What is Connected Device Design and Engineering?

Now that pretty much all of us carry at least one connected device nearly constantly, is it safe to say the “internet of things” has gone mainstream? There are already roughly 21.5 billion internet-connected devices in the world, and that number is set to increase exponentially as new “smart” gadgets are developed and people continue to use the internet to entertain themselves, socialize with one another, share information, keep track of things and stay connected.

When a consumer purchases a smart device, they expect it to be easy to use and work as promised. Unfortunately, just like anything else, IoT devices are not always perfect. How often has your smartphone failed to easily pair with an application, hub or another system? Probably more often than you would like.

As the developing technologies that support the IoT continue their rapid advancement, ideas for new and different types of connected devices are constantly conceived. Sure, we all think about smartphones, laptops and tablets as “connected devices,” but the IoT ecosystem extends well beyond products available at your local Best Buy or Apple Store.

Since there are minimal technical limitations involved when connecting different “things” to the internet, everything from cars, TVs and refrigerators to thermostats, door locks and seemingly every device in between can now be web-enabled. The growing list of connected devices now includes household appliances, heating and cooling systems, vehicles, health and fitness monitors, environmental and manufacturing sensors, and much more.

Graphic showing connected device design and engineering, including arrows to and from the "internet of things" cloud and connected devices, sensors, connectivity, application development, and AI and machine learning analytics

Whether a device is monitoring our health, helping secure our home, keeping track of our belongings, or unlocking and controlling our cars, homes and appliances, it needs to be designed and engineered with connectivity, interoperability and the end user’s experience top of mind.

Device Engineering: About the Technologies

Connected devices must seamlessly integrate with mobile applications and cloud systems to connect with one another and other systems via the internet. Connected device development, by its very nature, is complex and requires comprehensive knowledge of wireless networks and communications protocols, such as Wi-Fi, NFC, Zigbee, LoRa and 5G networks, security standards, data collection, artificial intelligence/machine learning and analytics.

Embedded with processing chips, software and sensors, connected devices require connectivity, data processing and an intuitive user interface to collect data and share information with other devices and systems. While the idea of the IoT has existed for decades, recent technological advances have turned the concept into reality.

  • Sensors – Access to low-cost, low-power sensor technology enables manufacturers to integrate technologies that detect and measure various information into their gadgets.
  • Connectivity – A broad variety of internet network protocols ensure connecting sensors to the cloud and to other “things” for efficient data transfer is as easy as possible.
  • The cloud – As cloud computing platforms become increasingly ubiquitous, the cloud is the platform enabling sensors and devices to communicate with one another, creating greater connectivity. The cloud stores IoT data and provides access to the underlying infrastructure, servers and storage necessary for real-time operations and processing.
  • App development – An end-user app lets consumers control their devices and settings, as well as view any outputs or data produced.
  • ML and data analytics – As AI advances and machine learning algorithms are able to learn and automatically improve through experience and by the use of data, gathering the insights connected devices produce has never been done faster or more easily.

When it comes to connected device design and engineering, there are a few additional technological concerns of which engineers must also be aware.

Considering Energy Usage for Connected Devices

First, powering the device and energy usage is a critical concern. For many connected devices, wired power is simply not an option. Imagine running a cable from a widely spaced system to a sensor a mile away just to collect information and feed it back to the central system in real time. Consequently, battery life remains a challenge for IoT devices. If a device’s battery life is unreliable and short, that device and its applications are essentially pointless. Fortunately, advances in wireless sensing are now providing continuous remote monitoring for the internet of things.

IoT Device Security and OTA Updates

Next, as is the case with most technologies, almost all IoT devices have some security issues. With the number of internet-connected devices being more than two times the size of the world’s population, it’s critical these devices are secure so that hackers don’t pilfer data, spy on device owners/operators or do anything else that can result in dangerous consequences. Enter over-the-air (OTA) updates. By enabling remote patching of bugs or security flaws, OTA updates offer many benefits for connected devices. While OTA updates can enhance security, a poorly executed OTA update can brick a device, which is quite inconvenient for consumers and can lead to reputational damage to the device builder’s brand.

As these technologies progress, the IoT has evolved into one of the most important developments of the 21st century as seamless communication is now possible between people, processes and things.

How is IoT Device Engineering Different from Other Device Design?

While your product might look the same as it did before it became smart and got connected, it is fundamentally different. Now, connected devices exist as part of a larger network of products, processes and stakeholders and communicate with other parts of that larger ecosystem.

IoT device engineering differs from the design of other devices in that there is specialized hardware and software technology involved in the engineering of connected devices that enables devices to talk directly to one another, make shared decisions and exchange data often without the need for the cloud or servers.

Further, many of these devices are too small for a keyboard or other human interface to enter passwords or other setting information, requiring engineering to allow the device to get commands from humans, at least during setup.

So, while connected device design focuses on the gadget itself, including mechanical and electrical designs as well as embedded software, IoT device engineering includes the systems — a cloud application and an end-user mobile/web application, for example — to which the device is talking as well.

Embedded Software Development

When it comes to IoT app development, the most significant difference between IoT apps and other applications is that IoT apps interact with physical connected devices. IoT apps have to connect with products for command and control, onboarding and OTA embedded software updates.

However, engineers inexperienced in interfacing with hardware devices often fail to adequately understand the complexities involved in embedded systems development. From different states and differing behaviors to the time it takes for hardware devices to perform an action and OTA updates that require special attention to tweak the code, overcoming the challenges of IoT app design can be difficult.

At Cardinal Peak, our experienced and talented engineers and architects help companies across industries to develop and maintain connected devices and products. We work on every aspect of connected device design, including the cloud, hardware and embedded software, and understand how to minimize both the device bill of materials and the long-term cloud costs. With this level of expertise, we possess the skills and experience necessary to design and develop connected devices capable of thriving in today’s networked ecosystems.

If you have any questions about how we can help you overcome the challenges of connected device design and engineering, reach out today to connect with us!

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