Posts Tagged ‘Mentor Embedded’

9 April, 2015

Big question on security of embedded devices.

An embedded device is only as good as the firmware/software running on it.  Icon Labs and Mentor Graphics have partnered to develop a security framework for industrial automation systems. Alan Grau ( of Icon Labs and I hosted a webinar to address this topic: Developing Industrial Control Systems which meet Security and Regulatory Requirements , which is viewable on demand.

We talked about a security framework that provides a number of security features to protect the device from runtime attacks. During the session, a question was raised about the ways a framework could be used to prevent certain type of attacks in which a hacker replaces the firmware on the device with their own malicious firmware. The question is very relevant as this technique was recently experienced in the real world to reprogram point of sale terminals at retail vendor causing a data breach exposing customer account information.

This question brings up a very important point.  If a hacker is able to replace firmware then they can disable security features and all bets are off.  All of the great capabilities of the security framework could be bypassed.  As such, secure boot is a critical security feature to ensure that embedded devices are running valid software from the OEM, and preventing these types of attacks is extremely important.

How does secure boot work?

Secure boot starts by executing a first stage boot loader stored within secure flash memory provided by the TPM hardware.  This boot loader is stored within protected memory so it cannot be replaced by hackers.

Also stored in protected memory along with the first stage boot loader is the signature and crypto key for the second stage boot loader.  The first stage boot loader calculates the signature of the second stage boot loader using the hardware crypto support and crypto key.  If the calculated signature for the second stage boot loader matches the stored signature, we know the second stage boot loader is valid and allowed to run.  The second stage boot loader repeats this verification process before loading the operating system.


Operating systems supporting loadable applications or tasks can repeat this process yet again with each application before it is loaded.  For RTOSes that are downloaded as a single monolithic image containing both the OS and apps in one image, this process does not need to be repeated at the OS level.  This process can be extended to validate libraries or data files stored on the device.

SoC Features with Root of Trust

The good news is that many silicon vendors provide features in their SoCs to enable secure boot and root of trust. The bad news is that implementation varies from vendor to vendor and even from device to device from the same vendor. As such, a turn-key, one way of doing things approach would not work, but we have worked with major silicon vendors to make sure that framework presented in the webinar could be used with their devices and use the hardware capabilities to anchor the software to the hardware while establishing the chain of trust.


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2 January, 2014

Happy New Year!  You may have noticed that we rang in 2014 by launching a new website this week, affectionately known around here as “Mentor Embedded 3.0.”  In addition to the obvious look-and-feel updates & rotating offer banners at the top of certain pages there are a handful of functional upgrades we hope you will find useful:

  • Improved site experience for mobile devices
  • Guidance for search with auto-suggest
  • Easier ways to connect with us via Social Media and Live Chat
  • Faster access to product and industry information
  • New Automotive Solutions information


Improved site experience for mobile devices

The amount of traffic coming to our site from mobile devices continues to rise and the new site provides a much better experience when you use a phone or tablet.  You’ll notice that regardless of your browser’s width or height, or as you zoom in and out, the page responds by moving and shifting the key elements around to optimize your viewing experience based on the device used.  Here are screenshots of our front page taken in a browser followed by a smartphone:

A look at the new Mentor Embedded front page in a browser

The Mentor Embedded front page viewed in a smartphone

Guidance for search with auto-suggest including auto-suggest

Now when you search we’ll provide auto-populated suggestions as text is inputted featuring various products, services and offers based on popularity of your search terms:

An illustration of the autofill function in the search bar

Easier ways to connect with us via Social Media and Live Chat

To make it easier for you to interact with us, ask questions or receive updates via social media we’ve provided additional access to our Twitter, YouTube and Google+ pages — as well as our RSS feed you can use to more easily stay informed.

The new front-and-center social media links

…and ever-present links in the upper-right corner for social media & along the right-hand border for non-mobile “Chat” and “Contact us” links on all other pages that we hope you will find useful:

Ever-present social media & rss buttons at the top with Contact/Chat links along side

Faster access to product and industry information

On both the left hand side and the body of the page you can more easily find links to learn more about Products and solutions for Industries, and the Services Mentor Embedded provides:

Easy access to key products

One-click access to focus industries

New Automotive Solutions information

You can now more easily find embedded software technology and services for Automotive including  ECU design with AUTOSAR, Infotainment, and  Instrument Cluster, Partners development.

Front page of the newly expanded Automotive Industry section

If you have any questions or comments on the new site, please email us at — we are always happy to hear what you think.  Thanks for your time & enjoy the new site.

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10 December, 2013

“When profits hang in the balance, get a Reliable Scale”  That’s a great tagline for an industrial scale company! Since 1984, the folks at Reliable Scale Corporation in Calgary, Alberta, Canada have been producing a variety of scales for agriculture, oilfield and industrial applications; including live animal & bin weighing, force sensing for pumpjack and wireline applications as well as general purpose weighing and custom load cells. Like many small companies, Reliable Scale is a family business with family values serving customers all over the world.

The Nucleus Innovate Program was particularly interesting to Reliable Scale for several factors given their requirements for a proven RTOS with rich middleware support and available for the family of MCU devices that will be deployed in their products. Moreover, qualifying for the Nucleus Innovate Program provides access to the Nucleus RTOS and Sourcery CodeBench tools for free. And free access to quality embedded software is something small companies and startups can really appreciate!

Reliable Scale will be using the Nucleus RTOS and the Sourcery CodeBench IDE tools on an Atmel ARM based Cortex MCU device.   The Nucleus BSP for the Atmel MCU board includes rich peripheral support including serial, SPI, I2C, USB, display, touch panel and NAND flash.  Many of these drivers and middleware are important to Reliable Scale’s application requirements.  Leveraging a complete
Nucleus BSP means the Reliable Scale engineers spend less time on integrating RTOS components and driver development, which frees more time for developing cool features for their family of industrial scales. Reliable Scale offers several product families, such as Model 680AGSX Sorting Weight Indicator pictured below.

More information on Reliable Scale Corporation and their family industrial scale products can be found here:

The Nucleus Innovate Program continues to gain momentum in the small company, startup and entrepreneurial communities offering a stable
RTOS and provide IDE tools from Mentor Embedded.  For more information on the Nucleus Innovate Program and how to qualify today, please visit:

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14 May, 2013

Free Nucleus RTOS source code? Just a few years ago if you would have told me that Mentor Graphics would be offering free-source-code for one of the most successful, popular and distributed RTOS’s in the world, I would not have believed it. Yet, for the last few quarters, Mentor is doing just that! The Nucleus Innovate Program was announced November 2012 and adoption is picking up quickly!

To date, semiconductor partners TI, STMicro and NXP are key participates. Having semiconductor support for the Nucleus Innovate Program is critical for two reasons: (a) the semiconductor partners are working with Mentor to create a number of new Nucleus BSPs for the Innovate Program which gives customers more choice and (b) Semiconductors have a lot of small customers who can benefit from the Nucleus Innovate Program. It’s truly a win-win-win for Mentor, our Semiconductor Partners and small customers!

There has been dozens of Qualification Forms submitted thus far. Many have been approved for small companies, startups and entrepreneurs who have received a free license of the Nucleus source code and Sourcery CodeBench Development tools. The community support and market response has been fantastic. In the coming months, we will introduce a number of new BSPs developed by our semiconductor partners and announce some new partners.

Innovation seems to be happening in lots of market segments. I personally review all Qualification Forms and have a good feel for the application types that are being submitted. For example, some example application segments that have been approved are: automotive diagnostics, wearable medical, motor control, industrial scales, water quality, fluorescence microscopy, radio control, satellite and flight simulation.

I’m delighted and please about the number of Qualification Forms and diversity in application types being submitted. It’s great to see the interest and adoption of the Nucleus Innovate Program in such a short time. Needless to say, I like it when an innovative plan works… so what’s holding you back, let’s go innovate!

More information about the Nucleus Innovate Program and the simple Qualification Form can be found here:

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6 March, 2013

The month of February has been a hectic one in terms of embedded activities in the industry, especially with two major conferences – the Embedded Linux Conference (ELC) in San Francisco and Embedded World in Nuremberg, happening within days of each other. The Mentor Embedded marketing team has been on its toes supporting these. Now that the conferences are behind us, reflecting upon them, I am sure my colleagues would agree that the effort we put into it was well worth it.

It would be grossly unfair if I did not acknowledge the effort of our engineering teams as well – both by patiently listening to our ever changing demands (hey, we are in marketing!) and by volunteering knowledgeable, industry recognized speakers to these events. In case you missed the Embedded Linux Conference in San Francisco, I’d highly recommend you checkout my colleague Sean Hudson’s presentation on building a custom embedded Linux distribution using the Yocto Project. Sean is an Embedded Linux Architect at Mentor Embedded. He represents Mentor Graphics on the Yocto Project Advisory Board and is also a member of the OpenEmbedded board.

In this talk, Sean provides an overview of the pieces of the Yocto Project including the structure of the build tree, explains concepts such as layers, recipes, bbappends, packages etc. and finally brings it all together in a how-to section with an example of using the tools discussed to track down busybox. If you are starting out with using the Yocto Project, I am sure you will find this talk useful.

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2 January, 2013

RTOS’s have been around for a long time in the embedded industry.   And with the introduction of the TI RTOS, Freescale’s MQX, FreeRTOS and several others, I hear all the time that “RTOS’s have become a commodity.”  And to some extent, I agree.   While every RTOS has its pros and cons with various features and benefits, selecting the right one for “your” application requirements can be a little tricky.  Certainly you’ve heard around the coffee pot that a kernel is a kernel, and TCP/IP is TCP/IP and USB is USB.  And don’t forget the tagline “you pay for what you get.”

We all know it’s never that easy!  When you step outside of a bare-metal application or even basic real-time kernel requirements and start adding things like connectivity, certification, power management and alliance affiliations just to name a few credentials, the RTOS evaluation process become increasingly difficult.  The answer: choose wisely.  Duh!

What about price? With all the cheap and free RTOS options available, why would ANY thinking person pay for and RTOS these days? Isn’t the RTOS business dead?  To some degree and for parts of the high-end market, yes it is dead in favor of higher end OS’s like Linux and Android.  (Note:  If you think Linux and Android are free, Mentor Graphics offers professional services to help you build, integrate and implement your free software.)

In the meantime, for commercial RTOS’s like Nucleus, the business is not dead at all.  There are a handful of popular RTOS’s in the market where the business is still a good, healthy and growing.  But why?  The answer is legacy, stability and innovation.  Since 1993, Nucleus has been deployed in over 3 billion devices worldwide, making it the most deployed and one of the most stable commercial RTOS’s in the world today.   Nucleus has been licensed by thousands of customers in the past 20 years who expect innovation to provide leading products for their customers.   To answer, robust connectivity, multicore support, Power Management Framework, out of the box BSP availability and Sourcery CodeBench integration provide a wealth of continued technical innovation from Mentor Graphics.

How about business innovation?    While Mentor Graphics offers a number of flexible business models for Nucleus to support our diverse customer base, there is a market segment of startups and really small companies who need an RTOS but don’t have the funds to purchase a commercial RTOS, which limits the available choices.  Not anymore! Mentor Embedded has introduced the Nucleus Innovate Program which offers complete Nucleus source code with seats of the Sourcery CodeBench IDE tools for FREE to qualified small companies.  Small company = < $1mil in revenues.  And there’s no rusty hook lurking in the muddy water to worry about.  Meaning, all product SKUs deployed while you’re a small company ship for free perpetually.  When your business becomes successful (i.e.:  greater than $1mil), you simply purchase a license type that fits your needs for new product SKUs going forward.  How’s that for business innovation?   If your company is smaller than $1mil in revenue, submit a short Qualification Form today!

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18 September, 2012

Freescale picked Beijing and Bangalore for their recent Technology Forum events – two very different cities, but some common themes at both events. Noticeable at both events was a tremendous appetite for new technology – around 1500 designers attended each event, hungry for new innovations particularly in the areas of smart energy, connected devices, automotive, and home-automation. China’s semiconductor industry grew by approx. 14% in 2011 to reach a record $43.5 billion – this growth was more than ten times greater than that of the total worldwide figure. It is an even more dramatic picture in India, where semiconductor market growth of 20% per annum is expected over the next four years. Both events featured presentation sessions full to overflowing with knowledge-acquisitive engineers, and demonstration booths surrounded several people deep.
Another common theme between the events was the high interest in Automotive Electronics – Asian car owners are expecting the latest in Telematics, Infotainment, and SmartPhone integration. Growth in car sales in China is approximately 25% per annum in an under-penetrated market. China has approximately 52 automobiles per 1000 people, while the U.S. and Europe have approximately 457 automobiles per 1000 people.
So there is a lot of room for vehicle growth on already crowded roads, helping to fuel growth in the automotive semiconductor business. Working against this growth is disposable household income – in the USA an average new car can be purchased for significantly less than the average disposable annual income of $27,000. In India, the average disposable annual income is only around $1,000, and an average new car costs 8 times this amount. As a result there is on-going pressure to reduce design and manufacturing costs further in order to address this untapped market. Many of the latest Freescale platforms allow several functions to be consolidated, helping to lower costs – expect to see more combinations of Instrument Clusters, ECUs and Infotainment Systems on one platform in future. Will the “car on a chip” appear one day?
Another central theme was the “internet of things”. Indoor base stations, known as picocells and femtocells, are predicted to be one of the fastest growing markets – by 2016 there are projected to be more than 55 million cell-based deployments per annum. Picocells and femtocells are low-power, small wireless access base stations located inside private premises for example a home or business environment. To operate they need a DSL or cable connection to take traffic back to the operator. Picocells are well suited to cope with the voice and data requirements of business users while Femtocells have higher capacity, and are therefore ideal for consumer applications such as Mobile TV. Freescale introduced the 28-nm chip with the interesting name QorIP Qonverge, an SoC targeted for microcells and metrocells— these cells will enhance coverage in dense urban areas beyond the scope of Pico- and Femto-cells
The combination of lower labour costs, high education standards, and lower manufacturing costs in Asia will present a growing challenge to design houses in the western world, and will help to keep us all competitive, but it is clear there is still plenty of room for innovation.

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