Monthly Archives: April 2015

Making the 8051 Secure from Hacking in the Smart Home Internet of Things

By Jonah McLeod, Silicon Valley Blogger

Jauher Zaidi, Chairman and Chief Innovation Officer of Palmchip Corp. based in Temecula, Calif. is bullish on the 8-bit 8051 CPU core for applications in the smart home Internet of Things (IoT). This is a market that Park Associates predicts will grow from 25 million units this year to nearly 36 million units in 3017. Zaidi makes the case for why the 8051 is the odd-on favorite to win seats in this lucrative, growing market. He also explains why security is an integral part of the final solution and how his company is contributing to making the solution more secure.

Park Associates details the IoT elements in the smart home that are seeing growth. “Units of smart home devices include smart thermostats, networked cameras, smart door locks, smart water leak detectors, smart smoke detectors, smart carbon monoxide detectors, and smart light bulbs, smart light switches, smart plugs and outlets, and smart power strips,” declared the Park Associates white paper “Smart Home Ecosystem: IoT and Consumers.” The white paper stated that smart home devices have processing intelligence and Internet connectivity through a home network for remote access, monitoring, and control capabilities.

Zaidi stated that the simple, well-understood, and long-serving 8-bit 8051 provides the processing intelligence and connectedness for many IoT devices. He cited the smart LED light bulb as an example. It performs the bulb’s straightforward on-off or dim function. The bulb’s other requirement is to run the communications protocol for Wireline, Zigbee, and Bluetooth. In operation, the homeowner on installing the light bulb(s) connects them to the network just as he would attach any wireline or wireless device by pairing the device to the router.  Thereafter, the homeowner controls the devices through the cloud or WiFi using a smart phone, tablet, and/or PC.

Back in mid-2011, Greenvity Communications Inc., a Milpitas, Calif.-based startup, licensed Palmchip’s AcurX51 Smart Grid Platform.  The platform included an 8051 CPU core and PalmSecure Engine that provides secure data communication between gate way and device with AES secure key encryption. Any commands coming to the 8051 presents a key that is validated against a stored key within the 8051. The random key is changed at intervals to provide an extra layer of security by the cloud providing the smart home service. Zaidi said the 8051 is still the preferred choice in half of the designs going into smart home IoT applications, like thermostats, door-locks, garage door openers, washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and microwaves. The low price of the CPU core, its ability to operate on low power, and its small silicon footprint makes it a compelling choice, he asserted.

Greenvity is typical of the new breed of company building chip solutions for the new smart home IoT market. Begun in 2011, to focus on smart LED lighting, controlled street lighting, home and building automation, IoT sensors, smart meters and automotive. In 2012, the company rolled out its Hybrii-XL GV7011 containing the Palmchip CPU core and security IP, a chip that is no bigger than a U.S. dime and about the same thickness.  In January this year, Greenvity Communications and Mitsumi Electric partnered to develop and manufacture a complete IoT solution, “…modules, software, mobile apps and IoT cloud, that enable customers to significantly reduce time-to-market and development costs for energy-efficient, smart lighting applications,” said Greenvity CEO Hung Nguyen.

Greenvity faces stiff competition from giants Qualcomm Atheros and Broadcom. However, as a measure of how lucrative this market is, Greenvity attracted venture financing from Viet Nam-based DFJ VinaCapital as well as corporate partners including Mitsumi Electric.  With chips available to ship, a corporate partner able to help provide a total cloud based solution, all that remains is for OEMs to build home based products to proliferate the technology in homes.