Coin Guard: Home security for the tech impaired

Home security gadgets are all the rage, fueled in no small part by Dropcam and their competitors.  But video surveillance and smart locks have issues of data storage and hack-ability to deal with that scares most non-techie types.  Pilot Labs, a small OEM wireless product manufacturing company in San Diego, decided to leap into the fray with a product that brings wireless security to the masses who have a hard time figuring out fax machines. Coin Guard, currently awaiting funding through Kickstarter before it becomes widely available, hopefully in time for Christmas, Is a disk about two inches across that the user lays onto of something to protect.  If the disk is moved, it sends an alarm to a mobile phone.  So, if you can download an app to your phone, plug an ethernet cable into a router, and press a button you can have a security system installed in minutes.

We sat down with company co-founder Chris Thomas to get the skinny on the unusual product.  Check it out.

Connect Tech's Qseven at core of military VR system

Connect Tech, based in Ontario, Canada, designs and manufactures serial communication hardware and software for a range of industries, including communications, industrial automation, transportation, government, military, scientific, medical, educational, POS, and office automation. At DesignWest, they exhibited a military training system from Quantum3D, that was driven by custom single-board computer, built on Connect Tech's Qseven Carrier board with an Intel® Atom™ processor.  New Tech Press dropped by and had a bit of fun with the team.

Learn more at element14.com

Teen robotics team learns realities of high-tech product development

By Lou CoveyNew Tech Press Editorial Director

The FIRST national robotics championship brings together teams from high schools and high school districts from all over the US to solve a particular set of challenges every year.  At this year's competition in St. Louis, Missouri, the week of April 23, the teams will work cooperatively in a series of 3-on-3 basketball games using homegrown robots, mostly student designed.

One of the veteran groups, Team 100 from the Sequoia Union High School District in San Mateo County, California is going to the competition as a "wild card" participant.  The team has had a long experience in the competition going back to 1995 (national champion.)  In the path toward their current creation, the team found that what the basic design provided was not sufficient for the task.

Woodside High School junior Andrew Blatner, part of the electronics engineering crew for Team 100, said the standard CAN bus (controller area network) that the teams use in their projects was insufficient to deal with the communication between motor controllers.  The team attempted to use a workaround that converted the ethernet signals.  "That still didn't solve all the problems we were having in competition so we switched to direct communication to individual controllers."

Team advisor Laura Rhodes said another problem was a limitation on the number of inputs the project needed, so one of the team members, Ethan Anderson, Woodside High School senior, brought up the idea of using an Arduino development board to expand the available number of inputs.  Anderson had some experience using Arduino in personal home projects and several advisors had additional input based on their experience.

A remarkable aspect of the project is how it mirrored problem solving efforts experienced by professional product development teams, as in the software phase of the project.  Connor Wake, Sequoia High School senior and part of the software sub-team, said several new aspects of the competition created unique software control issues.  The team decided early on to switch from National Instruments Labview to Wind River C++ to handle the use of cameras, motor controls for shooting the ball at different angles and speeds and to control intakes to avoid jamming.  New team members had to be trained in the use of the tools and legacy code integrated.

What was unusual in the project development was the lack of "walls" between the sub teams. Wake spoke in detail of the various mechanical aspects of the robot, and Anderson demonstrated more than a working knowledge of the software difficulties.

Rhodes said the goals of Team 100 students have always been to acquire real–life skills and gain hands-on engineering experience. Originally, the team consisted of solely of Woodside High School students, but in 2003, a large group of students from Carlmont High School, a neighboring district school, joined the team, soon becoming a permanent addition. During recent seasons, Sequoia High School students have also been added to the roster, creating the current tri-school team. The team's primary sponsor is DreamWorks P.D.I.

Read more at element14.com

Nabto offers development help for their worldwide firewall

Security in the "Internet of Things" is becoming a major issue in embedded, portable device industry and the tiny Danish company of Nabto is helping customers take a step toward securing new devices.  At DesignWest, Nabto was talking about the Nabduino, a Arduino-based development board with their tiny (less than one meg) webserver IP that can place your device behind the corporate firewall...anywhere in the world.  New Tech Press dropped by to chat with them.

Screaming Circuits finds silver lining in economic downturn

The economic downturn has had an upside for some industry segments. PCB prototyping service Screaming Circuits has seen business climb steadily since it's founding in 2003 as more companies have cut back staff and resources, stretching engineering staffs beyond their own capabilities. Screaming Circuits recently formed a relationship with Newark/element14 to offer their services to the element14 community. In this interview with Duane Benson, director of marketing and sales, Benson elaborates on the growing prototyping market in the PCB industry as well as the challenges and needs of their customer base.

Icon Labs addresses the security of the Internet of things

Embedded security was one of the many different tracks offered at the 2012 Design West Conference in San Jose bringing forth a wide variety of companies focused on securing the Internet of things.  One of the more unusual and possibly unique companies was Icon Labs that provides embedded firewalls, protection from the Black Hat world directly on your mobile devices, as well as the embedded internet in general.  New Tech Press sat down with Icon's president, Alan Grau, to find out more about this approach to data security.

RTOS Market in Turmoil

By Ann Steffora Mutschler Senior Correspondent, New Tech Press

With engineers clamoring for all things Android  and open-source, the RTOS market is experiencing some major changes – although that depends on whom you ask.

A new entrant to the market, FreeRTOS, garnered the top spot UBM’s 2011 Embedded Market Study.  However, Dr. Jerry Krasner of Embedded Market Forecasters has taken issue with these results.

According to his blog, Krasner pointed out, “In EMF’s 2011 Annual Survey of Embedded Developers…developers reported using an in-house RTOS (20.1%), Android (19.3%), XPE (16.5%) and Windows CE (15.9%). FreeRTOS was used by 0.9% of respondents. From our perspective, the suggestion that FreeRTOS use would exceed that of in-house, Android, XPE, CE, or VxWorks use is beyond any reasonable reality check.”

This of course has set the stage for confusion among all parties, as to which RTOS is really leading the pack.

There is no doubt, however, that internally developed RTOSs come out ahead of commercial ones. David Blaza, VP at UBM said there is a “stubborn percentage of developers who stick with their home-grown OS and the reason for that is that they invest a lot of time and money in it and they know how it works – it does the job. Engineers are very, very conservative: they don’t really want to change. Just the sheer investment in code is monumental for them.” But, Chris Rommel, VP at VDC Research pointed out, engineers are slowly shifting away from internally developed RTOSs because, “not every type of embedded type of device needs a robust RTOS.”

Users have stuck with in-house RTOSs mainly due to legacy assets and organizational issues. Plus, the scale of the organization or project comes into play – licensing a commercial RTOS can be cost-prohibitive to some companies, he said.  CE devices don’t have a real-time requirement but there is, however, a big difference between a simple office printer and the cockpit controls of an airplane.  Rommel did remind that it is not always clear cut in terms of OS choice since the value of the legacy work must be consideration in the decision-making process.

Krasner’s data also shows that in-house RTOS are still the biggest chunk of the market. “Year over year over year people have, as far as them writing new stuff, it’s not worth their money but there are an awful lot of people who have legacy stuff that they invested in 10 or 15 years ago and its much cheaper to hang onto that. The in-house stuff is not people saying they are going to spend six months writing their own RTOS – it’s that they have it, it’s legacy, it’s proprietary, its got feature that they want. In their mind, they are economizing what they already have instead of having to go out and pay.”

In terms of weighing various market research report results, UBM’s Blaza believes, “it is all about who is paying the piper, frankly. We just report what we see. We have the largest embedded audience in the world and we just report what we see and we had to put it in,” he said referring to the FreeRTOS results that some have questioned.

At the end of the day, the most critical data for engineering and marketing teams to get a handle on is what they want out of the market research they purchase or commission. As for vendor rankings…that may be best sorted out in a boxing ring.

Sponsored by element14.com