Nick Koiza, Head of Security Business, features in Cambridge Wireless News this week.

The role of IoT in facilitating effective safe city solutions is currently a hot topic. Plextek has been deploying numerous IoT sensor solutions over the years and in this article, Nick Koiza, Head of Security Business, assesses key drivers and strategies for successfully fulfilling smart sensing solutions from a public safety perspective.

To read the full article click here.

Can the internet of things save the planet? article image

“Only governments can fix the problem of global warming, right?

The massive change in behaviour that we need across the board is only going to happen because governments mandate it. Businesses and individuals will accept this and do what they are told, or will be incentivised to do so. I guess that’s how we tend to think it will play out…”

Our CEO, Nicholas Hill features in Disruption Hub this week.

To read the full article click here.

Principles of Industry 4.0 and the 9 Pillars

Dave Burrel - Senior Consultant, Product Design

By: David Burrell
Senior Consultant, Project Design

7th February 2019

Home » IoT

Industry 4.0 (i4.0) refers to the exciting area of automation within manufacturing including IOT, robotics, cloud computing and data management. We can look to the not-very-distant future and see robotics, sensors and integrated systems playing a huge part of a normal manufacturing process. With technologists and engineers regularly discussing topics like the “Smart Factory” and the “4th Industrial Revolution”, David Burrell, Senior Consultant of our Manufacturing Services, discusses what Plextek has been up to in this arena:

“It is interesting to see all the excitement around i4.0 and how we should all be getting involved. But in the end you have to ask yourself, what does it really mean and surely we have been doing this kind of thing for years? In reality, i4.0 is largely the repackaging and combination of capabilities and technologies that already exist; but providing the overall wrapper that enables total interoperability, collecting Big Data, manipulating it and then applying it as positive feedback to improve functionality and efficiency.

“If we look at the 9 pillars of Industry 4.0 below, I have assigned examples to each pillar to show how existing systems, technologies and ideas can be applied to the Industry 4.0 framework:

  1. IOT: IOT gives us the ability to realise Smart Cities: for example, we developed and implemented an intelligent street lighting system and network which can now be enhanced to incorporate collation of environmental data and additional video links.
  2. Big Data: Within the field of vehicle tracking, companies can now manage and interpret Insurance data to enable the interpretation of driver behaviour and accidents.
  3. Cloud Computing: Harvesting large quantities of data involves careful management, and providing a ‘Data warehouse’ facility to organisations is invaluable.
  4. Advanced Simulation: Complex algorithms and testing them allows for projects like inner-city intelligent parking or a ‘Dead reckoning’ capability for GPS denied environments to come to fruition.
  5. Autonomous systems: More systems in business are becoming autonomous and need less human intervention to provide effective results.  We’ve applied this to a transport scenario, with an interesting project recently completed around object and vehicle detection.
  6. Universal Integration: Integrating Factory Test equipment and a bespoke Manufacturing Execution System can enable remote access and feedback into product test yield, improving projections.
  7. Augmented Reality: By creating computer-generated perceptual information it is becoming easier to train your staff, even in unique and difficult conditions. It is very hard for example to provide training scenarios for humanitarian crisis aid or battlefield healthcare without risky in-field training unless you consider AR.
  8. Additive Manufacture: Application of AM techniques to achieve fast market entry and creative solutions is becoming more important in a competitive environment. I have previously written a blog on the 4 steps of Additive Manufacture.
  9. Cyber Security: Security of your infrastructure, both online and offline is a business critical factor. Bespoke systems design will ensure your organisations’ Data Integrity

Having all of these capabilities is all well and good but that is just the beginning, they need to be applied to something in an interconnected way within the manufacturing environment to be counted as Industry 4.0, but that is only an application specific criteria. Industry 4.0 is an exciting area as innovation is combined with sustainable processes.”

For an initial chat about Industry 4.0 and how we can help future-proof your business, then get in touch.

Industry 4.0 (i4.0) refers to the exciting area of automation within manufacturing including IOT, robotics, cloud computing and data management. We can look to the not-very-distant future and see robotics, sensors and integrated systems playing a huge part of a normal manufacturing process. With technologists and engineers regularly discussing topics like the “Smart Factory” and the “4th Industrial Revolution”, David Burrell, Senior Consultant of our Manufacturing Services, discusses what Plextek has been up to in this arena:

“It is interesting to see all the excitement around i4.0 and how we should all be getting involved. But in the end you have to ask yourself, what does it really mean and surely we have been doing this kind of thing for years? In reality, i4.0 is largely the repackaging and combination of capabilities and technologies that already exist; but providing the overall wrapper that enables total interoperability, collecting Big Data, manipulating it and then applying it as positive feedback to improve functionality and efficiency.

“If we look at the 9 pillars of Industry 4.0 below, I have assigned examples to each pillar to show how existing systems, technologies and ideas can be applied to the Industry 4.0 framework:

  1. IOT: IOT gives us the ability to realise Smart Cities: for example, we developed and implemented an intelligent street lighting system and network which can now be enhanced to incorporate collation of environmental data and additional video links.
  2. Big Data: Within the field of vehicle tracking, companies can now manage and interpret Insurance data to enable the interpretation of driver behaviour and accidents.
  3. Cloud Computing: Harvesting large quantities of data involves careful management, and providing a ‘Data warehouse’ facility to organisations is invaluable.
  4. Advanced Simulation: Complex algorithms and testing them allows for projects like inner-city intelligent parking or a ‘Dead reckoning’ capability for GPS denied environments to come to fruition.
  5. Autonomous systems: More systems in business are becoming autonomous and need less human intervention to provide effective results.  We’ve applied this to a transport scenario, with an interesting project recently completed around object and vehicle detection.
  6. Universal Integration: Integrating Factory Test equipment and a bespoke Manufacturing Execution System can enable remote access and feedback into product test yield, improving projections.
  7. Augmented Reality: By creating computer-generated perceptual information it is becoming easier to train your staff, even in unique and difficult conditions. It is very hard for example to provide training scenarios for humanitarian crisis aid or battlefield healthcare without risky in-field training unless you consider AR.
  8. Additive Manufacture: Application of AM techniques to achieve fast market entry and creative solutions is becoming more important in a competitive environment. I have previously written a blog on the 4 steps of Additive Manufacture.
  9. Cyber Security: Security of your infrastructure, both online and offline is a business critical factor. Bespoke systems design will ensure your organisations’ Data Integrity

Having all of these capabilities is all well and good but that is just the beginning, they need to be applied to something in an interconnected way within the manufacturing environment to be counted as being Industry 4.0, but that is only an application specific criteria.

Industry 4.0 is an exciting area as innovation is combined with sustainable processes.  For an initial chat about Industry 4.0 and how we can help future-proof your business, then get in touch.

Internet of things, plextek

IoT Security in a Fragmented Marketplace

Rob Karplinski - Project Engineer, Embedded Systems

By: Rob Karpinski
Project Engineer, Embedded Systems

22nd March 2018

Home » IoT

Since the rise of IoT, companies and manufacturers both large and small have rushed to try and capitalise on this growing technology and, arguably, there are now a lot of competing communication and connection methods for IoT products out there.

A lot of these are from the Eastern marketplace and are commonly produced by China to offer consumers a “cheap” alternative to Western products, provided by companies like Apple, Philips or Hewlett Packard.

This raises a couple of security concerns as consumers now face a commercial marketplace with a lot of similar looking products that all vaguely do the same thing but connect to the internet in different ways. A driving force in the popularity of Chinese products is their price, after all, why would you pay £179 for a Nest Cam Outdoor when you can get a cheaper Xiongmai camera module for a fraction of the price?

The Mirai Botnet

One example of unsecured IoT devices being exploited was the Mirai botnet scandal in 2016. To gain a competitive advantage in the computer game, Minecraft three college students unwittingly unleashed a botnet that spread across poorly secured IoT devices and wireless routers, slowing down or stopping completely internet access for nearly the entire eastern United States. The malware infiltrated a dozen different IoT devices (including CCTV cameras and digital video recorders) by scanning the internet for connected technology that still used the manufacturers’ default security setting. Researchers later determined that it infected between 200,000 and 300,000 devices overall (including Xiongmai products, initiating a product recall) – the largest distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) ever launched.

The “S” in IoT stands for Security

Due to the highly networked nature of Internet of Things devices and the rising privacy concerns over how device data is being used (or misused) in the profiling and targeting of people, ensuring a secure IoT device has never been more important for tech product companies that want to be perceived as trusted and innovative market leaders.

Playing an active part in this industry myself (both as an engineer and consumer of tech), I believe engineers should always stay focused on these technical, logical, and ethical challenges when evolving the use of this internet-connected technology. As a consumer, the majority of IoT devices are secure but always ensure you update your devices with the latest firmware and software updates.

Since the rise of IoT, companies and manufacturers both large and small have rushed to try and capitalise on this growing technology and, arguably, there are now a lot of competing communication and connection methods for IoT products out there.

A lot of these are from the Eastern marketplace and are commonly produced by China to offer consumers a “cheap” alternative to Western products, provided by companies like Apple, Philips or Hewlett Packard.

This raises a couple of security concerns as consumers now face a commercial marketplace with a lot of similar looking products that all vaguely do the same thing but connect to the internet in different ways. A driving force in the popularity of Chinese products is their price, after all, why would you pay £179 for a Nest Cam Outdoor when you can get a cheaper Xiongmai camera module for a fraction of the price?

The Mirai Botnet

One example of unsecured IoT devices being exploited was the Mirai botnet scandal in 2016. To gain a competitive advantage in the computer game, Minecraft three college students unwittingly unleashed a botnet that spread across poorly secured IoT devices and wireless routers, slowing down or stopping completely internet access for nearly the entire eastern United States. The malware infiltrated a dozen different IoT devices (including CCTV cameras and digital video recorders) by scanning the internet for connected technology that still used the manufacturers’ default security setting. Researchers later determined that it infected between 200,000 and 300,000 devices overall (including Xiongmai products, initiating a product recall) – the largest distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) ever launched.

The “S” in IoT stands for Security

Due to the highly networked nature of Internet of Things devices and the rising privacy concerns over how device data is being used (or misused) in the profiling and targeting of people, ensuring a secure IoT device has never been more important for tech product companies that want to be perceived as trusted and innovative market leaders.

Playing an active part in this industry myself (both as an engineer and consumer of tech), I believe engineers should always stay focused on these technical, logical, and ethical challenges when evolving the use of this internet-connected technology. As a consumer, the majority of IoT devices are secure but always ensure you update your devices with the latest firmware and software updates.

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All 'Things' to be considered in IoT

All ‘Things’ to be Considered in IoT

Richard Emmerson - Senior Consultant, Communications Systems

By: Richard Emmerson
Senior Consultant, Communications Systems

3rd May 2017

Home » IoT

So you have a great idea for an internet connected ‘Thing’. You’ve done the business plan, you’ve raised some investment, or maybe you’re staking your own money. All you have to do now is connect your ‘Thing’ to ‘The Internet of Things (IoT)’ and get the product into the market.

Well, there are a few things you should consider before you jump in.

How will the ‘Thing’ connect?

Surely that’s simple, everyone’s using LoRa (long-range, low-power radio), so I can buy some LoRa modules, connect them to my ‘Thing’ and I’m done.

Well, yes and no.

Range, Data Rate & Power Consumption

With any communications system, there is a direct trade-off between range, data rate and power consumption. LoRa is potentially a great system for IoT. When properly designed, it can achieve long range (typically 2 km in urban areas and line of sight in rural areas) and have a battery life that can last for years. However, data rates are limited to between 0.3 kbps to 50 kbps; with the longest range achieved at the lowest data rate. In the EU 868 MHz band, the duty cycle is also limited to 1%, meaning, at the lowest data rate, only 51 user bytes can be sent every 245 seconds. This is fine for a smoke alarm but unsuitable for a security camera.

For higher data rate applications, a 3G or 4G modem module may be a better choice, provided the power is available. For power limited systems, there is also the Narrowband IoT system, which uses the 4G mobile network with data rates between 20-250 kbps and offers impressive battery life.

What about base stations?

BaseStationLoRa can be used in a peer-to-peer mode (communication between nodes). To connect to the internet though requires some kind of base station. This could be a local base station installed in the home or office, or a wide area base station (LoRa-WAN). You might choose to supply customers with their own low-cost base stations, or take advantage of public networks such as ‘The Things Network’.

An alternative may be to use the ’Sigfox’ system. This has similar performance to LoRa but for a small subscription fee accesses an international network of base stations owned and managed by Sigfox. Unlike Sigfox and cellular systems, LoRa has the advantage that if there is no coverage then you can simply add your own base station.

What about the Antenna?

AntennaBoardThe antenna is a key part of any wireless system and is an area where many developers face problems. In order to work efficiently, antennas need an effective area which is made up of the antenna itself and the circuit board it is connected to. Look carefully at the datasheet for that tiny 868 MHz ‘chip’ antenna and you are likely to see that it requires a PCB of approximately 90 mm length.

However, this poses a problem for small devices operating at 868 MHz, as the antenna is unlikely to be efficient, and that 2km range you expected just reduced to 500 m or less. The antenna may also become de-tuned by the presence of breaks in the PCB ground plane, nearby components and caseworks require a matching network to compensate for these effects. For really small devices, it may be worth considering Bluetooth, which with its higher operating frequency of 2.4 GHz requires a smaller PCB, and, with the release of Bluetooth 5, can be used for local area networks.

So that’s it?

Well, not quite. LoRa and Sigfox use the licence free 868 MHz ISM band in Europe and 915 MHz band in the US. Both of which are prone to interference from other users. There is also the platform, encryption, data ownership, and regulatory approvals to consider.

So you have a great idea for an internet connected ‘Thing’. You’ve done the business plan, you’ve raised some investment, or maybe you’re staking your own money. All you have to do now is connect your ‘Thing’ to ‘The Internet of Things (IoT)’ and get the product into the market.

Well, there are a few things you should consider before you jump in.

How will the ‘Thing’ connect?

Surely that’s simple, everyone’s using LoRa (long-range, low-power radio), so I can buy some LoRa modules, connect them to my ‘Thing’ and I’m done.

Well, yes and no.

Range, Data Rate & Power Consumption

With any communications system, there is a direct trade-off between range, data rate and power consumption. LoRa is potentially a great system for IoT. When properly designed, it can achieve long range (typically 2 km in urban areas and line of sight in rural areas) and have a battery life that can last for years. However, data rates are limited to between 0.3 kbps to 50 kbps; with the longest range achieved at the lowest data rate. In the EU 868 MHz band, the duty cycle is also limited to 1%, meaning, at the lowest data rate, only 51 user bytes can be sent every 245 seconds. This is fine for a smoke alarm but unsuitable for a security camera.

For higher data rate applications, a 3G or 4G modem module may be a better choice, provided the power is available. For power limited systems, there is also the Narrowband IoT system, which uses the 4G mobile network with data rates between 20-250 kbps and offers impressive battery life.

What about base stations?

BaseStationLoRa can be used in a peer-to-peer mode (communication between nodes). To connect to the internet though requires some kind of base station. This could be a local base station installed in the home or office, or a wide area base station (LoRa-WAN). You might choose to supply customers with their own low-cost base stations, or take advantage of public networks such as ‘The Things Network’.

An alternative may be to use the ’Sigfox’ system. This has similar performance to LoRa but for a small subscription fee accesses an international network of base stations owned and managed by Sigfox. Unlike Sigfox and cellular systems, LoRa has the advantage that if there is no coverage then you can simply add your own base station.

What about the Antenna?

AntennaBoardThe antenna is a key part of any wireless system and is an area where many developers face problems. In order to work efficiently, antennas need an effective area which is made up of the antenna itself and the circuit board it is connected to. Look carefully at the datasheet for that tiny 868 MHz ‘chip’ antenna and you are likely to see that it requires a PCB of approximately 90 mm length.

However, this poses a problem for small devices operating at 868 MHz, as the antenna is unlikely to be efficient, and that 2km range you expected just reduced to 500 m or less. The antenna may also become de-tuned by the presence of breaks in the PCB ground plane, nearby components and caseworks require a matching network to compensate for these effects. For really small devices, it may be worth considering Bluetooth, which with its higher operating frequency of 2.4 GHz requires a smaller PCB, and, with the release of Bluetooth 5, can be used for local area networks.

So that’s it?

Well, not quite. LoRa and Sigfox use the licence free 868 MHz ISM band in Europe and 915 MHz band in the US. Both of which are prone to interference from other users. There is also the platform, encryption, data ownership, and regulatory approvals to consider.

Save

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