Category Archives: Electronics

Robotic Arm goodness


Just what we need, another robotic arm project.

But this Instructable delivers good step-by-step, lots of details, extensive CAD files for all 3D parts, Fritzing fun, and a solid BOM for building a snappy, Bluetooth-driven robotic arm. Using the new Evive prototyping board (Arduino Mega-based), it gives a faster onramp for iteration and design well beyond cyborg appendages.

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Overcoming six challenges of UX design for IoT

Growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to skyrocket, with analysts predicting that by 2020 annual revenues could exceed $470 billion for companies selling hardware, software, and comprehensive solutions, with the market forecast to grow from an installed base of 15 billion devices in 2015 to nearly 31 billion devices by 2020. While connecting smart devices is catching on both at home and at work, there is still room for growth and improvement. One such area is user experience (UX). Creating a strong user experience is key to turning the IoT from the current hot trend into the next phase of computing.

UX design is important because it determines how a user interacts with a system. While UX design practices for web and mobile have become standardized, designing for the IoT is a new realm that involves a wide array of different devices, thus making the design process more complex. Here we’ll look at six challenges UX designers face when designing for the IoT and solutions to those challenges.

1. Heterogeneous systems

IoT solutions need to be able to handle many types of data from an array of devices and display the data on a variety of user interfaces (UIs). For example, an IoT solution at a solar power plant might collect data from three or more devices or sensors, like an inverter, weather station, and grid pricing. The inverter and weather station would likely use a processor and wireless communications chip to collect and transmit data through a gateway to the cloud, while the utility company would use an application programming interface (API) to make grid pricing data available. Once all these different types of data are aggregated, the end user needs to be able to easily read it on any interface, like a phone, laptop, or on-site screen. Additionally, each type of user – owner, financier, or technician – needs access to different types of information. Designing for so many types of data, devices, interfaces, and end users is what makes UX so challenging.

The heterogeneous nature of IoT systems is intensified by the fact that each system is constantly changing as devices are added or replaced in the field. For example, if the solar plant mentioned above expands to add a second inverter from a different vendor, the IoT system not only needs to work with the new data collection infrastructure, but seamlessly mesh with the end user interfaces as well. Designers need to ensure that their UX is flexible enough to adapt in situations like this.

Another challenge created by this diversity of devices, data, users, and more is creating a unified feel across all interfaces to enhance each user’s experience with the solution. To make this happen, designers often have to work in a more basic program like Linux to code for each interface properly. For example, a user viewing data on a smartphone expects a beautiful display; while that same design likely won’t work on a simple screen on a piece of machinery, the general concepts and experience should translate.

2. Focus on hardware

When it comes to choosing IoT hardware, buyers tend to focus on cost, technical specs, and software compatibility while ignoring user experience. But hardware can have a big impact on UX. It’s crucial that the appropriate sensors, processors, and communications modules for edge devices are chosen properly, as they ultimately determine how a user is able to interact with a device. For example, if a company selects a processor because it’s the cheapest option, it may have a slow response time or run out of battery quickly. This will significantly diminish UX in most cases.


  • Running a real-time operating system (RTOS) or time-based scheduler would be sufficient for most applications, but limits the ability to expand

A variety of serial Interfaces

  • Serial I/O is needed to communicate with peripherals like GPS, cellular modems, etc.

  • For expandability, more than the minimum serial interfaces are required

A/D and GPIO

  • A/D and GPIO is not a must have, but these are features that may be needed in the future


  • Systems targeted at hobbyists and minicomputer applications may not be rugged enough for field use

  • None of the systems, as built, may be fit for extended use in the field


  • Meeting field use environmental conditions (heat, vibration, dust, moisture) may require a custom board, regardless of what is chosen

  • Some systems use components that are difficult to obtain, especially for smaller companies/volumes

Typical hardware selection criteria

Designers can create the most beautiful interface, but if end users are trying to use it with incompatible hardware, the user experience will be a poor one. When selecting hardware components that will make up an IoT solution, buyers need to keep the end UX in mind from the beginning.

3. Getting connectivity right

Choosing the right type of network for an IoT system is also very important to UX. There are many networks that support the IoT, all offering different things – faster speed, lower cost, data limits, and more (Figure 1). Each IoT use case requires a different connectivity solution, and selecting the right one plays an incredible role in UX. In some situations, such as autonomous vehicles or volcanic activity monitoring, users need super low latency and minimal data loss. In other situations, such as solar generation or tide monitoring, those issues are less important. It doesn’t matter how seamlessly the UI works; if the data doesn’t reach its end point when it’s needed, then the system has failed.

Figure 1: Common communication technologies with features and capabilities (source)

When choosing a network, it’s crucial to remember that many industrial IoT solutions are remotely located and use basic devices that easily lose connectivity or miss data points. While some network options are more reliable in these situations, UX designers generally need to implement a way for field devices to respond after going offline. Options include a solution that smooths over missing data, clearly notifies the end user that the device has gone offline and will be missing data, or showing that the data is in process until the device is back online and cached data can be sent. The designer’s solution should be based on the end user’s expectations as well as the situation and use case (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Nest UI clearly shows the user if a specific device is offline.

4. Design for all modules

IoT solutions are typically built on an IoT platform that provides a foundation for many of the necessary components – hardware, data collection, application development, actions, rules, analytics, connectivity, and more – to work together seamlessly. From this base, designers can build out the full solution. However, each component plays a vital role in the end UX, so designers need to understand how each piece works and what impact it has on the end solution. Because many of the components aren’t visible to the end user, UX designers can easily focus only on the parts everyone can see (Figure 3). This would be a mistake.

Figure 3: Visibility of IoT UX elements

For example, end users don’t see the rules engine. In a smart manufacturing facility, a machine operator may rely on a real-time notification to alert him that the machine needs to be stopped for maintenance. That notification is sent as the result of a rule being triggered by the rules engine. The operator likely doesn’t care how the rules are built, but if the rules aren’t set correctly or notifications aren’t delivered in a timely fashion, the operator will suffer. If a UX designer doesn’t pay enough attention to the rules while designing, notifications may not be sent when expected or displayed in an awkward format, thus diminishing the UX.

5. Working with many vendors

Third-party vendors supply many of the components needed to build out an IoT solution, and the sensors, processors, controllers, platforms, and applications used are likely not coming from just one supplier. It can be difficult to make those pieces work together and create a seamless UX. Additionally, companies will likely continue to replace old hardware or update software and operating systems (OSs). All of this can lead to incompatibilities, which can make a positive UX more difficult to achieve.

Overcoming interoperability challenges can manifest in several ways. For example, if the user is forced to switch between two different programs or screens to access data from two different devices or control those devices, the UX will be inherently poor. This is commonly the case in the smart home where a user may operate the smart thermostat with one app and the smart security system with another. At the extreme, a user may have two brands of video camera and motion sensors as part of a security system that can only be accessed using two apps. This clearly isn’t ideal, and it’s likely to cause the user to abandon the IoT solution altogether. Because there are so many manufacturers in the consumer space and many ecosystems are closed so data can’t be brought to a central location, it can be more difficult to achieve a seamless UX in the smart home than in the industrial space.

Figure 4: The abundance of smart home apps that don’t work together leads to a bad user experience (source)

6. Building trust between user and machine

For an IoT system to be used to its limits, users need to fully trust the underlying data. For users working in a highly sensitive environment, like a nuclear plant or monitoring a volcano for city safety, trusting a dashboard on a smartphone with numbers popping up or a good/bad dial might be difficult. Right or wrong data can make all the difference in a user’s decision in a high-pressure situation, which is why UX designers need to build trust into the experience.

Designers can do this in several ways. The solution can provide status updates, allowing a user to understand exactly what’s happening with the system and feel more comfortable when making any decisions. The IoT system dashboard could also allow users to take a deep dive into the data with drill-downs that help the user understand why certain things are happening and feel comfortable. The software doesn’t need to force these details on users, but can allow users to engage and get more comfortable with the data that is being provided. By providing this type of transparency, a good design can improve UX, particularly in stressful situations.

When creating an IoT solution, it’s necessary to focus on the big picture of what the system will do and how it will get there, but it’s equally important to consider UX design and incorporate it into every aspect of the project. To really get the most out of an IoT system, a seamless UX is vital. The only way to overcome the challenges in this new space is by focusing on UX design from the outset.

Arup Barat is the co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of infiswift, an enterprise Internet of Things (IoT) platform company based in San Ramon, CA, where he guides commercialization activates at infiswift through product, marketing, sales, BD and customer success.


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Skyworks Launches New High-Power Bluetooth(r) Power Amplifier for Mobile Applications

Skyworks has introduced a new product category of high-power Bluetooth® power amplifier solutions for mobile applications targeting Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, tablets and other portable devices. The SKY85018-11 is a highly integrated device that is particularly suited for improving Bluetooth® connectivity ranges, which are required for music streaming. Multiple output power ranges and a bypass mode ensure that the SKY85018-11 is extremely reliable for high performance devices, providing a premium audio experience. The amplifier is offered in a small footprint (1.5 x 1.5 mm package) and can run directly off battery, removing the need for an LDO voltage regulator. It also features high output power of 23 dBm for basic data rates and 14 dBm for enhanced data rates.

Skyworks Solutions, Inc. is empowering the wireless networking revolution. Our highly innovative analog semiconductors are connecting people, places and things spanning a number of new and previously unimagined applications within the automotive, broadband, cellular infrastructure, connected home, industrial, medical, military, smartphone, tablet and wearable markets. Skyworks is a global company with engineering, marketing, operations, sales and support facilities located throughout Asia, Europe and North America and is a member of the S&P 500® and Nasdaq-100® market indices (NASDAQ: SWKS). For more information, please visit Skyworks’ website at:

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Best Practices for Continuous Testing of IoT Products

  • Today, connected products and IoT platforms deliver immersive experiences throughout customer, partner and employee engagements. However, adding connectivity to traditional products has its own challenges. The underlining fact is many manufacturers (OEMs) are not prepared to address all complexities involved with adding connectivity to their products. It’s essential to perform and establish a robust and continuous testing process that covers not only the connected product but it’s interaction with a cloud based IoT platform and mobile apps to ensure the IoT product is functioning as intended before the launch and while in usage.

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Addressing Safety Challenges in Full Digital Instrument Clusters

Learn about the next generation of instrument clusters with BlackBerry QNX and Elektrobit. Technologies from BlackBerry QNX and Elektrobit form the foundation of many instrument clusters found in today’s vehicles. Join us as we discuss some of the challenges present in building the next generation of digital instrument clusters.

Presented by: BlackBerry QNX, Elektrobit Automotive GmbH

<p><i>Speaker(s): Yi Zheng (Product Manager, BlackBerry QNX); Martin Riedl (Product Manager, Elektrobit Automotive GmbH)

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IoT Sensors Market to Hit USD 27.38 billion by 2022

IoT is an emerging array of software-controlled sensors and other devices that allow machines to communicate with each other. By IoT sensors, efficiency machine performance can be tracked and allows for predictive maintenance that avoids costly breakdowns or inefficient routine-maintenance shut-downs. Hence IoT sensors play important role in IoT technology.

A surge in demand for IoT sensors in the automotive industry and the booming industrial IoT market are strongly driving the growth of the IoT sensors market. Furthermore, the rise in demand for consumer electronics such as smart devices (Smart TV, Smart Phones, etc.) is further impelling the market growth. Increasing sales of consumer electronics are fueling the growth of the IoT sensors market worldwide. In addition, smart electricity, and water meters are anticipated to spur demand for these sensors over the next few years. The conjoint effect of all these trends is set to bolster the growth of the global IoT sensors market in coming years. However, privacy and security issues are hampering the growth of IoT sensors market.

The IoT sensors market has the enormous opportunity and scopes in the emerging markets of Asia-Pacific and Rest of the world. The emergence of new players in the developing markets such as China, Japan, India, Russia, Australia, and Brazil are trying to adopt advanced technologies. This has led the increase in competitiveness in the IoT sensors market.

Key participants in IoT sensor market are Infineon Technologies, InvenSense Inc., Libelium, ARM Holdings Plc., Robert Bosch GmbH, Digi International Inc., Honeywell International Inc., STMicroelectronics N.V. andEricsson among others.

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Make a WeMos ESP8266 dev board blink via Wi-Fi

In my last article, I went over how I was able to program the WeMos D1 Mini ESP8266 development board via the Arduino IDE. Though there a few hoops to jump through — including making sure your cable works — once it is set up, it’s pretty easy to get it to do Arduino-ish tasks, like blink its built-in LED or reply back to your computer via serial output.

On the other hand, you could simply do these functions with an actual Arduino. Though the ESP8266 has impressive specs, such as an 80 MHz clock speed, the real killer app of these modules is their inherent Wi-Fi capabilities. Getting something like this to work over your network may seem intimidating, but as I found out after some experimentation, it’s actually quite simple.

As with my first post, I turned to an instructional video from YouTuber Innovative Tom. Although his video is about using a relay to control a fan or something similar, I wanted to see if I could simply blink the LED over my network. To prove things out, I made a few slight changes in his code, the new version which can be found here under the WeMosWiFi_Blink.ino file. This code now blinks an LED (which comes on when the pin is low), along with switching a nonexistent relay, allowing you to test this functionality with only the WeMos board itself.

In order to do this test, open (or copy/paste) the WeMosWiFi_Blink.ino file in the Arduino IDE, then edit the area outlined in yellow to get it to communicate on your own network. You can poke around in your OS to find the configuration info, but on Windows, the easiest way to get it is to go to the command line or PowerShell and enter “ipconfig.” Your computer will obediently spit out the needed network data. You’ll also need your network name and password, which hopefully you have handy.

Once this is done, pull up your serial port monitor in the Arduino IDE and download the program into the WeMos module. If everything is successful, you should see an IP address pop up on the serial monitor. Copy this into your browser of choice running on the same network, and you’ll see an extremely simple webpage inviting you to turn the relay on or off. Click on one of the links it presents and you’ll see the light blink accordingly.

You can also log onto the same site from a different device, such as a smartphone, and flip the “switch.” This makes it an ideal candidate for home automation, since you don’t have to worry about any sort of extra app to build or install. There are, of course, all kinds of ways you can expand on this module’s wireless capability, such as building a better webpage, switching an actual relay, or remote sensing. Once you’re through this first step, hopefully other great projects will be just a matter of adding on to this foundation!

Jeremy S. Cook is a freelance tech journalist and engineering consultant with over 10 years of factory automation experience. An avid maker and experimenter, you can see some of his exploits on the Jeremy S. Cook YouTube Channel.

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