Microchip AC164160 Secure IoT Sensor Node

January 21, 2019 Jeremy Cook, Contributing Editor

When it comes to IoT devices, it seems that security often takes a back seat. After all, does it really matter if nefarious characters know the temperature and humidity outside of your house, or even whether there is a package or cat in view of your security camera? Unfortunately, as seen with malware like Mirai — which created a massive botnet of IP cameras using little more than a table of common factory default password settings — IoT security can be a very big deal.

Switching up passwords is of course a good first line of defense, but what if you want to take security well beyond that level without becoming intimately familiar with infosec concepts? Such is the promise of Microchip’s AC164160 AVR-IoT sensor node that Digi-Key is giving away this month through Embedded Computing’s website. This development/evaluation board features Wi-Fi connectivity, an ATmega4808 processor, and an ATECC608A cryptographic co-processor to restrict data to authorized users and systems.

Depending on your needs, the device could serve as an excellent jumping off point for the use of a cryptographic processor in your design, and is set up to interface with Google Cloud out of the box. This board could be used to evaluate high security applications like industrial control monitoring without having to design your own board from scratch during the development phase.

For those who would like to make something directly with this board, whether for personal use or for small production runs, its array of exposed output pins makes it capable of a wide range of use cases as-is. In addition, it comes with onboard temperature and light sensors, as well as a LiPo battery connector, meaning that it can be used for remote monitoring applications without any modifications or extra hardware.

Internet monitoring in “30 seconds flat”

Setup-wise, the AVR-IoT Sensor Node page makes the bold claim that you can “Get your things on the Internet in 30 seconds flat” with this system. While I was initially skeptical, this does in fact appear to be true. You simply plug it to your computer via its micro-USB connector, where it will be recognized as a drive called “CURIOSITY.” Inside is an HTML document aptly named “CLICK-ME.” This takes you to a web page where you fill in the appropriate SSID and password information. Once filled in, you simply download the configuration file and transfer it to the module, and like magic, light and temperature readings appear before your eyes.

Going beyond this demo will take a bit more yak shaving, including installing and working with Atmel Studio or one of several other appropriate IDEs if you haven’t worked with this type of chip before. You’ll then need to set up your sensor node or nodes to do your bidding. The good news here is that you won’t have to start entirely from scratch. There are several examples for these modules on Microchip’s START page, along with an entire video series to help get you started. Given its capabilities and the available support, this board is certainly worth considering for secure IoT applications!

Jeremy S. Cook is a freelance tech journalist and engineering consultant with over 10 years of factory automation experience. An avid maker and experimenter, you can follow him on Twitter [https://twitter.com/JeremySCook], or see his electromechanical exploits on the Jeremy S. Cook YouTube Channel! [https://www.youtube.com/c/jeremyscook

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