Ethics Whiplash As Sonos Tries Every Possible Wrong Way To Handle IoT Right

We’re trying to figure out whether Sonos was doing the right thing, and it’s getting to the point where we need pins, a corkboard, and string. Sonos had been increasing the functionality of its products and ran into a problem as they hit a technical wall. How would they keep the old speakers working with the new speakers? Their solution was completely bizarre to a lot of people.

First, none of the old speakers would receive updates anymore. Which is sad, but not unheard of. Next they mentioned that if you bought a new speaker and ran it on the same network as an old speaker, neither speaker would get updates. Which came off as a little hostile, punishing users for upgrading to newer products.

The final bit of weirdness was their solution for encouraging users to ditch their old products. They called it, “trading in for a 30% discount”, but it was something else entirely. If a user went into the system menu of an old device and selected to put it in “Recycle Mode” the discount would be activated on their account. Recycle Mode would then, within 30 days, brick the device. There was no way to cancel this, and once the device was bricked it wouldn’t come back. The user was then instructed to take the Sonos to a recycling center where it would be scrapped. Pictures soon began to surface of piles of bricked Sonos’s. There would be no chance to sell, repair, or otherwise keep alive what is still a fully functioning premium speaker system.

Why would a company do this to their customers and to themselves? Join me below for a guided tour of how the downsides of IoT ecosystem may have driven this choice.

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Modular Solar-Powered IoT Sensors

Bringing a product to market is not easy, if it were everyone would be doing it, and succeeding. The team at Pycno is in the process of launching their second product, a modular solar powered IoT unit called Pulse. It’s always interesting to get an inside look when a company is so open during the development process, and see how they deal with challenges.

Pycno’s first product was a solar powered sensor suite for crops. This time round they are keeping the solar part, but creating a modular system that can accept wired or wireless connections (2G/3G/4G, WiFi, LoRa, GPS and Bluetooth 5) or modules that slide into the bottom of the unit. They plan to open source the module design to allow other to design custom modules, which is a smart move since interoperability can be a big driving factor behind adoption. The ease of plugging in sensors is a very handy feature, since most non-Hackaday users would probably prefer to not open up expensive units to swap out sensors. The custom solar panel itself is pretty interesting, since it features an integrated OLED display. It consists of a PCB with the cutout for the display, with solar cells soldered on before the whole is laminated to protect the cells.

Making a product so completely modular also has some pitfalls, since it can be really tricky to market something able to do anything for anybody. However, we wish them the best of luck with their Kickstarter (video after the break) and look forward to seeing how the ecosystem develops.

When a large community develops around a modular ecosystem, it can truly grow beyond the originator’s wildest dreams. Just look at Arduino and Raspberry Pi. We’re also currently running a contest involving boards for the Feather form factor if you want to get in on the act. Continue reading “Modular Solar-Powered IoT Sensors”

Another IoT Debacle: Charter Offers Home Insecurity

If you are a glass-half-empty person, you’ll view Charter’s announcement that they will shutter their home security and smart home service on February 5th as another reason not to buy into closed-source IoT devices. If you are a glass-half-full person though, you’ll see the cable company’s announcement as a sign that a lot of Zigbee hardware will soon flood the surplus market. Ars Technica reports that after investigation it appears that some of the devices may connect to a standard Zigbee hub after a factory reset, but many others will definitely not.

As you might expect, users were less than thrilled. Especially those that shelled out thousands of dollars on sensors and cameras. This sort of thing might be expected if a company goes out of business, but Charter just doesn’t want to be in the home security business anymore.

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Home Safety Monitoring With IoT

Home automation is a popular project to undertake but its complexity can quickly become daunting, especially if you go further than controlling a few lights (or if you’re a renter). To test the waters you may want to start with something like this home safety monitor, which is an IoT device based on an Arduino. It allows remote monitoring of a home for things such as temperature, toxic gasses, light, and other variables, which is valuable even if you don’t need or want to control anything.

The device is built around an Arduino Nano 33 IOT which has WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities as well as some integrated security features. This build features a number of sensors including pressure/humidity, a gas/smoke detector, and a light sensor. To report all of the information it gathers around the home, an interface with Ubidots is configured to allow easy (and secure) access to the data gathered by the device.

The PCB and code for the project are all provided on the project page, and there are a number of other options available if Ubidots isn’t your preferred method of interfacing with the Internet of Things. You might even give Mozilla’s WebThings a shot if you’re so inclined.

Kerry Scharfglass Secures Your IoT Things

We’ve all seen the IoT device security trainwrecks: those gadgets that fail so spectacularly that the comment section lights up with calls of “were they even thinking about the most basic security?” No, they probably weren’t. Are you?

Hackaday Contributor and all around good guy Kerry Scharfglass thinks about basic security for a living, and his talk is pitched at the newcomer to device security. (Embedded below.) Of course “security” isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition; you need to think about what threats you’re worried about, which you can ignore, and defend against what matters. But if you’ve never worked through such an exercise, you’re in for a treat here. You need to think like a maker, think like a breaker, and surprisingly, think like an accountant in defining what constitutes acceptable risks. Continue reading “Kerry Scharfglass Secures Your IoT Things”

Speeding Up IOTA Proof Of Work Using FPGAs

Blockchain has existed as a concept since the early 1990s, but keeping a distributed ledger for IoT transactions wasn’t widely implemented until IOTA developed Tangle. The blockchain company was initially founded as a hardware startup and pivoted to work on transactional settlement for IoT. The Tangle, their distributed ledger architecture based on a directed acyclic graph (DAG) works as a “blockchain without the blocks and the chain”.

As its name implies, the Tangle is a web of transactions that references its past two transactions and a subsection of other transactions. Rather than miners and stakers being responsible for overall consensus, all active participants are involved in the approval of transactions. The transaction process requires the client to sign with their private keys, select two random unconfirmed transactions to be referenced, and perform proof-of-work.

The proof-of-work has an unfortunately high difficulty as you might expect. The process is similar to finding a nonce in Bitcoin mining, although the difficulty is set at a lower threshold due to the transactions running on lower-power nodes. Even so, since IOTA transactions commonly occur on small embedded platforms this can take several minutes to complete, a relatively long time considering these are mere transactions.

Since Curl-P81 hashes should be computed in parallel, they can’t be computed efficiently on general purpose CPUs. The PiDiver 1.3, [Thomas Pototschnig]’s port of the IOTA Reference Implementation (IRI) PearlDiver, performs searches for nonces. Because it runs on FPGAs, it is able to speed up the proof-of-work by a factor of more than 140 when compared to a Raspberry Pi. The FPGA is able to calculate one round of the hash in a single clock cycle, and a complete hash in 85 cycles (as well as testing for a valid nonce). Seven parallel hashes can be calculated at once, giving 15.8MHash/s at a frequency of 188MHz. The proof-of-work takes ~300ms on the FPGA when compared to 90s on a Raspberry Pi, so this is a significant improvement in speed.

Since the project is open source, the core can be used by IRI for creating a modified version of their PearlDiver.  The board can be used as a Raspberry Pi HAT, although it can also be connected via USB to work without the Pi.

While this doesn’t address the security concerns of using IOTA with personal IoT devices, it is certainly a significant improvement on the speed of their proof-of-work process, and the software speedup is incredibly satisfying to watch.

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Best Buy’s IoT Goes Dark, Leaving Some “Smart” Products Dumbfounded

Bad news if you bought several Insignia-branded smart devices from Best Buy. The company has decided to shut down the back end systems that make them work — or at least work as a smart device. On the chopping block are smart outlets, switches, a security camera, and an upright freezer. If you bought, say, the freezer, it will still keep things cold. But the security camera will apparently be of no use at all now that the backend systems have gone dark. The company is offering an unspecified partial refund to users of the affected devices.

Best Buy announced this in September, and the shutdown date was last week on November 6th. Not all Insignia products are impacted, just the ones that rely on their app.

Anytime we talk about cloud-based technology, there are always a few people who say something like, “I’ll never rely on anything in the cloud!” Perhaps they have a point — certainly in this case they were right. There are really two things to consider: hardware devices that rely on the cloud, and data that resides in the cloud. In some cases, one product — like a camera — might have both.

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