To meet IoT product design challenges head-on requires thinking through multiple development hurdles early on. Designing an IoT product can be challenging: There are cost and time-to-market considerations on one hand, and on the other is the need to ensure that the final product has a user-friendly interface and runs smoothly. Ideally, a good design approach results in the best of both worlds.
These considerations were important in the efforts to design the iKeyp, a smartphone-enabled personal safe that protects against medication diversion and can be placed securely within a kitchen or medicine cabinet without the use of tools. An IoT product, the device features a keypad where a security code can be entered and an accelerometer that detects movement which, if triggered, sends alerts to the owner’s smartphone or smart device linked to the iKeyp.
Our many years of experience designing IoT products has taught us that enabling smooth communications between the application software and the device’s embedded firmware, as well as meeting key requirements that will make an IoT device easy to use, is often difficult. In designing the iKeyp Smart Safe, we faced and overcame similar challenges and are sharing details from design approach here.
Align competing requirements with underlying goals
According to Jan Niewiadomski, senior director of systems engineering and architecture at IPS, when first approached to help design the iKeyp, one of the biggest struggles was to meet the battery life requirements of using AA batteries that could last for six months while also enabling Wi-Fi connectivity. “The technical reality was,” Niewiadomski said, “that 24/7 Wi-Fi connectivity would drain the AA batteries within days.”
To address these competing requirements required a holistic approach. First and foremost, we wanted to make sure that the design we devised met the overall goal, which was to provide consumers with an easy, convenient, affordable and secure way to store and remotely access prescription medicine and other small valuables.
To meet these goals, and to meet cost targets, we were careful to select and package components in a way that would minimize parts and wiring to reduce costs and maximize usable internal space. Niewiadomski also had his team take a hard look at all aspects of power management, including how the device woke up, how and when it would be used, and how it would connect to Wi-Fi. Careful consideration had to be given to the location and range of the antenna. By minimizing communication to the app and the cloud services to only once a day or only when the device is touched or jostled, we were able to meet the battery life requirements while still providing a good user experience.
Collaborate to connect application software to device firmware
Another design challenge that frequently crops up in IoT product design is connecting application software to the device’s firmware. In the case of the iKeyp Smart Safe, it was important that the safe owner could use the app for security alerts if, for example, someone is trying to break into the safe, but also to enable remote access to the safe and/or its settings. This required communication between a third-party application (developed by another company) and the safe’s firmware.
We started testing with simple messages to work out the details. Similarly, for testing the app, we used an intermediate software that both sides could test with, so that we could independently confirm where the bugs were — cloud side, app side or in the embedded firmware. As a best practice, our teams work closely together and collaborate frequently, both internally and externally, throughout the process.
Make key strategic decisions early on
Another key factor in being able to get products to market quickly while containing the costs involved, is making strategic decisions as soon as possible during the process. When designing the iKeyp, we decided in the beginning stages of development that we would use AWS as our cloud provider. Making this choice early on allowed us to reduce risk by selecting a manufacturer and a Wi-Fi certified module that also supported AWS. Choosing a certified module was also an important early stage strategic decision. While it added a little more to the design cost, it reduced the FCC certification costs by about 80% and, more importantly, sped up the FCC approval process by three to four months.
Test as early and often as possible
To help ensure that the product can move from design to execution without delays, we also built several prototypes. The prototypes allowed us to test the full functionality of the product before the physical device was ready. For example, when the keypad is touched and the safe door opens, a sensor detects the open door. However, without a door or a physical unlock available we used a sandbox testing environment on AWS to test these features and make adjustments before production.
Addressing the multifaceted design challenges inherent with IoT product development requires spending significant time in the requirements stage, weighing design, execution and strategic considerations. By accurately planning and refining the design early on and working out technical bugs before proceeding to production, a successful IoT product can be developed and brought to market more rapidly and cost-effectively.
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