Avoid Common IoT Product Design Mistakes with these Six Tips

By Special Guest
Gian Bonanome, Senior Director, Business Development, Intelligent Product Solutions
May 10, 2017

Everyone is talking about Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and their potential as their uses expand. One area that is seeing a lot of momentum, for example, is with smart cities. The plan for smart cities will feature IoT connected surveillance, automated transportation, smarter energy management systems and environmental monitoring. Another burgeoning area is in health care, where IoT monitoring of vital signs will help patients avoid infections and assist in earlier care of medical conditions.

As we make more and more products “connected,” expert product design is essential to avoid design mistakes that can delay or even hinder implementation. Here are six IoT designs tips, along with common mistakes to avoid, for successful IoT product development:

Determine if 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. This tends to occur 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.

Select a hardware platform that can 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.

Don’t ignore 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, and are definitely the way to go for an initial market offering.

Don’t tack security on at the end of your design effort. Security needs to be baked into your IoT product design process, not added on as an afterthought. It's a must-have, not simply a nice-to-have. 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.

Partner with a good product design firm. While many companies 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 and engineers often don’t have the necessary skills or expertise 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.

Ensure that 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, maybe 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 of 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 it is an exciting time to be helping drive forward the progress of complex IoT solutions, it is important to remember the fundamentals as well. Solid project management is just as important as following the above guidelines when shepherding a leading-edge technology device from inception to the manufacturing floor. Additionally, people matter and you must make sure to select the right engineers for the design team − ones with technical as well as communication skills. Finally, it is critical to stay within budget parameters and meet your deadlines to ensure the product will be completed and designed successfully

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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