• Marianne

5 Functional Aspects to Consider for your IoT Project before you start Designing

When scoping a new IoT project, it’s tempting to think about the Industrial Design first – size, shape, texture – or the User Experience – dashboards, databases, mobile apps. Surely these are all really important things to consider in your project. But...

Designing the look, feel and interactions before considering the key hardware functions can lead to costly mistakes through heavy rework later in the product development process.

Here are 5 functional hardware aspects of your IoT project that should be considered early.

1. Sensors

Sensors are the basis of any IoT project. Understanding which sensors your project NEEDS is critical – but how about additional sensors you may want in the future? With IoT hardware, flexibility is the secret ingredient to success. Take a look at your product roadmap and see if there are additional sensors to add. The up-front investment is the increase in BOM cost per unit and enough due diligence to ensure the sensor data is readable. The rest of the work can be done in the future when you’re ready for that feature.

For example, if you are creating a soil monitoring product for use in remote areas, consider adding an IMU motion sensor so that, in future, you can remotely detect if it has been displaced. Once you are ready to add functionality around it, you can simply turn it on in the firmware when loading new units or via OTA (over-the-air) updates.

2. Provisioning

So often, device provisioning is an after-thought that adds complexity at the end of the development cycle. Think about how your hardware is going to be provisioned – meaning the transition from supplier to end customer. How are your units identified, serialized and tracked? How do configurations, credentials and asset assignment happen in your business operations workflow?

Thinking about it up front may change your hardware requirements. Right now, a lot of sensors are moving towards provisioning through a mobile app and short-range protocols like Bluetooth – this allows provisioning to happen easily, anywhere. Consider this when selecting communications methods and modules.

3. Communications

If your solution is wired directly to Internet access, communications considerations can be pretty straightforward. But, let’s face it, most IoT sensor devices are wireless. The comms you select need to be suitable for the use cases. Streaming and processing video is an entirely different requirement than sending periodic data bursts when certain conditions are met. There are also considerations around availability and reliability of network infrastructure and maintenance factors that should be considered.

Don't let the extensive process of designing and integrating communications into your product stop you from exploring the wireless world! You want your product to perfectly suit your needs and there are many experts out there (like us!) who are able to help you along the way.

4. Power

Similar to communications, power is a big consideration for your hardware. Consider where and how your hardware will be installed. Will it have access to a continuous power source? Will it need a backup battery? If it is battery powered, are there conditions that make it rechargeable or serviceable? How long does it need to last?

All of these considerations factor into the product requirements. Furthermore, how a device is powered can significantly impact product safety and product certification requirements. If your product installation is complex or requires a professional to install, you need to review your product certification plan with a Nationally Recognized Test Lab (e.g. UL, CSA) to ensure your product design meets safety guidelines. This may add time and cost to your project but is vital for safety, and this process can be effectively managed.

5. Physical I/Os

I/Os are inputs and outputs in your product. Physical I/Os are how people interact with the product, and how your product tells you things.

Even if your product a black box that sits unattended once deployed, there are I/Os that should be considered to facilitate manufacturing, loading and provisioning. Also, consider how you’ll troubleshoot and diagnose your hardware if things aren’t going right. Often times a button added for system reset and/or an indicator light for status can help significantly.

For sensor products that users do interact with, you need to consider how information will be displayed or how the device should be interacted with. Display screens, LEDs/lights, buttons, etc. should all be considered in your functional specification prior to doing product design.

Wrap Up

When you're building a new IoT product, your primary goal early on is to create a functional specification for your product that can be used throughout the product design stage. It gives your product designer a sense of the hardware requirements and constraints they can work with and helps define user interactions.

Creating a functional specification is not a “once and done” activity. As you move through the product design and development phases, it should be revisited and adjusted as you work towards your final solution. Keep it flexible and have fun throughout the process!

JTDC helps people build tech-enabled solutions into viable businesses. If you're looking for help creating your functional specs for your product, we have service that can help steer you in the right direction without breaking the bank.