Although it may seem that the internet has always been available, it has only been a few decades since it’s forerunner Advanced Research Project Agency Network or ARPANET was developed in the late 1960s. The network was initially used mostly by scientists, engineers and researchers to access publications and other research materials. In 1983, the Transport Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), developed by Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, which set standards for data transfer among networked computers was adopted by ARPANET. This was followed by the invention of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, which provided a format for accessing the information on the internet akin to what we recognize today.
Today, the internet is accessible from virtually everywhere around the globe, not only through computers but also via a wide range of devices that have been produced to provide greater flexibility and more connectivity options. These devices include cellular phones, tablets, industrial devices, and even satellites. The potential of connecting to the internet from almost any device has transformed many industries and provided us with almost endless possibilities for gathering and distributing data and information. One of the latest and exciting utilizations of this interconnectivity is the Internet of Things (IoT).
Let’s take a look at IoT and the opportunities it offers systems and products. Then we can delve into common product design challenges in IoT and some strategies to successfully address them.
Internet of Things (IoT) Systems
Most of us are quite familiar with how to use the internet as a means of accessing and distributing information. Whether for work, school, or personally we all take advantage of search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask to quickly find needed answers, information, and data. Many of us also utilize apps that provide information from sensors about our health or allow us to monitor and control remote devices. This capability is at the heart of the IoT system architecture and automated control of smart houses, buildings.
IoT System Architecture
The architecture of an IoT system may range from a simple system with a single sensor to a complicated one that monitors and controls a home, building, or a number of city services. Regardless of the system size, probably the best way to understand IoT system architecture is to view it as a series of connected layers, as described below.
- Cloud layer: The cloud layer performs two primary functions in an IoT system. The first is the storage of data and information collected from the edge layer. This layer is also the access point for download to end-user devices. This layer may also perform some additional input and output processing to adhere to internal and external protocols.
- Edge layer: The edge layer is where the majority of data processing occurs. Data from the sensor layer is filtered and aggregated for transfer to the cloud layer. For many systems, it is important that this layer be able to process received data in real-time and capable of expansion or scalable.
- Devices layer: The devices layer is where raw data, readings, or measurements are taken. This layer may include basic sensors and actuators or smart devices or products. In most cases, this data is transferred to the edge layer for more advanced processing and transmission wirelessly to the cloud layer. In some basic systems, such as health monitoring wearables, the data may be processed and displayed locally.
Although the IoT system contains electronic devices on all layers, the products that comprise the device’s layers are typically referred to as IoT products.
IoT System Products
The opportunities for IoT systems is vast, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible. Systems that have been developed and are increasing in usage include smart industrial systems, buildings, and homes.
Smart home IoT system products
A smart home may have many IoT devices including sensors and controllers for appliances, security, and lighting. These and other common types of IoT products are listed below according to application.
Internet of Things (IoT) Products
Personnel trackers, process monitors, vehicle trackers, shipment monitors, environmental monitors, robots, energy monitors, equipment monitors
Health and Fitness
Pill bottles, patient monitors, health trackers
Interactive doorbells, air quality monitors, security monitors, light controllers, garage door openers, cookers, temperature controllers, appliance controllers, door lock controllers, energy trackers, entertainment controllers
The above product list is not exhaustive, and many can be used for various applications and industries. Now, let’s take a look at common challenges for designing IoT products and how best to address them.
Designing Products for Use in Internet of Things (IoT) Systems
Products designed to be used in IoT systems must meet all of the quality and reliability thresholds as required for other commercial products, such as applying good DFM and DFA. However, as the effectiveness of the IoT system depends upon interconnectivity, the management, networking, and security of data and information are of major concern and present specific challenges for which effective solutions must be implemented.
Product Design Challenges for IoT Systems
There are three main product design challenges with IoT systems. Here are three common and large product design challenges:
- Device Management - the ability of a system of IoT products to be integrated, monitored, and remotely controlled successfully. Challenges include power processing, interconnectivity, and scalability.
- Device Networking - networking can pose a significant challenge because products may be collecting data in various formats that must be integrated and transferred across common channels.
- Device Security - oftentimes data and information being transferred is sensitive in nature and must be protected. Threats from hackers and others is a consistent challenge to be addressed.
Solutions to Product Design Challenges for IoT Systems
The reason why these are product design challenges and not product design problems is that they are all solvable. If not solvable entirely, there are at the very least best practices you can utilize to find workaround solutions or to enable an IoT system to work the way as intended despite any potential sinkholes.
- Device Management - for optimal data management, adopt a standard protocol, such as Open Mobile Alliance's Device Management (OMA DM), Lightweight Machine-to-Machine (OMA LwM2M), or one from another IoT vendor. Doing so will help define interconnectivity devices and protocols for your design.
- Device Networking - networking with multiple devices and boards can be challenging, but successful and dependable connectivity with other system components is imperative for IoT systems. Therefore, connectors, cabling, and other transfer devices must be properly selected and chosen such that scalability is possible. This should be done within the confines of a system-wide networking protocol alignment.
- Device Security - warding off data breaches is an ongoing dilemma that is most often viewed as a software issue to be addressed by encryption and other methods. However, there are hardware design steps that can assist in making IoT products and their systems less susceptible to unwanted access. These include following component selection guidelines to protect the supply chain and PCB protection schemes, such as dummy components.
By following these suggested solutions you will be able to successfully confront common product design challenges in IoT and successfully develop your product.
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