Week in Review: IoT, Security, Auto

Combat drones; NSA tool; big auto merger.


Internet of Things
Paris-based Parrot Drones and five other companies were selected by the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit and the U.S. Army to adapt off-the-shelf commercial drones for combat applications as part of the Army’s Short Range Reconnaissance program. SRR seeks to develop unmanned aerial vehicles that have a flight time of 30 minutes, a range of three kilometers (nearly two miles), and a weight of less than three pounds. The drones should fit into a soldier’s standard-issue rucksack, with assembly in less than two minutes. The Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence also is involved in the SRR program.

Tata Communications put together an Internet of Things marketplace, intended to connect enterprise customers with IoT practitioners on a single platform. Frost & Sullivan predicts that India’s enterprise IoT market will have a compound annual growth rate of 35% through 2023, quadrupling the size of the market.

Academic researchers in Pakistan and Bangladesh propose to use algorithms to extract useful data from freeway cameras, providing “An Intelligent Monitoring System of Vehicles on Highway Traffic.” Artificial intelligence technology would go frame-by-frame through camera footage to detect vehicles and to record their locations and speeds. “The proposed framework … [which uses] pattern recognition, digital image processing, and mathematical techniques for vehicle detection, tracking, and speed calculation … helps in proper management of traffic flow, resulting in limited chances of accidents,” the co-authors write. “Furthermore, the framework can be used to detect and pull over the vehicles that violate traffic rules.”

The Sigfox Foundation is supporting an effort to protect rhinos in wildlife preserves in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Sensors are embedded in rhino horns and they provide the location of the animals three times a day; GPS data is sent to solar-powered base stations, which rangers access with a mobile application. Poachers are depredating the rhino population on a horrifying basis, with 769 rhinos killed in South Africa last year. The global rhinoceros population is estimated at about 28,000 now, compared with around 500,000 at the beginning of the 21st century. In Zimbabwe, 49 white and black rhinos have the embedded sensors. The Now Rhinos Speak project began three years ago.

Over the last five years, says Oliver Iltisberger, managing director of ABB’s Building Products business line, we have seen a shift from simple functions like thermostats, doorbells, and light bulbs to truly intelligent buildings that adapt to meet user needs. But one of the major misconceptions about smart building technology is that it costs too much and is too complicated to install. “These are myths that, as an industry, we need to dispel,” he adds. “With over 70% of the world’s population set to live in cities by 2050, we have to harness the enabling power of the IoT, combined with clever technology, to create commonality across the marketplace and smarter solutions that not only improve the quality of life for a building’s occupants – both at home and at work – but significantly reduce our impact on the environment.”

The EternalBlue tool developed by the National Security Agency for secretive spying and disrupting information technology infrastructure in other countries was stolen earlier in this decade and is now being used by hackers in China, North Korea, and Russia, this analysis notes. The NSA cyberweapon was most recently used to attack computing and networking systems in Baltimore, not far from NSA headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland. EternalBlue has been used in cyberattacks around the world, and its use is on the rise. Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity expert at Johns Hopkins University, says of the purloined cyberweapon, “The government has refused to take responsibility, or even to answer the most basic questions. Congressional oversight appears to be failing. The American people deserve an answer.”

This week in Huawei – the embattled Chinese technology company is fighting back against U.S. actions aimed at the enterprise, making its case in the courtroom and in the media. Huawei has filed a motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit it brought against the U.S. government during March in a Texas federal court. The motion and the suit are aimed at scrapping a provision in Section 889 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which specifically prohibits American government agencies from procuring telecommunications equipment from Huawei and ZTE. Song Liuping, Huawei’s chief legal officer, wrote an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, calling out the Trump administration’s moves against Huawei. The company this week also hosted a press conference at its headquarters in Shenzhen, China. “The U.S. government has provided no evidence to show that Huawei is a security threat,” Song said. “There is no gun, no smoke. Only speculation.” Philip Lind, vice chairman of Rogers Communications, said Huawei Technologies equipment should be prohibited from Canada’s 5G wireless network. Meanwhile, Huawei’s market strength in Europe, one of its best markets, is already being challenged by the Commerce Department’s executive order barring the company from buying U.S. microchips and other tech products, this analysis notes. More damaging is Google’s restricting Huawei’s access to Android-related software, which is used in many of the company’s smartphones. Finally, telecom carriers in rural areas of the U.S. are caught in the fight between the American government and the Chinese company. Huawei is a vendor to many rural U.S. wireless providers, while most of the biggest American carriers have shied away from buying Huawei systems, even before the current trade tussle.

FireEye reports that a network of fake social media accounts impersonating journalists and political candidates spread messages supporting Iran and criticizing President Donald Trump during the 2018 congressional elections. This operation, which came from unidentified, possibly government-backed groups, focused on promoting “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes,” according to the report by FireEye. Accounts were created last year on Facebook and Twitter; they were taken down in the wake of the November elections.

The industry shortage of qualified AI and cybersecurity professionals is continuing, according to a survey by OutSystems of 3,300 IT leaders. Among the survey respondents, 72% said it is difficult or very difficult to hire or train AI/machine learning specialists. Other skills cited: cybersecurity specialists (64%), IoT (56%), full-stack developers (56%), business intelligence/analytics data scientists (52%), and API/integration/backend developers (45%).

Deep Instinct, a cybersecurity firm headquartered in New York City, will work with HP Inc. to offer HP Sure Sense for preventing advanced cyberattacks. The software will be loaded onto HP’s latest EliteBook and HP ZBook laptops.

A 2008 Samsung Electronics laptop containing some of the world’s most destructive malware was sold to an art patron for $1.3 million. Guo O Dong, an Internet artist from China, created the work, titled “The Persistence of Chaos.” It was commissioned by Deep Instinct, which has offices in the U.S., Israel, Singapore, Australia, and Japan. The laptop is air-gapped, not directly connected to the Internet.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Renault are hurdling toward a merger that would create the third largest automotive group in the world, behind Volkswagen Group and Toyota Motor, producing about 8.7 million vehicles a year. The proposed combination appears to have the blessing of the French and Italian governments, if certain conditions are met. The precipitous fall of Carlos Ghosn, who led the Renault Nissan Alliance, due to his prosecution in Japan, apparently provided a spark for the merger negotiations, this analysis notes. What is unclear is the future of Nissan Motor, which previously resisted a full merger with Renault, a 43% owner of Nissan. Also in question is the fate of Mitsubishi Motors, the third party to Ghosn’s alliance, which has fractured with his arrests and detention. “Creating a global automotive powerhouse had long been the goal of both the ousted Ghosn and the late FCA chief Sergio Marchionne, who died last year without achieving his objective. But the motivations that drove their thinking are still relevant today, including slowing global auto sales, squeezed profits, and pressure to invest in new technologies like autonomy and electrification,” Joann Muller of Axios observes.

Uber Technologies brought its JUMP electric bicycle service to London, offering 350 e-bikes for rides around Britain’s capital city. Using the company’s mobile application, users will be able to unlock a bike for £1 (about $1.26), with the first five minutes of riding free of charge; after that time, the cost is 12 pence (around 10 cents) per minute. The JUMP bikes are already offered in Berlin and Paris, among other European locations, along with cities in Canada and the U.S.

General Motors will work with Bechtel to construct a network of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles. They will create a new company to build the thousands of charging stations across the U.S., without investing any money in that venture. The chargers will work for GM EVs and EVs made by other automotive manufacturers.

The company that proposes to acquire GM’s shuttered factory in Lordstown, Ohio, only exists on paper and needs $300 million in private funding to complete the transaction, this analysis notes. While the deal was announced with considerable fanfare earlier this month, the transaction may be months away from the finish line. Workhorse Group will have a minority equity stake in the new venture. Workhorse itself is in some financial straits, with less than $3 million in cash at the end of March, while suppliers are demanding payment in advance from the company, which is trying to get high-cost loans from hedge funds. GM said Thursday that it would spend $24 million to increase production of full-size pickup trucks at its assembly plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., where the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra models are made.

NIO, a Chinese rival to Tesla in the EV business, reported revenue of $243 million for the first quarter, with a net loss of $390 million, smaller than Wall Street analysts expected. The manufacturer delivered nearly 4,000 ES8 electric SUVs during the quarter, despite a reduction in government subsidies. “Looking ahead to the second quarter, we expect an even more challenging sales environment and anticipate overall sequential demand and deliveries to decrease, as competition continues to accelerate and the general automobile market in China remains muted,” Chief Financial Officer Louis Hsieh said in a statement. “Against this backdrop, NIO is focusing on rolling out our ES6 nationwide, and at the same time, improving overall network utilization and operating efficiencies.” The company has indefinitely postponed shipments of its ET7 electric sedan. It will instead develop another new vehicle based on the company’s underpinning EV technology for the ES8 and the forthcoming ES6 SUV, launching in 2020. Meanwhile, Tesla is reportedly reconfiguring its factory in Fremont, Calif., to accommodate Model Y production and manufacturing a refreshed version of the Model S. The Model Y is a compact SUV that will go into volume production in late 2020, while the Model S is a luxury sedan.

The Waymo unit of Alphabet is trying out autonomous trucks on Phoenix freeways, starting this week. The company has been testing self-driving passenger vehicles in eastern Phoenix and its suburbs, offering a taxi service to residents. The self-driving tractor-trailers use the same sensors going into the passenger vehicles, albeit configured differently.

Alaka’I Technologies of Hopkinton, Mass., brought out the Skai aircraft, a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The company says the vehicle can travel more than three hours on one tank, covering about 300 miles. Skai could be used in emergency response, freight distribution, and other applications, according to Alaka’I, which was founded in 2006.

Volkswagen is making changes in its battery-purchasing plan with Samsung SDI, valued at about €50 billion (around $55.6 billion), over concerns that the supply deal may unravel, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the matter.

BMW applied for a patent on a flying drone that would wash its vehicles. The drone could be kept in the vehicle and taken out when the vehicle needs external cleaning.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan would like to see more mobility technology included at the 2020 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The NAIAS 2020 Michigan Mobility Challenge calls for proposals on how visitors can get around the exhibition and transported to the Cobo Center from hotels and other locations in the Motor City. The Detroit auto show will be held in June of next year, after years of being staged in January.

Tern introduced the BYB bicycle, which has been under development for four years. It is a folding bike, but not an e-bike. The Taiwanese company is noted for its compact GSD electric cargo bike. Two BYB models will go on sale in July. The P8 weighs 32.5 pounds, with prices starting at €1,195 ($1,330). The S11 weighs 27.9 pounds and starts at €2,295 (about $2,554).

Lear Corporation completed an agreement with CARMERA as a development partner in its EXO Technology Partnership Program. CARMERA specializes in high-definition, real-time maps for autonomous mobility.

Siemens says its Mentor business brought out the Capital Load Analyzer software product for simplifying aircraft electrical design compliance and certification. Mentor also introduced the Calibre Reconnaissance functionality, which is being added to its Calibre platform IC physical verification portfolio. Advanced Micro Devices engineers completed a physical verification pass of the AMD Radeon Instinct Vega20 chip in about 10 hours using Mentor’s Calibre nmDRC software platform, running Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing design kits on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, using HB-series virtual machines powered by AMD EPYC processors.

Rambus is collaborating with Infineon Technologies to promote smart ticketing offerings for mobile and smart cards. The companies will combine their expertise in the CIPURSE open standard for mobile and smart card ticketing.

NXP Semiconductors agreed to acquire the Wi-Fi Connectivity business of Marvell Technology Group for $1.76 billion in cash. The transaction is expected to close by the first quarter of 2020. Marvell’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi business employs about 550 people around the world and posted fiscal 2019 revenue of roughly $300 million. NXP will incorporate the connectivity products in its edge computing platforms for applications in automotive electronics, communications infrastructure, and industrial systems.

Insight Partners bought a majority stake in Boston-based Recorded Future, a threat intelligence firm, for $780 million in cash. Recorded Future had raised nearly $60 million from Insight, Reed Elsevier Ventures, GV, In-Q-Tel, Accomplice Venture Capital, MassMutual Ventures, IA Ventures, and Balderton Capital.

Palo Alto Networks is buying two cybersecurity firms to bolster its portfolio in cloud security. It is paying about $410 million in cash to acquire Portland-based Twistlock Security, a specialist in container security that had raised $62 million in private funding from TenEleven Ventures, Rally Ventures, YL Ventures, Iconiq Capital, and Dell Technologies Capital. Palo Alto Networks also is purchasing PureSec, a serverless security startup in Israel, which had raised about $10 million from Square Peg Capital, TLV Partners, and Entrée Capital. Financial terms of that deal weren’t disclosed. The transactions are expected to close during the fiscal fourth quarter of Palo Alto Networks.

FireEye acquired McLean, Va.-based Verodin, a validator of cybersecurity controls, for about $250 million in cash and stock. Verodin had raised more than $33 million in funding from TenEleven Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Capital One Growth Ventures, and Citi Ventures.

TE Connectivity made an offer to acquire First Sensor, a German manufacturer of electronic sensors for industrial and medical equipment, for €285.6 million (nearly $318 million). First Sensor warned that it is not known if TE Connectivity will make an official takeover offer for the company.

CrowdStrike set the terms of its initial public offering, planning to sell 18 million shares at $19-$23 a share, which would raise $378 million for the cybersecurity firm at the midpoint of the pricing range. The IPO may occur during the week of June 10.

Uber reported a net loss of $1 billion on revenue of $3.1 billion for the first quarter. The ride-hailing company is spending heavily on its food delivery and freight businesses.

Alibaba Group is looking at a second listing on the Hong Kong stock market, a move that could raise $20 billion for the Chinese e-commerce giant, Bloomberg reports. The offering could come during the second half of this year. Alibaba went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014, raising $25 billion.

Volkswagen is expected to float the IPO of its Traton trucks unit next week, Reuters reports, citing people close to the matter. Traton may sell a stake of 10% to 15% in the business unit, rather than the 25% originally envisaged, potentially valuing Traton at more than €15 billion (about $16.7 billion).

Semiconductor Manufacturing International notified the New York Stock Exchange that it will apply for a voluntary delisting of its American depositary shares on the Big Board. The chipmaker cited “low trading volume and high costs” for the move. The Chinese company’s main listing is in Hong Kong.

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, where they will provide Internet access. The company, led by Elon Musk, plans to launch hundreds of these Internet communication satellites.

Audi is the first automotive manufacturer to join SEMI. The German luxury vehicle manufacturer is the founding member of the SEMI Global Automotive Advisory Council.

STMicroelectronics joined the Car Connectivity Consortium, which is working on smartphone-to-car connectivity.

The 56th annual Design Automation Conference takes place next week in Las Vegas, June 2-6 at the convention center. It will include a program on artificial intelligence and machine learning this year.


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