From the sensor to the cloud platform, how to build IoT devices will depend on the kind of IoT product, application requirements and client expectations.
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The Internet of Things is a relatively simple concept. It is a network of interconnected digital endpoints communicating and sending data over the Internet. It connects 'things' to the Internet and makes them interact with the world around them. Today, there are various IoT devices examples and uses, whether industrial IoT devices or simply IoT devices for home. If you want to find out in more detail about what the Internet of Things is all about, save the link to our in-depth article for later!
The IoT industry is booming, with the global market projected to grow from $478.36 billion in 2022 to $2,465.26 billion by 2029. One of the main advantages of IoT devices is that a proper and reliable IoT system will enable businesses and industries to monitor their activities and act according to needs and changes, which enables optimised processes and improved control.
Creating functional and reliable IoT devices might get complicated and requires more than just investment in technology. From the sensor to the cloud platform, an IoT project will depend on what product you want, how and where it will function, and who will be the target audience.
In this article, we will give a brief but concise explanation of what is an IoT device, the thinking behind an IoT project, how an IoT project is approached and all the aspects involved in creating a reliable IoT device.
How an IoT project is approached
The first question one needs to ask is what the purpose of the IoT device is and what problems it solves. All aspects of the product depend on these issues, and work is systematic. The problem already dictates how to design the device, its design, the size, the material involved, battery lifetime and the temperatures it can withstand. Ultimately, the final product must be better than what is already available on the market.
Several considerations are involved in designing and developing an IoT project. Brainstorming everything comes first. After that, the design will start revealing itself bit by bit. Think of it as a puzzle, where you group different aspects and start outing everything together - the invention, the mechanical, the electronics, the online platform. There is a list of objectives to reach, which will dictate your choices.
Designing everything at once can become a daunting task. However, constraints usually dictate design and selection. Of course, some mechanical aspects will take precedence because of installation and location issues, but with electrical necessities in mind. Contrary to thought, finding components does not necessarily come after the design stage. The whole process works its way up comprehensively. The right products will need importing, whilst proper machinery and manufacturing facilities are also necessary.
Price is an important factor to take into consideration. Having a product which is beautifully designed but very expensive to produce is not viable. In addition, the more components, and complications you add, the more the chance something will fail. The simpler the design, the better the result. The mechanical and electrical engineers will need to work holistically to find a compromise between all necessities.
Building an IoT prototype
Building a prototype can be time-consuming, but it is time well spent. There is a component selection process for every stage of product creation. Considerations at this stage involve mechanical and electrical designs, how the PCB will fit within the enclosure, sealing mechanisms, interfaces, sealing of electronics, and the number of sensors and actuators you will have on your product.
All the sensors and actuators need controlling. Here is where the processing unit enters the frame. The processor unit is the brain of the product. It is responsible for all the logic behind the sensors and actuators, which report and command action based on the information received.
The schematic and PCB design is created and fitted on a prototype on which we do testing. We assess our devices' PCBs and electronics periodically to see whether a better, cheaper-to-produce - but with the same or better quality - option is possible.
A case protects all the above equipment. Whilst aesthetics are important, the design and materials of the case need to be functional and appropriate to the environment in which the device will work. Most importantly, it will need to be reliable.
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Design of software for IoT
Any IoT device with smart ability will normally come with its software, enabling IoT device management. The software is designed to function the same way the design does - action happens during certain periods when data needs logging. We take the device, allow it to read its sensors and the data it is sensing, and draw up the algorithm.
The algorithm works as required based on various tests and a considerable amount of data. We analyse data from which we can then build an algorithm. Building up the algorithm means giving the device life of its own. Imagine a brain surrounded by sensors capable of communicating with the Internet. The algorithm – how this brain 'thinks' - is built based on data we would normally have already collected in the field.
In-house testing gives us data from which we cross-check the output, so we are certain that the functionality is not creating unexpected outcomes. In the field, though, is where real testing happens. Results depend on how well you collected data – the more data gathered, the fewer problems you are likely to encounter.
Sensors are responsible for converting physical variables you want to measure into an electrical signal the computer reads. How the sensor gives values, reading and data, and in turn, whether it can read the data sent to it, will influence the microcontroller to be used and, as a result, the overall price. Depending on your product's purpose, there are various IoT device examples and uses.
Take our parking sensors, for example. Its sensing mechanisms are composed of a radar sensor and magnetometer. The latter reads the magnetic field of its surroundings, sending you values in terms of the magnetic field.
The radar sends data based on what it sees at certain distances, what material it senses, and what type of signal it receives. A car might park near the sensor but not necessarily above it. The position affects the magnetic field, but testing different scenarios will help the device learn when to recognise these differences.
Connectivity for IoT devices
The point of having an IoT device is for it to connect your device with the world. If it cannot do that, it is just another device. The choice of technology for connectivity depends on the environment the IoT device will work. IoT devices for home commonly use Wi-Fi for connectivity since this is normally available in every house.
For example, the spectrum is different for devices that need to transmit data from remote locations. Also, keep in mind battery power when taking into consideration the issue of connectivity in IoT. The higher the power the demand of an IoT device, the less time it's power source will suffice. We suggest you head over to our previous article exploring IoT connectivity for this topic.
Testing an IoT device
In the process of any IoT project idea, testing is key. You test different scenarios and record results accordingly. It is a crucial part of any product development and begins from day one. There are normally five stages of testing:
Unit Testing: part of your code or hardware is isolated and checked to see whether it behaves as intended.
Integration Testing: different parts of the solution are combined and tested together.
Functional Testing: the product is tested against all requirements necessary.
Stress Testing: the product is tested for stability and pushed beyond normal boundaries. This testing helps us see in which conditions the product and system will fail.
Proof-of-concept: testing moves from the desk to the field. This stage is essential for gathering invaluable data.
Testing on-site may bring new challenges because some issues might arise on site, which will need to be tackled accordingly. Sometimes this may send us back to the drawing board and new mechanisms designed.
This process is why we usually prefer to develop a heavily tested prototype. Testing is inevitable. If you are not doing testing right, no matter how much experience you have, you will encounter problems soon enough, especially if the device is new.
The reality is that one never stops testing a product, and developing an IoT device is a continuous learning process. We always try to reach our targets as fast as possible, but if it is a new machine, we issue prototypes so we can catch errors on the field as early as possible separate from our main projects. Environments vary, though, and this affects sensor performance.
We have a mechanism where our devices keep sending us data throughout their life so we can continuously keep collecting data, catch problematic scenarios early and detect false positives. In the end, the more data gathered, the more experience you gain and the better the product. Like a person, the more experiences you have, the more you learn and the better person you become.