NXP launches energy-metering chip

The company has introduced the NXP EM773, which is designed to monitor power consumption in a range of devices, from smart appliances to the datacentre, but leaves encryption measures to the system designer
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Semiconductor company NXP has launched a chip to monitor and report on power consumption.

The ARM-based NXP EM773 is an SoC (system-on-chip) that NXP hopes systems designers and technology manufacturers will use in a range of devices, from smart appliances to datacentres, according to Rolf Hertel, NXP marketing director of smart metering.

"In server farms the chip can be used to monitor the energy consumption of servers," Hertel told ZDNet UK on Monday. "This is already done, but the EM773 will allow a more accurate picture of power consumption by embedding chips into the power supplies."

Hertel said that the chip, which was launched on Monday, could be put into smart appliances to communicate with smart meters over wireless. In addition, the chip could be used for sub-metering in industry.

Hertel said that the chip architecture primarily supported the measurement of power consumption, rather than communications, although he declined to give details. However, the ARM Cortex-M0 microprocessor supports various communications protocols, allowing systems designers to implement different standards. NXP has written an API for the chip, so designers can implement protocols of their choice, Hertel added.

NXP has built a demonstration device that consists of a smart plug containing the chip and a USB wireless dongle. The plug communicates with the dongle, which can be plugged into a PC or laptop, to display the power consumption of a device. The laptop can also be used to regulate power to the device via the plug.

There is no encryption or other security capabilities hardwired into the device, Hertel warned. Systems designers need to be aware that wireless communications systems could be hacked, both to disrupt devices and to falsify power consumption for the purposes of billing fraud.

"This is an important aspect that systems designers have to take care — communications with smart meters could possibly be hijacked," said Hertel. "There is no dedicated encryption engine built into the device. It's up to the application designer to allow security to be added."

Security researchers have a history of cracking NXP chips. The Mifare Classic chip used in travel smartcards, including Transport for London's Oyster card, was cracked by researchers in 2008. German ID cards, for which NXP supplies RFID cards, were hacked by members of the Chaos Computer Club in August.

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