The world of product design over the last decade has been heavily software over hardware. There has been a wealth of opportunities in internet, application software and smartphone apps development. Software products provide recurring revenue and are easier to build and update after launch, benefits that hardware developments cannot do easily. The future is going to need both design teams back together again.
Now with low cost Wi-Fi networks in homes and a cloud infrastructure to build on there’s new choice for the innovators – the “Internet of things” (IoT) which enables everything to connect together. Devices can talk directly to each other or to you and they will communicate with a place in the cloud that you can access from anywhere on the network in the world with any device. The shift is just getting going with a wealth of new opportunities in many market segments bringing awareness, control, monitoring, authentication and convenience to people.
It’s a new marketplace of ideas, driven by the convergence of wireless communication, low cost radios and sensors and the ubiquity of the Internet platform to build simpler software applications using pre-existing tried and tested hardware and software components. The Internet of things means any product can have embedded low cost intelligence, and its own unique identifier, to connect itself directly to everything without requiring the quite often useless human involvement. We are busy already, why not get rid of the useless distractions that many devices require from us to function? We all carry around a second brain in our smartphone so why not make it far more useful to us.
Estimates suggest that by 2020, the IoT will number 50 billion separate objects; an explosion that some would say is a long time coming. Back in 2008, the number of objects connected to the internet had outpaced earth’s human population.
But it’s only recently that the “things” capable of machine-to-machine communication and ‘thinking’ have successfully moved beyond smart phones and into the multitude of benign physical products that surround us each day. Connected “things” now include heart monitor implants, home appliances, sports equipment, stock tracking, thermostats and much, much more. Real time feedback and adjustment of lighting, sound, temperature to name a few as well as using predictive information of interest to us like our body biometrics will carefully and timely be placed at our fingertips in this new reality.
Global enterprises and venture capitalists alike are taking notice too, with $3.4 Billion invested in Wireless Smart Object Startups in 2013. A number that is sure to grow even larger in 2014 given Google’s recent purchase of Nest Smart Thermostats for $3.2B in January to control your home temperature via your smartphone and an impressive cloud back office analytic engine that learns from your behavior and makes adjustments for you. Yes the systems are actually getting smart enough where you won’t be constantly frustrated by it doing something we don’t want it to do.
The first wave of product is hitting the market now and the next wave is currently in development spanning a gambit of consumer gadgets, medical devices, home automation, gear for vehicles as well as agriculture opportunities to name a few.
So what does IoT mean for startups and companies that are looking to refresh their products? What capabilities and costs of components can we choose from? What components are off the shelf, what software can be quickly configured to get your product to market?
Enablers of New IoT Product Ideas:
First off, living and working in Ottawa is a huge enabler to anyone interested in IoT. Not only has Ottawa got deep rooted technical capabilities but it’s also home to a vibrant local IoT community. Local for-hire physical product design and software companies are collaborating to streamline re-usable elements for fast new product design execution, IoT innovations are buzzing in Ottawa. Just ask some of the attendees at next week’s Ottawa IoT conference on June 3 and you’re sure to find out why IoT is big and here to stay.
Growth in Popularity of Physical Product Design and Prototyping
Physical hardware product design is back by necessity and new technology has enabled a growing movement of ‘Mini Makers’ who are taking advantage of low cost prototyping machines, programmable sensors, Arduino and small computers like the Raspberry PI. Low energy wireless modules allow simple to install and use products to be conceived, tried out and perfected on very small budgets. Investors are getting together in record numbers to look at new ideas with the formation of angel investing groups in most cities, Capital Angels are the Ottawa chapter.
Software and Wireless Network Capabilities
Apple, Microsoft and Android, amazon and microsoft platforms, low cost Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, faster networks, cloud based analytics, security, smartphone penetration and the influx of 5G wireless standard all leverage new easier to design product, electronics and software. You can design, test and release a product to market in 5 months including pre-approved radios that interact with home routers, cloud and smartphone applications. Combined with the widespread rise in Internet use and ubiquitous wireless availability across Canada it will increase the amount of IoT innovations reaching market each year and put market pressure on companies that do not update their products with new features.
Challenge of fast cycle IoT Product Development
It goes without saying that hardware and software have inherently different design and development methodologies. One discipline involves aligning atoms and the other arranges bytes. Both want to deliver simple, easy to use product that people fall in love with. IoT devices must include both disciplines and this requires innovators to combine and manage these two product development processes together in order to design intelligently connected experiences for people. Things to consider when bringing an IoT Product innovation to life are many and the mantra of design for users is at the core.
Understand the Complexity of Project You are Taking On
Even simple product ideas can be complex. Help from experienced teams that have worked together to make and steer decisions during the process is essential for first pass success. What elements are useable off the shelf, what custom parts are needed and what software will need to be written as well as what cloud based platform to select to manage your customers and data on are important to define upfront.
Connecting Vision to Real Customer Needs:
New product ideas are exciting, but they don’t always connect to consumer demand. Early concept design and testing the product idea with simulation and prototyping techniques allows development teams to get users to verify assumptions and business teams to quantify the demand. With 5 month product cycles, it is impossible to grow the knowledge in house and outsourcing part or all of the one-time design and development effort becomes a lower cost and higher value alternative in many cases.
Challenges aside, it’s an exciting time for companies to refresh old products and to go after new ideas to connect into the Internet of Things that is upon us. Design 1st plans to be a one of the teams that will help innovators embrace and go after these opportunities ahead.
About Design 1st:
Kevin Bailey is President at Design 1st where his team provides turnkey new product design or can be a flexible extension of your in-house development team. Our program management and senior design, engineering and commercialization team will provide value at every step.
To place a sponsored article on OBJ.ca, please contact Terry Tyo at 613-238-1818, ext. 268.