 class was soft robotic materials. The supporting Shenzhen Manufacturers were K-Tech and King Credie. K-Tech is a digital knitting factory and King Credie a flexible PCB manufacturer. The location of Shenzhen is an excellent hub for such academic research because of the variety of factories and products produced in China. The selected Shenzhen factories also provides an added advantage of modifying machines easily without worries of automated systems. Automated machines reduce the hands-on research into developing new smart materials manufacturing due to software coding complexities that is associated with digital programmability processes. Remixing of cutting tools, and dies allow the manufacturing hack to be accessible in the academic research conducted by the MIT team.


The MIT 2017 Hacking Manufacturing class. Image source: Bai Chuan



Research Goal

The goal of the academic research was to investigate and see new innovative outcomes using existing manufacturing machines as prototyping tools in the developing new smart materials. Traditional manufacturing consists of having a product specification, engineering and assembly drawings, and timing schedules. The concept of the manufacturing hack is to work with machine operators to make modifications on product processes to produce new innovative materials. The ability to try new ideas adds to the creative and innovative process of developing new smart materials. The new smart materials are then used in developing soft robotics applications. Also, academic research papers are written on the Hacking Manufacturing process experience. In addition, the new product ideation phase is merge with production and prototyping techniques.


MIT academic researchers and graduate students working on King Credie’s Flexible PCB factory floor. Image source: MIT Media Lab/Artem Dementyev.



Process Flowcharts

Process flowcharts show the steps involved in the machining process of PCBs. With this flowchart, the MIT team can modify the process to enhance a new method of creating flexible PCBs. Experimenting with traditional process sequencing of PCBs by developing new ones allow the end-product to provide unique outcomes of the electronics flexible material. This innovation leads to new applications in HCI (human computer interfacing) related to soft robotic materials.


Process flowchart for two-layer flexible PCB. Image source: MIT Media Lab/Artem Dementyev.



Traditional vs Hacking Processes

Unlike traditional machine processes consisting of turning, drilling, boring, reaming, and milling operations, Hacking Manufacturing is based on creative play. The academic researchers and graduate students experiment with new machine processes with no preconceived notion of what the outcome will be. The freedom to customize and experiment with unconventional processes alleviate the pressures that come with traditional machining operations in manufacturing facilities. Table top manufacturing tools consisting of laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC routers, and other customized digital and manual fabrication tools have a production limitation related to scalability and product volume runs. Hacking Manufacturing processes in the development of soft robotic materials allow a new perspective to gross volume production runs and material cost points.

Typically, manufacturing is vertical based on development infrastructure focused on producing one product. The Hacking Manufacturing philosophy is a multi-collaborative method of factories sharing human and technical resources for creating a new and unique product. Working with K-Tech knitting and King Credie’s flexible PBC factory, a variety of processes were developed for creating soft robotic materials. The research also demonstrated the integration of how two distinct manufacturers can create innovation in the development of smart materials. 

Additional information on the MIT Hacking Manufacturing course can be found here.



Industrial System Cyberattacks Aim for Sabotage

Tue, 2018-01-16 05:29

As cyberattacks become more prevalent and sophisticated, the nature of the attacker is changing. We’re seeing fewer lone wolves, and more organized criminals who are packaging attack kits and selling them on the dark web. Their attacks aim at either commerce or control. The IT intruders seek commercially valuable personal or financial data, while operational technology (OT) attacks seek control of plants or factories for potential sabotage.

Image courtesy of Symantec.

Sometimes OT attackers want to do damage, while other times they hide and wait. For years, we’ve heard rumors that hostile governments have placed potentially destructive cyber-bugs in US power plants, but they are reluctant to set their bugs in motion, because the US has bugs in their plants, as well.

“The attackers’ goals for IT systems is information exfiltration, but for industrial OT systems, the attacker’s goal is typically sabotage,” Ashok Banerjee, CTO for enterprise security products at Symantec, told Design News. “Attackers typically want to have remote control of the industrial network and be able to disable a power grid or cause a collision or explosion. Typically, attackers hold this control for extended intervals, triggering it when needed.”

The Race to Counter Cyberattacks

Since the beginnings of the first computer viruses, there has been a race between the hackers and cyber protection. Banerjee believes the defense against attacks is finally pulling ahead in the race. “Cyberattacks and cyber defense have co-evolved. With the rise of cybersecurity, attackers with increasing sophistication have flown just below the radar of three or four different products,” said Banerjee. “2018 will be the year where multiple products will orchestrate learnings across static scans, network behavior, process behavior, IO behavior, content behavior, and IoT interactions to determine benign and malicious elements. This will be the year where multiple technologies work together to protect from the next frontiers of attacks.”

Banerjee noted that the work of finding a hacker within a system remains a formidable task. “Discovering an intruder is not like looking for needles in a haystack but rather it’s like looking for needles that actively work to look like hay in a haystack,” said Banerjee. “Attackers include very well-resourced groups that are backed by nation states, and they’re targeting private companies.”

Ashok Banerjee will present the seminar, You Can’t Ignore Security in IIoT, next month on Tuesday, February 6, at the Pacific Design and Manufacturing Show in Anaheim, Calif.

A Changing Perimeter Is Difficult to Secure

Securing the perimeter was much easier in the days when the perimeter simply surrounded a building or an industrial operation. Connectivity has changed the very nature of the perimeter. “The perimeter is more porous than ever before. Our greatest assets are increasingly in the cloud. That includes customer data in CRM or HR data in Workday,” said Banerjee. “The mobile worker, consultants, and vendors are constantly on mobile networks that connect to industrial networks and they’re connecting to a Starbucks wi-fi. We truly need to cover a lot more surface than before.”

Finding a bug in compromised systems is also becoming more difficult. Locating the entrance point of the compromise does not necessarily lead to the intruder. “If you were trying to locate the path of water coming in from a leaky roof, it would be straightforward. Rain is a passive system. It isn’t going to change direction to suddenly flood your house in a different location,” said Banerjee. “Cybersecurity is an active system. If there is single vulnerability, you can rest assured attackers will use that single path to flood your system wherever it can reach.”

Hackers Probe from Afar and Sell Attack Kits

The significant increase in the connectivity of industrial networks through IoT devices has prompted a coinciding increase in those who are seeking to penetrate those systems. “With increasing commerce and industrial controls on the internet, there are more attackers. The surface is ever expanding with a lot more industrial controls coming online,” said Banerjee. He noted that these new threats are no longer coming from lone-wolf hackers. “They are organized marketplaces, often regionalized in Brazil, Russia, or China. They generally pick targets that are outside the jurisdiction where they live.”




The hackers are probing networks and creating kits based on the vulnerabilities they find. “Attackers are testing platforms. They’re constantly testing their kits against anti-malware like Symantec. They sell these kits on the dark web,” said Banerjee. “These are regular exploit kits embedded as libraries. There are also exploit kits delivered as RaaS, or Ransomware as a Service.”


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.


Pacific Design & Manufacturing , North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, is back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 6-8, 2018! Over three days, uncover software 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!


A Signal Integrity Problem? Maybe Not

Tue, 2018-01-16 03:50

Electronic design engineers testing for signal integrity issues in their products may be looking for the wrong thing, experts will tell engineers at an upcoming keynote panel at  DesignCon in Santa Clara, CA.

In many cases, the real culprit may be power integrity or electromagnetic interference (EMI), but engineers are increasingly misinterpreting the problem in front of them. The misunderstanding can cause problems in all kinds of systems using high-speed electronics and sensors. “We have to consider signal integrity, power integrity, and electromagnetic interference, not independently, but as one thing,” Steve Sandler, managing director of Picotest, told Design News.  “Too often, we’re not doing that.”

The problem is exacerbated by the fact engineers on big projects often operate in exclusive provinces and don’t understand how such challenges can be interrelated. “We have signal integrity engineers, power integrity engineers, and EMI engineers,” Sandler said. “Each of them has their own sector, their own tools, and even their own jargon. That’s the biggest challenge – we’re not even able to talk to each other because we use different words.”

Steve Sandler of Picotest: “We have to consider signal integrity, power integrity and electromagnetic interference, not independently, but as one thing.” (Source: Picotest)

To address the problem, Sandler says that engineers need training and the appropriate tools. Proper training encourages engineers to share knowledge and “cross-pollinate” – that is, understand the close relationships between the provinces of signal, power sources, and EMI. Tools are also vital because the equipment used by signal integrity engineers typically differ from those of power engineers.

“A 100-MHz oscilloscope is probably not okay for the power supply guy,” Sandler told us. “That engineer probably needs a 4-GHz scope. And, yes, they do need to have the right probes and they need to know how to make measurements.”

The right simulation tools are also important, Sandler said. “You need to be able to simulate signal integrity, power integrity, and EMI in a single simulation,” he added.

Often, however, engineers lack the resources and time to address the problems properly, Sandler added. “It’s usually one of a hundred problems they need to solve on any given day,” he said. “They really just want to know, how do I find the problem quickly, how do I fix it quickly, and can I move on to my next thing?”

Unfortunately, that approach too often causes problems and expense down the road, especially if printed circuit boards to be re-spun. As a consultant, Sandler says he frequently sees such disasters in the design of satellites and automotive electronics. “Detroit is really sensitive to this,” he told us. “They tell me, ‘We’ll spend any amount of money if you can save us a board spin.’”

Sandler believes the inability to understand the relationships between signal, power and EMI will continue to cause problems in the coming years. “Right now, everybody has their heads in the sand about this, so we’re going to see more problems,” he said. “But at some point, we’re going to reach a critical mass of problems, and then we’ll all recognize that we need to something about it.”

Experts from Oracle, Wind River, Wyatt Technical Services, and the University of Colorado will join Sandler to address the issues in a panel discussion titled, SI/PI & EMI Challenges: Looking Ahead Through 2023 at DesignCon on Tuesday, January 30. 

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Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.


By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 14 tracks. PLUS -- New this year: Acquire an IEEE credit for every hour you spend at the conference. Learn more. DesignCon. Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2018, in Santa Clara, CA. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.

At 95, John Goodenough Is Still Searching for Next Big Battery Breakthrough

Mon, 2018-01-15 03:36

Forty years after inventing battery chemistries that have touched the lives of billions, John Goodenough is still on a mission.

Goodenough, recipient of the Design News 2018 Golden Mousetrap Lifetime Achievement Award, has certainly earned the right to kick back and enjoy the fruits of his labors. Starting in the late 1970s, Goodenough is credited with having co-invented a succession of battery chemistries that may turn out to be the most important of the past hundred years. First, there was lithium cobalt oxide, which served as the power source for countless cell phones and laptops. Then, he co-invented manganese spinel lithium batteries, now employed in tens of thousands of hybrids and electric vehicles. Later, he developed lithium iron-phosphate chemistries, which continue to serve in products ranging from handheld power tools to plug-in cars to grid storage systems.

“You don’t plan a career. It just happens. You just do what’s in front of you." -- Dr. John Goodenough (Source: University of Texas-Austin)

But at 95, Goodenough isn’t finished. As a professor of mechanical engineering and material science at the University of Texas-Austin, he continues to work, and to search for the next big battery breakthrough.

Asked if Goodenough still works an eight-hour day, his assistant, Melissa Truitt-Green, replies matter-of-factly, “Not always. Sometimes he works ten hours.”

Goodenough’s current mission is to develop a chemistry that solves the shortcomings of today’s lithium-ion batteries and lays the foundation for a real revolution in electric cars. The big problem with today’s lithium-ion batteries, he said, lies in their charging times.

“If you charge fast, with a liquid electrolyte and a carbon anode, you plate lithium on it and get dendrites,” he told Design News. “And then you get problems. Today, the solution is to charge overnight. But with an electric car, you don’t want to have to charge overnight. You want to drive up and get charged in 10 minutes.”

To accomplish that, Goodenough is working on a solid state lithium-ion battery. That is, no liquid electrolytes, no dendrites, no overheating. And very fast charging.

Goodenough knows that’s a tall task. “People have tried to make a solid state battery, and they could only do it with very thin films and not much capacity,” he said. “It’s a very tricky problem. But I believe it will be ready in five years.”

Colleagues say that if anyone can do it, Goodenough can. “He’s an incredibly bright physicist and materials scientist,” Michael Thackeray, who co-invented manganese spinel chemistries with Goodenough a generation ago, told Design News five years ago. “He’s been involved in all the major lithium technologies.”

The Long Road to Success

Indeed, Goodenough is recognized for his brilliance, but to hear him tell it, he was lucky. 

Goodenough grew up in a Connecticut farmhouse where education was stressed, and was sent on scholarship to the Groton School, a private boarding academy in Massachusetts, at age 12. When his parents divorced, he never returned home. He finished at Groton, studying Latin and Greek, then entered Yale University, majoring in math and philosophy.

“I was dyslexic as a child and I couldn’t read very well," he recalled. "I wasn’t going to major in history or English. So I did mathematics.”

After Yale, World War II intervened. Goodenough served in the military as a meteorologist and developed a passion for science. He applied to the University of Chicago to study physics after the War ended, earning a PhD there. But in 1952, his career took an unexpected turn. PhD in hand, he joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, where he worked on massive computers for the Cold War effort. Gradually, he transitioned from physicist to material scientist to engineer. “I was introduced to electrical engineers and ceramists,” he said. “I had the good fortune of being in a lab where all these people came together.”

That experience served him well when he moved to the University of Oxford in England in 1976. There, he began his legendary string of successes with lithium battery chemistries. Working with grad students in 1978, he focused on lithium cobalt oxides. “We didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to be able to get such a big voltage out of it,” he remembered. “But because I didn’t know that, we went ahead and did it. And it was stable. Sometimes, you do the right experiment for the wrong reasons.”

Later, he and Thackeray turned their focus to the so-called manganese spinel chemistry, succeeding hugely again.

At the time, Goodenough never guessed the applications for his chemistries would be so stunningly broad. “You don’t plan a career,” he explained. “It just happens. You just do what’s in front of you. Did I know what this would become? No, I didn’t. Not at all.”

Today, he hopes fortune will smile on him again, as he continues his work on solid state battery technology. Automakers are eyeing him and others and they race to make the battery that that could eliminate the issue of electric car charging time.

“Now I’m having the fun of realizing that there’s a whole new area of electrochemistry ahead of me,” Goodenough said. “We’re working to make the battery that will take the internal combustion engine off the road.”

Goodenough remains on a mission for the betterment of mankind. And he’s optimistic it will happen -- if not in a production car anytime soon, at least in prototype vehicles. “I’m 95, but I think we can get it done in five years,” he told us. “I’m not folding up my tent.”


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Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

ALL-SOLID-STATE RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES. Hear more from Dr. John B. Goodenough, Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 4 pm during his Center Stage presentation, "All-Solid-State Rechargeable Batteries." Following this not-to-be-missed session, join Dr. Goodenough at the Golden Mousetrap Awards, where he will be presented the Lifetime Achievement Award. Cocktail reception begins at 5 pm. Click here to register for Pacific Design & Manufacturing today!