Pete’s Posts Blog

Monthly Archives: October 2014

Don’t Hack My Light Bulb, Bro

The age of the Internet of Things is upon us. It’s about all anyone talked about over the last few weeks, as I visited the TSMC Open Innovation Platform (Sept 29th), ARM TechCon (October 1-2) and Semicon Europa (Oct 7-9).

I think Rick Cassidy, Senior VP of TSMC and president of TSMC North America, captured most people’s feelings when he kicked off the TSMC OIP saying: “The IoT is hot, it’s hot, it’s really hot.” Pete Hutton, ARM Executive VC, speaking at the ARM TechCon a day later, said “ IoT is a very, very exciting area for us and a very, very exciting area for the industry.”

There are, of course, two aspects of IoT. One is at what you might call the sensor level, where small, low power devices are gathering data and communicating with one another and the “cloud.” The other is the cloud itself. “IoT devices are expanding fast. There’s vast innovation going on in the space. It’s innovation driven by a range of people. A range of people from very large multi-nationals all the way to small groups of engineers in a garage. That innovation is going to create lots of opportunities. It’s also going to create massive volumes of data. Massive amounts of small data rippling through the network, rippling through the infrastructure.”

There is a lot to think about at both levels – how sensors will be integrated with batteries, energy harvesting devices, networking/connectivity capabilities, etc. on the one hand, and how servers will need to change and adapt to process massive amounts of data in the cloud and the “edge” of the cloud on the other.

What I found interesting in listening to many speakers over the last couple of weeks is how many people believe that the lowly light bulb might be how the IoT makes it’s way into your home. Light bulbs  have a ready energy source, they are in every room of your home and if they’re LEDs, they already have some computer functionality built in (through the driver chip). Yes, the NEST smoke detector has grabbed the headlines lately, but it’s probably the light bulb that will win.

Of course, this needs to be easy to use. As Simon Segar noted in his keynote talk at ARM TechCon, you don’t want to unlock your phone, find an app and click on it to turn on the light when you walk into a room. Nor do you want to have your light bulb talk to a server in Norway before it communicates with the thermostat (or your fridge/toaster/smoke detector/washing machine).

And you don’t want your light bulb hacked.  At SEMICON Europa, I sat in on a presentation titled “Secure Connections for The Internet of Things” by Dr. Wouter Leibbrandt, Senior Director, Manager Systems & Applications, Central R&D CTO, NXP. He said that while some parts of the IoT, such as banking, are very secure, the various parts are not well connected. There is considerable vulnerability through devices such as an internet-connected light bulb that would allow hackers to broach your system and gain access to sensitive documents and perhaps even bring down your whole system (or hold it for ransom).

How big the IoT is going to get is anyone’s guess. At the ARM TechCon, ARM founder and CTO Mike Muller said there could be 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020. A week later, at a SEMI press conference, Claus Schmidt, managing director, Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH, said he’d heard 80 billion.

Clearly, the IoT is going to be huge. But security, even at the light bulb level, is going to be critical.

Editor’s Note: My muse for the headline.. On September 17, 2007, U.S. Senator John Kerry – now Secretary of State — addressed a Constitution Day forum at the University of Florida in Gainesville. A student, Andrew Meyer, became agitated during a subsequent Q&A and was arrested. During arrest, the officers asked him repeatedly to stop resisting, but Meyer continued to struggle and scream for help. While six officers held Meyer down one of the officers stunned him with a Taser following Meyer’s shouted plea to the police, “Don’t tase me, bro!” The YouTube video went “viral” and now has more than 7 million views.