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 » Rob Karpinski

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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Further Reading

5 More Things to Think About When Building a Combative Robot

5 More Things to Think About When Building a Combative Robot

Rob Karplinski - Project Engineer, Embedded Systems

By: Rob Karpinski
Project Engineer, Embedded Systems

18th October 2017

Home » Rob Karpinski

We all knew this day would come. The success of the show’s revival back in July 2016 reminded everyone how much fun it is to watch homemade robots smash each other to bits. Now Robot Wars returns for Series 10 this weekend.

By way of celebrating the show’s return and the community of new robot inventors it has inspired, here are five more things to think about when building a combative robot; the follow up from my first blog back in June.



At this stage, you would have established a good team and divided up the responsibilities, chosen your robot’s chassis and materials, decided on an exciting weapon, picked your motors and steering system and drawn up an eye-catching design that will wow the audience – now it is time to prepare for war.

1. Build as much as possible before the deadline

If you haven’t dedicated a good amount of time to the assembly yet – do this over the next two steps. In this sense, the saying “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” comes to mind, give yourself plenty of time to build the best robot possible instead of rushing it in the last 24 hours. You will need to be realistic when planning and building your robot so make sure to factor in time to correct mistakes. You will thank yourself for doing so. The application forms for competitions and the hit BBC show also requires time to fill out so it’s best to get started as soon as possible.

2. Design for repair

You will take damage. Most competitions will give you time to fix your robot between arena battles but this will soon fly by as you start tinkering. Make the best use of this time by designing your robot to be easy and quick to repair. You can do this by having easy access to key components like motors and wheels for starters. Practising the dismantling and assembling of your robot with your team also makes a massive difference here as multiple people can work on multiple parts of your robot at once. The faster you can get back into the arena the better.



3. Have spare parts

Repairs often involve replacements. If you are going to replace damaged parts from matches, you ideally want to replace them with an identical model part so it’s easier to fit. Should an identical or similar part be hard to come by then you will need to become familiar to adapting fast. Bodging things together is definitely fun and is as pressured as you would expect, however, relying on these last minute “that’ll do” fixes isn’t a great idea.



I would advise having spare wheels, drive motors (these are both very likely to get damaged) and pieces of metal to support or replace damaged armour panels. Depending on the cost of your robot, it can be hard to balance what to buy spares for and whether they will be used against your total budget. A robot can be expensive enough without factoring in spares; however, if they are common parts, like a popular motor size, then you may be able to reclaim some costs back by selling them second hand if they go unused.

4. Look after your batteries

A popular choice for most robots now is Lithium Polymer batteries, most commonly found in today’s phones (except these ones are much larger). These batteries are much lighter and more powerful than the types of batteries used by builders back in the original Robot Wars series. So robots can be better protected and hit harder but can be rather dangerous as a popular phone company found out in 2016. These batteries will need to be charged with the correct charger and frequently monitored so that they are not completely run flat after you’ve finished a match.

While size and capacity of your battery packs is generally unique to your robot, brushed motors typically expect around 24 Volts and brushless motors, though rare to source, can accept higher voltages around 48 Volts. Calculate how much power you are drawing from your battery during an entire match and then ensure you have enough capacity to easily meet it.



5. Practice, Practice, Practice!

You’ve built the robot and applied but you can’t sit back and relax just yet. Practice makes perfect and you should be getting used to the controls and thinking about tactics. What methods you apply in a match will largely depend on your robot’s strengths and weaknesses but here are some general rules to follow.

Avoid the front of robots that have flippers, being catapulted into the air may look majestic but the landing on impact can be devastating
Stop spinner robots from spinning up to full speed
Don’t just focus on the opponent, use the arena fully and take advantage of any environmental opportunities to cause damage
Having a team member whose job it is to point out new tactics or situations can help give you a competitive edge during battles

The more experience you get with driving and testing tactics during practice, the better you will do in the competition. It’s also a good way of finding any problems with your robot before entering the arena.

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We all knew this day would come. The success of the show’s revival back in July 2016 reminded everyone how much fun it is to watch homemade robots smash each other to bits. Now Robot Wars returns for Series 10 this weekend.

By way of celebrating the show’s return and the community of new robot inventors it has inspired, here are five more things to think about when building a combative robot; the follow up from my first blog back in June.



At this stage, you would have established a good team and divided up the responsibilities, chosen your robot’s chassis and materials, decided on an exciting weapon, picked your motors and steering system and drawn up an eye-catching design that will wow the audience – now it is time to prepare for war.

1. Build as much as possible before the deadline

If you haven’t dedicated a good amount of time to the assembly yet – do this over the next two steps. In this sense, the saying “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” comes to mind, give yourself plenty of time to build the best robot possible instead of rushing it in the last 24 hours. You will need to be realistic when planning and building your robot so make sure to factor in time to correct mistakes. You will thank yourself for doing so. The application forms for competitions and the hit BBC show also requires time to fill out so it’s best to get started as soon as possible.

2. Design for repair

You will take damage. Most competitions will give you time to fix your robot between arena battles but this will soon fly by as you start tinkering. Make the best use of this time by designing your robot to be easy and quick to repair. You can do this by having easy access to key components like motors and wheels for starters. Practising the dismantling and assembling of your robot with your team also makes a massive difference here as multiple people can work on multiple parts of your robot at once. The faster you can get back into the arena the better.



3. Have spare parts

Repairs often involve replacements. If you are going to replace damaged parts from matches, you ideally want to replace them with an identical model part so it’s easier to fit. Should an identical or similar part be hard to come by then you will need to become familiar to adapting fast. Bodging things together is definitely fun and is as pressured as you would expect, however, relying on these last minute “that’ll do” fixes isn’t a great idea.

I would advise having spare wheels, drive motors (these are both very likely to get damaged) and pieces of metal to support or replace damaged armour panels. Depending on the cost of your robot, it can be hard to balance what to buy spares for and whether they will be used against your total budget. A robot can be expensive enough without factoring in spares; however, if they are common parts, like a popular motor size, then you may be able to reclaim some costs back by selling them second hand if they go unused.



4. Look after your batteries

A popular choice for most robots now is Lithium Polymer batteries, most commonly found in today’s phones (except these ones are much larger). These batteries are much lighter and more powerful than the types of batteries used by builders back in the original Robot Wars series. So robots can be better protected and hit harder but can be rather dangerous as a popular phone company found out in 2016. These batteries will need to be charged with the correct charger and frequently monitored so that they are not completely run flat after you’ve finished a match.

While size and capacity of your battery packs is generally unique to your robot, brushed motors typically expect around 24 Volts and brushless motors, though rare to source, can accept higher voltages around 48 Volts. Calculate how much power you are drawing from your battery during an entire match and then ensure you have enough capacity to easily meet it.



5. Practice, Practice, Practice!

You’ve built the robot and applied but you can’t sit back and relax just yet. Practice makes perfect and you should be getting used to the controls and thinking about tactics. What methods you apply in a match will largely depend on your robot’s strengths and weaknesses but here are some general rules to follow.

Avoid the front of robots that have flippers, being catapulted into the air may look majestic but the landing on impact can be devastating
Stop spinner robots from spinning up to full speed
Don’t just focus on the opponent, use the arena fully and take advantage of any environmental opportunities to cause damage
Having a team member whose job it is to point out new tactics or situations can help give you a competitive edge during battles

The more experience you get with driving and testing tactics during practice, the better you will do in the competition. It’s also a good way of finding any problems with your robot before entering the arena.

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Further Reading

5 things to think about when building a combative robot

5 things to think about when building a combative robot

Rob Karplinski - Project Engineer, Embedded Systems

By: Rob Karpinski
Project Engineer, Embedded Systems

21st June 2017

Home » Rob Karpinski

Advances in computer science and engineering have brought in great change for robotics over recent years. From four-armed marimba robots being capable of composing original music to self-balancing quadrupedal robots capable of negotiating rough outdoor terrain, robotics has come a long way since the Roomba, one of the first robot vacuum cleaners.

However, if there is one thing better than putting together robots, it’s taking them apart again with other robots. With that in mind, and with the arrival of Series 9 of Robot Wars earlier in the year, here are five things to think about if you’re looking to build a combative robot for the hit TV show.

1. Get a good team together

Building a heavyweight, 110kg robot is hard and, talking from experience, there is a steep learning curve. It’s better to share this with a team of 3 – 4 people than taking it all on yourself. You may find it helpful to divide the responsibilities into certain roles like, design, construction, and buying. Alternatively, you can split the roles by system: drive, weapon, and chassis for example.

2. Choosing a chassis & materials

Most robots use a special type of steel, called Hardox, for armour. This wear-resistance steel is often used in digger buckets and is as strong as Titanium. However, unlike Titanium, it will bend rather than crack.

The limiting factor for robot size is the weight. A bigger robot will have to have thinner, lighter armour than you would have for a smaller robot. Keep in mind that an ideal robot is as small as the weapon and engine will let it be.

There is a growing trend to using Computer Aided Design (CAD) packages to design your robot. With many professional quality packages being offered for free by companies, this allows you to send design files directly to the metal working companies. They will then cut and shape parts of your robot for you, for a cost. This method is often quite expensive, however, will allow you to build a robot if you don’t have access to a fully-equipped workshop. Local makerspace/hackerspace communities may also have access to suitable workshops with metal working tools.

A good substitute for metal is a plastic called high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Using this resilient plastic can cut costs down and can be shaped with easily accessible woodworking tools. However, the thicknesses required to build a suitably robust robot leaves little to no weight advantage over using Hardox.

3. Have an exciting weapon

Robot Wars is an entertainment show, therefore the live audience and the viewers at home, will want to see destruction. Being a combative robot, it is common advice to plan the weapon first and then design the rest of your robot around it. Before getting started on the weapon, familiarise yourself with the Robot War rules first as they are quite specific. This is mainly due to safety but also to keep it exciting for the audience. Also make sure that your robot is robust enough to handle a hit from your own weapon.

Common weapon types are spinners, flippers and thwackbots. Spinners will do the most damage, both to your opponent and your own robot. Flippers are not as devastating but can be very impressive and effective if used tactically. It’s always entertaining to watch a robot sail a couple of meters into the air! Thwackbots are the simplest to make, but quite hard to make exciting.

4. Choosing motors and steering systems

In Robot Wars, if your robot doesn’t move for 10 seconds it will be counted out and you lose the match! However, if your weapon stops working, you can still dodge and push your opponent into the house robots or the dreaded pit.

Most robots use a 2 wheel tank-style steering system, however, 4 or more wheels allow for increased grip on the arena floor. Very few robots use tracks as they’re very tricky to get to work reliably.

The Bosch 750 brushed motor is a fan-favourite among the Robot Wars community as these have a good power-to-weight ratio. However, they’ve been discontinued now, so finding replacements and spares may be difficult but, because of its popularity, not impossible.

800W scooter motors available from China can make for good alternatives. The quality is not as great but they are more affordable and easily available. Regardless, having a brushed motor is recommended for most teams as they don’t require pricey speed controllers and are easy to set up. Brushless motors have a much better power to weight ratio but the controllers can be complicated so very few teams use these. Tune your robot for acceleration over speed as the secret to winning is quickly positioning your robot into a good spot to avoid the opponent’s weapon whilst attacking with your own.

5. Be an interesting robot

As a final note, have fun with it. Robots with amusing and interesting themes are more likely to be accepted than boring wedges or tin cans. LED’s are cheap and don’t require much power to light up your robot. Robots with great paint schemes, team costumes, and novel backstories can become hugely popular. Get the audience to buy into your robot with a catchy name that is easy to chant. This can be hard to get right but is worth the time spent. You can always run suggestions and ideas past friends to see what they think.

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Advances in computer science and engineering have brought in great change for robotics over recent years. From four-armed marimba robots being capable of composing original music to self-balancing quadrupedal robots capable of negotiating rough outdoor terrain, robotics has come a long way since the Roomba, one of the first robot vacuum cleaners.


However, if there is one thing better than putting together robots, it’s taking them apart again with other robots. With that in mind, and with the arrival of Series 9 of Robot Wars earlier in the year, here are five things to think about if you’re looking to build a combative robot for the hit TV show.

1. Get a good team together

Building a heavyweight, 110kg robot is hard and, talking from experience, there is a steep learning curve. It’s better to share this with a team of 3 – 4 people than taking it all on yourself. You may find it helpful to divide the responsibilities into certain roles like, design, construction, and buying. Alternatively, you can split the roles by system: drive, weapon, and chassis for example.

2. Choosing a chassis & materials

Most robots use a special type of steel, called Hardox, for armour. This wear-resistance steel is often used in digger buckets and is as strong as Titanium. However, unlike Titanium, it will bend rather than crack.

The limiting factor for robot size is the weight. A bigger robot will have to have thinner, lighter armour than you would have for a smaller robot. Keep in mind that an ideal robot is as small as the weapon and engine will let it be.

There is a growing trend to using Computer Aided Design (CAD) packages to design your robot. With many professional quality packages being offered for free by companies, this allows you to send design files directly to the metal working companies. They will then cut and shape parts of your robot for you, for a cost. This method is often quite expensive, however, will allow you to build a robot if you don’t have access to a fully-equipped workshop. Local makerspace/hackerspace communities may also have access to suitable workshops with metal working tools.

A good substitute for metal is a plastic called high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Using this resilient plastic can cut costs down and can be shaped with easily accessible woodworking tools. However, the thicknesses required to build a suitably robust robot leaves little to no weight advantage over using Hardox.

3. Have an exciting weapon

Robot Wars is an entertainment show, therefore the live audience and the viewers at home, will want to see destruction. Being a combative robot, it is common advice to plan the weapon first and then design the rest of your robot around it. Before getting started on the weapon, familiarise yourself with the Robot War rules first as they are quite specific. This is mainly due to safety but also to keep it exciting for the audience. Also make sure that your robot is robust enough to handle a hit from your own weapon.

Common weapon types are spinners, flippers and thwackbots. Spinners will do the most damage, both to your opponent and your own robot. Flippers are not as devastating but can be very impressive and effective if used tactically. It’s always entertaining to watch a robot sail a couple of meters into the air! Thwackbots are the simplest to make, but quite hard to make exciting.

4. Choosing motors and steering systems

In Robot Wars, if your robot doesn’t move for 10 seconds it will be counted out and you lose the match! However, if your weapon stops working, you can still dodge and push your opponent into the house robots or the dreaded pit.

Most robots use a 2 wheel tank-style steering system, however, 4 or more wheels allow for increased grip on the arena floor. Very few robots use tracks as they’re very tricky to get to work reliably.

The Bosch 750 brushed motor is a fan-favourite among the Robot Wars community as these have a good power-to-weight ratio. However, they’ve been discontinued now, so finding replacements and spares may be difficult but, because of its popularity, not impossible.

800W scooter motors available from China can make for good alternatives. The quality is not as great but they are more affordable and easily available. Regardless, having a brushed motor is recommended for most teams as they don’t require pricey speed controllers and are easy to set up. Brushless motors have a much better power to weight ratio but the controllers can be complicated so very few teams use these. Tune your robot for acceleration over speed as the secret to winning is quickly positioning your robot into a good spot to avoid the opponent’s weapon whilst attacking with your own.

5. Be an interesting robot

As a final note, have fun with it. Robots with amusing and interesting themes are more likely to be accepted than boring wedges or tin cans. LED’s are cheap and don’t require much power to light up your robot. Robots with great paint schemes, team costumes, and novel backstories can become hugely popular. Get the audience to buy into your robot with a catchy name that is easy to chant. This can be hard to get right but is worth the time spent. You can always run suggestions and ideas past friends to see what they think.

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Further Reading