Should your next product or design be an Internet-of-Things product? That is, should every embedded design always feature Internet connectivity, or machine-to-machine communications, where the possibility exists? There are lots of different perspectives on this question, several advantages and disadvantages and pros and cons that need to be weighed up.
Although Internet-of-Things connectivity is very popular and hyped at the moment, it isn’t always going to be a worthwhile fit that provides valuable advantages for all devices in all situations.
Internet connectivity provides advantages – data collection and logging with the data stored in the cloud, accessible via the Internet from any device anywhere in the world, or the possibility of convenient remote access and control of devices via the Internet, for example, but this type of Internet connectivity brings with it concerns over security, safety and privacy.
There is a very slight potential that devices connected to the Internet can be accessed by unauthorised persons, if and only if exploitable security vulnerabilities exist. This is a serious concern for Internet services that control real, physical hardware that is potentially dangerous if misused, or for hardware that controls security-critical systems such as building access-control systems for example.
Control of security-critical real-world hardware, and the secure and confidential management of personal information (data collected from health and medical data-logging instruments such as RF heart rate sensors, for example, or information from a home automation system that indicates the typical hours that people are at home and are not at home) needs to be taken into account when deciding to have embedded automation systems exposed to the Internet.
Product designers need to consider whether the benefits of Internet connectivity are worth the risks. Consumers expect that such data will be collected and handled with some degree of privacy and security, and the convenience of Internet-based data collation and access to data will only be accepted by the market if it doesn’t also come with unacceptable privacy concerns.
If your design incorporates Internet connectivity, does this connectivity contribute to a positive, easy user experience or does it potentially make the user experience more difficult? If your product or design requires the consumer to have an existing Wi-Fi or Ethernet network to provide Internet connectivity, for example, is this inconvenient for some consumers?
Even though most consumers already have Wi-Fi networks, is the product still worthwhile for consumers that don’t? What about if the Internet connection to the LAN, or a mobile or cellular Internet connection if that’s what you’re using, fails? Can your design still function usefully in an environment without Internet connectivity, or is it completely useless?
Can the device work in a transparent, convenient way for the end user in an environment where the Internet connectivity is unreliable and may be off-line sometimes? For example, can data be temporarily buffered in local memory while the device is off-line, and then transmitted to the Internet service later, reconnecting transparently without user intervention?
Adding Internet-of-Things connectivity to a design can introduce hardware complexity, and extra cost for your device. It can mean other increased costs such as server and hosting costs, the costs of wireless LAN or other network infrastructure, the cost of cellular network access if cellular modems are used, and potentially the significant costs associated with RF regulatory compliance, testing and approval for consumer products which are intentional RF radiators. Such regulatory requirements may be simplified or eliminated if the RF connectivity component of your design is eliminated.
Are these costs worth it for the benefits? Or are you simply over-engineering, and adding “Internet of Things” connectivity because it’s in vogue and it’s a trendy buzzword? Do these features provide value for money in the context of your particular product, or are they simply features for features’ sake?
Overcomplicated, over-engineered systems that try and pack too many features into a single design can potentially suffer from disadvantages such as increased hardware cost and size, decreased market uptake due to relatively high cost, relatively high power consumption, more difficult and complicated user interfaces, and greater challenges in trying to assure the reliability, security, low maintenance and support costs of your design.
Furthermore a larger, more complicated system inevitably has more points of potential hardware (or software) failure, more work to be done in debugging and quality assurance, and more potential points of security vulnerability.
All this may sound like the Internet-of-things is a negative point of difference for existing and potential products – however this couldn’t be further from the truth. You already know that connected devices are the way of the future. The key to success in manufacturing, information security and customer satisfaction lies in the right design and working with a team who understand the IoT and how it can be put to work for your benefit.
Here at the LX Group we have experience embedded hardware design for the IoT, including security, regulatory standards and compliance testing, working within standards and design for manufacture. To get started, join us for a confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.
LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design. https://lx-group.com.au
Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.