IoT News Roundup

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

SmartThings joins ZigBee board; Drone sniffs Austin ZigBee sensors; Punch Through Design blows past Kickstarter goal; Digi and Digi-Key offering IoT starter kit.

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SmartThings Joins ZigBee Alliance Board of Directors
SmartThings, maker of the eponymous smart home platform, has become a member of the ZigBee Alliance, a non-profit industry organization that sets communication and interoperability standards for wireless sensor networks using devices compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. SmartThings, a wholly owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, has joined the organization’s board of directors. Dan Lieberman, who heads research and standardization efforts at SmartThings, said in a prepared statement that “joining the [ZigBee Alliance] board of directors will open up even more opportunities for collaboration as we look to deliver the best smart home experience possible to consumers for enhanced peace of mind, security and convenience in their everyday lives.”

Comcast Cable, Freescale Semiconductor, Itron, The Kroger Co., Landis+Gyr, Legrand Group, NXP Semiconductors, Philips, Schneider Electric, Silicon Labs, Texas Instruments and Wulian are also on the ZigBee Alliance board of directors.

This spring, the ZigBee Alliance and the Thread Group, an industry group that last summer introduced the Thread 6LoWPAN-based mesh-networking standard, announced a collaboration which will allow ZigBee products to run Thread’s mesh-network protocol via the ZigBee Cluster Library application layer. Samsung is a sponsor of the Thread Group.

Researchers Use Eye in the Sky to Survey IoT Networks
Praetorian, a digital security consultancy, recently sent an unmanned aerial vehicle (or drone) out to patrol the skies above Austin, Texas, in order to map wirelessly networked devices—specifically, devices communicating via the IEEE 802.15.4 or ZigBee protocol. The project’s purpose was to create a map showing the prevalence of such devices, but the firm’s longer-term interest is to look for vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit to disrupt or eavesdrop on these networks.

To map the wireless activity, Praetorian constructed a module containing multiple ZigBee radios, as well as an integrated GPS receiver to triangulate the location of each ZigBee transmission detected by the module. Praetorian researchers mounted this module, which was able to detect and log the locations of ZigBee devices within a range of 30 to 100 meters (98 to 328 feet), onto the drone to conduct the mapping.

Praetorian also says it developed a methodology for fingerprinting smart devices communicating over ZigBee. This way, it was able to discern the original manufacturer of the ZigBee devices that the Praetorian module detected. According to the company’s website, it expects to be able to advance its fingerprinting capabilities in order to also detect the function (for example, controlling temperature or triggering lights) that each sensor performs.

Thus far, two residential zones and one commercial zone have been mapped in Austin, and an industrial area is currently being mapped, according to the Praetorian website. Nearly 100 different manufacturer fingerprints were discerned, through more than 1,000 detected devices. The majority of these were from devices made by Sony and Philips Lighting, according to the Praetorian map.

Punch Through Design Hawking Bean+ on Kickstarter
Punch Through Design, a hardware- and software-development firm, has raised $53,000, well surpassing its $30,000 Kickstarter goal, to fund the production of its LightBlue Bean+, an Arduino-compatible board that can be programmed wirelessly using a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) device on the OS X, Windows, iOS or Android platform. The Bean+ includes an on-board accelerometer, a temperature sensor and an RGB LED.

The Bean+ comes with a 600 mAh rechargeable battery, which can power the device for more than a year on a single charge if it is programmed for applications that require infrequent use. The Bean+ also has a micro-USB port that can be used to recharge its battery through an outlet or via a USB solar charger. A single Bean+ module costs $39 through the Kickstarter campaign (discounts are available when purchased in larger quantities).

Digi International Teams With Digi-Key for IoT Developer Kit
Digi International, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of embedded systems, routers and machine-to-machine network devices, has partnered with contract electronics manufacturer Digi-Key Electronics to offer a starter kit to help developers become familiar with Digi’s XBee Arduino-compatible IoT module. The kit features an Arduino-compatible microprocessor and three XBee modules (which contain ZigBee radios), an XBee USB adapter, the XBee application programming interface, LEDs, batteries, cables and other components, along with open-source software needed to build prototype devices. It is available exclusively through Digi-Key for $99.