Category Archives: Embedded computing

Developing UIs for the IoT: Three things to consider

               Most embedded user interfaces are designed by engineers. Nuff said…

 

 

With no signs of the IoT economy slowing down—IHS Markit reports that we’ll hit over 75 billion devices by 2025—the challenge for embedded development teams is figuring out how to modernize legacy systems and create new ones that leverage the latest technologies to meet user expectations. It comes down to squeezing the best functionality and performance out of a dizzying array of platform architectures, operating systems (OSs), and software stacks, while delivering simple, beautiful user experiences (UX) that drive user adoption and brand loyalty.

Forbes is quoted as saying, “Every dollar invested in UX brings $100 in return. That’s an ROI of a whopping 9900%.”
 

Understanding why user interface (UI) development is challenging for IoT systems helps define solutions to those challenges. Let’s look at three aspects that affect all IoT verticals, from consumer to medical to the Industrial IIoT.
 

Whether building devices for the connected car, smart home, or the IIoT, you’ll need to select and support more than one environment, from hardware to software. It could be something as simple as supporting the last two versions of an OS, or as complex as building out an end-to-end solution ranging from microcontrollers to microprocessors.
 

A consistent and standard UI across all products is essential to reduce user frustration and increase brand loyalty. Consistency limits the ways in which user feedback is presented and operations performed, ensuring that users don’t have to spend time figuring things out as they move from device to device. A standard approach to tasks eliminates confusion, lessens the learning curve, and makes it easy to switch between—and purchase—different devices.
 

Embedded UI tools struggle with this, either limiting support to a narrow range of platforms or offering customizability but making the porting process too difficult to be feasible. Even if they do support a broader hardware range, such as some modern widget toolkits, it’s difficult to customize the look and feel of the UI and most teams opt for tuning performance rather than UX.
 

As more devices connect with each other, exposing new features and data, there’s opportunity for manufacturers to add value to their products. The first fitness trackers, for example, were standalone devices, requiring a USB cable to offload data. Now, you can wirelessly connect many different types of sensors (step, heart, sleep, etc.) to your smartphone and a single UI presents data, analysis, and even predictions in the blink of an eye.
 

The growth in connectivity impacts UX in two ways. First, with more data available, the interface to control, manage, and share information gets complicated very quickly. It’s up to the development team to simplify this complexity and avoid user confusion, presenting options in a clear, intuitive manner.
 

Second, the rapid pace at which new capabilities are added means UI updates have to keep up with or, ideally, lead the industry. For connected IoT products, it’s important to minimize the time to release, while maintaining quality and reliability, and make use of over-the-air (OTA) updates to refresh the UI where possible.
 

The race to capture the in-vehicle infotainment market offers a good example. Automotive OEMs recognized that smartphones offered a faster, more adaptable path to better user experience than continuously replacing the software entrenched in vehicles. Thus, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have taken off. These platforms give users the most up-to-date features with little to no barriers. Now, OEMs are bringing that rich, feature-packed experience to instrument clusters; analog dials and warning indicators are being replaced with full-screen digital graphics.
 

Another example is Airbus, whose “Factory of the future” brings together many connected devices to realize time and quality advantages through automation, robotics, mixed reality, and more. These disparate, yet connected, systems require UIs that are engaging, easy to use, and quick to update.
 

It’s fair to say that most embedded devices fall far short of the smartphone experience. While it’s valid to point the finger at development constraints due to legacy code, hardware limitations, and lack of OTA updates, it’s equally fair to say that UX hasn’t been as much of a priority for embedded devices as it has been for mobile. Here are three simple reasons why:

  1. Rather than bring on experienced UX/UI skillsets, design is often left to developers
  2. Teams would rather focus on integrating, testing, and optimizing the underlying software rather than building bold and beautiful UIs
  3. For teams with designers, there’s a separation from development, causing communication, workflow, and technical barriers between design intent and code

 
Of course, not every UI must present a smartphone experience. Sometimes a water dispenser is simply a water dispenser.

 

Smartphone and desktop OS manufacturers have proven the answer to this embedded UI conundrum with two simple rules: design must be treated as equally as important as code; and designers and developers are equals.
 

By building in the skills, processes, and tools necessary to have designers and developers work side-by-side, teams enable themselves to deliver the best UX possible (built by those experienced in the art of personas, design, and user validation) on top of applications that are feature-rich and perform well (built by those experienced in algorithms, data management, networking, and optimization).
 

————————–
Jason Clarke is a co-founder and vice-president at Crank Software. He has over fifteen years of experience in embedded development, including consumer electronics, automotive infotainment, industrial, and medical devices.

via IOT Design

What’s new about the Industrial IoT?

Cambashi has just completed a research project into the industrial application of the IoT. The aim was to establish the market’s structure and direction based on interviews with many of the major players combined with desk research. Many of the technologies that make up Industrial IoT are actually well established in their own right.

 
Most people believe the Industrial IoT is comprised of six layers, as the diagram shows. Let’s go through each layer in detail.

 


 

Mechanical parts
This can cover anything from vehicles to component parts. While most of the publicity has so far been around personal IoT devices, like fitness monitors and home appliance controls, our survey shows that industrial applications are growing faster.

 

Electronics, software, sensors, and actuators
These days, nearly every consumer and industrial item with a battery or an on/off switch includes software-controlled electronics (making it a “smart” product). These technologies have been around for decades.

 

The current trend is that component providers who offer all the digital metadata that describes their components may well have an advantage at this stage, because the metadata can feed into systems engineering and other tools, thus helping the project team structure, simulate, then plan the development project.
 

Connectivity
This is the means by which products communicate with the back-end systems and includes a range of methods from standard to proprietary. While it’s been possible to connect devices for some time, historically this has used proprietary, custom-built systems. Today, cloud computing provides a convenient, cost-effective way to connect.

 

Two other areas where innovation is improving connectivity are edge computing and evolving connectivity standards. In this case, edge computing can be defined as servers located close to the smart products or factories that act as a data collection point. Because vast amounts of data can be collected from the billions of devices in the field, it makes sense to do as much data processing as possible near the devices or sensors. This means that less data has to be transmitted to the cloud and less processing will be required later.

 
Evolving connectivity standards include the Industrial Internet of Things Connectivity Framework (IIC:PUB:G5:V1.0:PB:20170228) from the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). It lists ten core standard criteria ranging from “providing syntactic interoperability” to “having readily-available SDKs.” Against these, it rates four connectivity standards: DDS; Web Services; OPC-UA, and oneM2M.

 
Each of these standards is evolving to provide specific advantages in IIoT implementations. For example, DDS is a newer emerging, standard. Its key distinguishing feature is that, unlike the other three, DDS has no concept of messages; the software application talks to the data bus, thus providing a more efficient solution when the data has many destinations.
 

Product access and data routing
Almost every connected product has more than one organization interested in reading its data, and sending it commands. The product-access and data-routing layer controls and manages who has access to what. For example, a machine manufacturer and a third-party service company may offer machine monitoring, optimization, and predictive maintenance. What data will they see? What settings can they change? If something is changed, who is responsible for documenting the change and matching it to other records of use of the machine?

 

These data flows form a complex network, but it’s worth noting that product lifecycle management (PLM) systems have for many years handled access control to manage these kinds of data flows to and from design data. Repurposing and scaling this to cover all operational machines may not be straightforward, but PLM contains relevant experience of the necessary business logic and procedures.
 

Product-specific software applications
This is the heart of many new capabilities of smart, connected products. For example, a new capability to observe and analyze the status of a set of connected devices, and make a plan to operate or service them, will be provided by software in this layer. This layer also has the vital role of making appropriate connections and integration with other enterprise applications.

 

Other enterprise applications
Maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) may well be the focus of a smart connected product initiative, perhaps a switch from fixing breakdowns to usage-based or predictive maintenance. But many MRO issues stay the same: fault handling; configuration; part or software availability for fix; schedule technician or online access to product; fix the problem, report the fix; share the know-how; customer acceptance.

 

The emphasis on the use of tools is mostly on tracking orders and configurations, scheduling technicians and parts for maintenance, and fault fixing. Good integration of these applications enables “servitization,” or enabling companies to supplement their products with additional services.
 

There’s little doubt that the Industrial IoT will continue to be disruptive, changing conventional business and software implementation models, and that the main elements, shown in the six-layer model are in place to support this. But there’s still plenty of room for innovation in the way the Industrial IoT is applied, the way smart-connected devices are developed and manufactured, and the capabilities of the tools and components used across all six layers of IoT.
 
 

—————————-
Alan Griffith is Principal Consultant for Cambashi. His focus is to understand how engineering and manufacturing organizations use technical software applications to meet their business needs, and to assist the software companies who develop and market those applications with their market planning. He has a particular interest in the impact of cloud computing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Alan holds an engineering degree from Cambridge University and qualified as a Chartered Engineer and PRINCE2 project manager.

via IOT Design

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.

Enough MIPS/RAM/ROM

  • 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

Durability

  • 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

Manufacturability

  • 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.

 

via IOT Design

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: www.skyworksinc.com.

via IOT Design

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.

    via IOT Design

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)
</p>

via IOT Design

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.

Request Free Sample copy of Research Report @ https://goo.gl/gkXYvU

via IOT Design