Amazon Allows Real-Time Operating System to be Updated Remotely

Last year, Amazon announced it would take over the FreeRTOS operating system for microcontrollers running inside low-powered devices including wearables and industrial sensors. The company is putting its stamp on the software with libraries to support communication with the company’s cloud. Now it is lowering the bar for keeping the operating system protected against security vulnerabilities.

Last week, Amazon said that it had added ability to remotely update the real-time operating system, which has better reliability and more accurate timing than general-purpose software. With it, security holes can be closed and new firmware can be loaded in millions of embedded devices remotely and automatically. Without it, customers would have to disconnect electronic devices and update them manually, which could be prohibitively expensive or impossible without recalling the products.

Amazon Web Services vice president Jeff Barr said that customers can require electronic devices to verify inbound software, which helps to guard against corrupt, unauthorized or fraudulent updates. Connected devices can also prevent partial updates from taking effect to boost fault tolerance. The company uses communications protocols meant for tiny packages of code over limited bandwidth networks to make the most of the small amounts of memory inside microcontrollers.

Many other companies are moving into the embedded operating system market as open-source operating systems including FreeRTOS continue to replace more traditional, commercial software. The wide range of memory and computing requirements in the Internet of Things has aggravated the fragmentation in the market. Companies ranging from Greenhills Software and Mentor Graphics to Wind River and Mona Vista are trying to repel new rivals including Microsoft and Google.

Last month, startup Foundries said it would offer customers software based on the Zephyr operating system. The company sends continuous updates to prevent security glitches and other bugs from worming into applications ranging from traffic lights to autonomous cars, highlighting the importance of remote updates to reduce the costs of testing and maintaining security. Others embedded operating systems are Contiki, Mynewt and Arm Mbed.

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