As IoT solutions continue to expand their audience, the work they’ll be tasked with will be increasingly complex. For example, smart cities will feature IoT connected surveillance, automated transportation, smarter energy management systems and environmental monitoring. In healthcare, IoT monitoring of vital signs will help patients avoid infections and assist in earlier care of medical conditions.
However, more complex solutions require more attention to product design details. Common mistakes companies make when they embark on an IoT design project can delay or even cripple implementation. Here are six IoT design mistakes to watch out for — once they’re identified, they are simple to avoid.
- Failing to determine whether the product should even be connected. Technology for technology’s sake is an expensive indulgence few companies can afford, yet it happens more often that you’d think. It commonly happens when an executive wants to enter the IoT world in an attempt to be part of a trending technology. Without a clear rationale, the project will flounder. Solid research conducted before embarking on a project will inform your decision and determine whether the device you’re designing should even be connected. If the proposed IoT product is determined to be viable, that initial research will serve as a reference point throughout the design process. When a decision needs to be made or is challenged, the research will help provide guidance.
- Selecting a hardware platform that can’t scale. When adding intelligence to a product that wasn’t connected before, many startups select hobbyist-grade boards. The trouble is, successful IoT products are not mass produced in Dave Packard’s garage: If the device takes off, production can’t scale, because you can’t source thousands of that type of hobbyist board. Do your research and think big: Only source components for your product that will be available and inexpensive to buy now and in the future.
- Ignoring the cost of meeting regulatory requirements. Regulatory testing is another important part of any IoT product design effort. Regulatory requirements and required certifications must be factored into the design. Because they are connected, IoT products must be tested for radiated emissions and susceptibility. If they plug into an outlet, conducted emissions and susceptibility could come into play. Additionally, cellular carrier testing must be performed. Such tests can be costly and time consuming. Selecting components that are pre-certified will drastically cut down those efforts. Pre-certified parts are more expensive, but they eliminate the headaches involved with getting certifications later. Definitely the way to go for an initial market offering.
- Tacking security on at the end of your design effort. Security needs to be baked into your IoT design process, not added on as an afterthought. It’s a must-have feature, not simply a nice-to-have one. The number of connected devices is astounding. Already there are more connected devices than people on the planet, according to Norio Nakajima, an executive vice president at Murata. By 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices, outnumbering people by more than 6 to 1. The potential for a breach is enormous, and the results could be devastating. Bad guys often scan for poor or misconfigured security. Consider end-to-end security mechanisms, end-to-end data encryption, access and authorization control and activity auditing.
- Underestimating the importance of an honest-to-goodness design firm. While many startups spend a lot of time researching the contract manufacturers that will handle product assembly, they don’t do their due diligence when selecting a product designer. The common problem is that contract manufacturers will include the skills of their design engineers on staff, and startups enjoy the convenience of this approach. While it might save some time and money initially, these designers often don’t have the skills or expertise necessary that a more focused shop typically will. Nothing burns through a budget as quickly as having to redesign a product that does not meet the required functionality.
- Not ensuring the user of the device is in control. Ultimately, the person using the device is directing its activity, whether it’s connected to other devices via the internet or not. Sometimes, for example, the network is down — there is no Wi-Fi. It makes sense for a product to have some functionality even when it isn’t able to connect to others, for example by buffering sensor data or just having a killer industrial design. By making the device usable when disconnected, you’re underscoring the fact that you’ve created a product in which the user is in control. That’s important for some potential customers who may be uneasy with all the connectivity inherent in IoT products.
While the progress of complex IoT devices is exciting, it is important to remember the basics as well. Solid project management is just as important as avoiding the above mistakes when shepherding a leading-edge technology device from inception to the manufacturing floor. Selecting the right engineers for the design team, who have technical — as wells as communication — skills, is also critical to success. Finally, staying within budget parameters and meeting deadlines ensures the plan will be completed successfully — increasing the chances of future projects.
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