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Boeing boosts Myriota IoT satellite venture

Myriota satellite
An artist’s conception shows one of Myriota’s satellites in orbit. (Myriota Illustration)

Boeing’s HorizonX venture capital arm is participating in a $19.3 million Series B funding round for Myriota, an Australian startup that’s building a satellite constellation for the Internet of Things. This marks Boeing’s second investment in the company.

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How IoT could bring hackers into your kitchen

Internet of Things and the cloud
Pixabay Illustration

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tens of billions of devices, ranging from coffee makers to cars to spacecraft, could someday be connected to global networks thanks to what’s known as the Internet of Things, or IoT, and cybersecurity experts say that could open up a whole new universe for hackers and eavesdroppers.

Consider the humble coffee maker, for example: University of North Carolina techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci suggested that if Chinese authorities wanted to, say, root out Muslim activists in the country’s far western Xinjiang region, they could watch for the telltale sign of coffee or tea being brewed before morning prayers.

“Your coffee maker has an IP [address], and it might be at risk of identifying these people, because if I wanted one piece of data from the region, that would be my thing. … It’s a very synchronized hour, that’s the whole point of it,” Tufekci said here last weekend during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Holy crap, we were just talking about coffee making, right? And now we’re talking about taking people to send to internment camps,” she said. “These lines are not as far apart from one another as one would think.”

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Swarm raises $25M for space-based IoT network

Ben Longmier and Sara Spangelo
Swarm Technologies was founded by chief technology officer Ben Longmier and CEO Sara Spangelo, who is holding one of the company’s super-miniaturized SpaceBEE satellites. (Swarm Technologies Photo)

A year after making a $900,000 mistake, Swarm Technologies is raking in $25 million in a funding round aimed at getting a constellation of sandwich-sized satellites up and running for the Internet of Things.

Getting the constellation in orbit could open up a big frontier for tiny satellites within the next year and a half.

“We’re just excited to get launched and get our network up there and start offering global, affordable internet,” said Swarm CEO Sara Spangelo, a veteran of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Alphabet’s X “moonshot factory.”

The satellites, known as SpaceBEEs, are so small that the Federal Communications Commission turned down the Silicon Valley startup’s application for a launch license last January. The mission went ahead anyway — largely because Seattle-based Spaceflight, the company that was taking care of the logistics for liftoff aboard an Indian PSLV rocket, didn’t know Swarm’s application had been rejected.

Last month, Swarm agreed to pay the FCC’s hefty fine, submit to closer oversight for the next three years and draw up a detailed plan for compliance with the agency’s rules. “It’s probably sufficient to say we take all compliance issues very seriously,” Spangelo told GeekWire.

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Bees with backpacks can turn into sensor swarms

Bee with backpack
Bees with “backpacks” can still eat, control their flight and perform other normal behavior.
(University of Washington via YouTube)

Bees with tiny electronic devices on their backs could sound like a researcher’s dream come true, or like a science-fiction novelist’s nightmare come true.

Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, prefers the optimistic view. He and his colleagues at UW have found a way to pack environmental sensors into a backpack small enough for a bumblebee to carry.

The approach, which the UW team calls “Living IoT,” brings significant advantages over the human-made kind of drones.

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Not even Congress can keep up with IoT security

IoT security panel
Moderator Mark Harris of The Economist leads a discussion about IoT security with Finite State CEO Matt Wyckhouse, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene and University of Washington computer scientist Franziska Roesner at the GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

For years, computer industry leaders have been talking about creating a seal of approval that would assure consumers that their connected devices would be safeto use on the Internet of Things, just as past generations had Underwriters Laboratories or the Good Housekeeping seal to lean on. Why is that so hard to do?

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., says it’s because the IoT market is moving so quickly that what seems secure today may not be so tomorrow.

“There was a time when we had something more static, you could say that it’s got this particular validator on the box, and you knew that it would potentially be good for years to come,” DelBene, who co-founded the Congressional Caucus on the Internet of Things in 2015, said today at the GeekWire Summit. “How do we make sure that if something’s there, it’s really going to mean something months or years down the line, given how much things are changing?”

She and other experts on agreed that security assurances will become increasingly necessary as the number of IoT devices, ranging from webcams to smart speakers to kitchen appliances, mushrooms from an estimated 11 billion today to more than 20 billion in 2020.

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Boeing funds Australian IoT satellite venture

IoT satellite
Myriota makes use of a satellite-based communications system to monitor Internet of Things devices. (Myriota via YouTube)

Boeing’s HorizonX venture capital arm has made its first investment outside the U.S., as part of a $15 million Series A funding round for an Australian satellite-based IoT startup called Myriota.

Myriota makes use of low-power micro-transmitters to connect with a constellation of nanosatellites that’s operated in league with Canada-based exactEarth, and send snippets of data from remote sensors to a cloud-based processing platform.

The system could let farmers know how full their water tanks are, for example, or monitor personal “black-box recorders” worn by soldiers on the battlefield.

Myriota says its system fills a need that’s likely to become more urgent in the years ahead, due to the proliferation of connected devices known collectively as the Internet of Things, or IoT. By 2025, there could be as many as 75 billion connected devices, generating trillions of dollars annually, analysts say.

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Kepler expands ‘Internet of Things’ to space

Toronto-based Kepler Communications says its first Ku-band telecommunications satellite is in working order after a Jan. 19 launch from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The Kipp nanosatellite, which is about the size of a loaf of bread, was one of six spacecraft delivered to orbit by a Long March 11 rocket. It’s designed to demonstrate technologies for providing in-space connectivity between spacecraft — and potentially for networks of connected devices on Earth, also known as the Internet of Things.

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These sensors could widen Internet of Things

Skin sensor patch
This flexible epidermal patch prototype successfully transmitted information across a 3,300-square-foot atrium. Such a patch could be used to collect and wirelessly transmit medical data. (University of Washington Photo / Dennis Wise)

Researchers at the University of Washington have been working for years on a radio backscatter system that can monitor ultra-low-power sensors wirelessly, and now they’ve fine-tuned the system to pick up signals from more than a mile away.

They say the technology could lead to “smart” contact lenses and skin patches that can track your vital signs and send in the data for instant medical analysis.

And that’s not all: Long-range backscatter sensors might well open up whole new frontiers for the Internet of Things.

“People have been talking about embedding connectivity into everyday objects such as laundry detergent, paper towels and coffee cups for years, but the problem is the cost and power consumption to achieve this,” Vamsi Talla, chief technology officer of Jeeva Wireless, said today in a UW news release. “This is the first wireless system that can inject connectivity into any device with very minimal cost.”

Jeeva Wireless, which was founded by Talla and other UW researchers, is aiming to commercialize the technology within the next few months.

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You could win $25,000 in IoT security contest

Internet of Things
The IoT Home Inspector Challenge is aimed at heading off new types of home-based network vulnerabilities. (FTC Graphic)

The Internet of Things can be a rough neighborhood, as October’s massive botnet attack illustrated – and so, in an attempt to head off future hacks, the Federal Trade Commission has organized a contest for IoT security tools.

It’s offering prizes worth up to $25,000 for the top entries.

The FTC’s IoT Home Inspector Challenge is open to developers who come up with tools to address security vulnerabilities caused by out-of-date software in devices that range from webcams to, um, kitchen ranges.

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