Embedding IoT: A Modular Solution to Connected Development
Defining the Indefinite
The Internet of Things (IoT) describes a vast network of connected devices that collect, share, and interpret data. While such a broad definition may be mind boggling, clarity comes when considering IoT in practice. In essence, an IoT device is any device that connects to the internet to transmit and/or receive information.
Examples of IoT in practice are increasingly prevalent in all industries. From IoT monitors for industrial filtration systems, to home voice assistants like ‘Alexa’, the possibilities for IoT application are endless. This contributes to the difficulties associated with developing an IoT device. Endless possibilities means a wide range of expertise is required just to get the ball rolling.
Why is IoT Development so Difficult?
The challenges associated with IoT device development begin with an essential concern for security. Whenever a device is connected to the cloud it invites potential for unauthorized parties to access and interfere with your internal data and processes. In almost every application of IoT, security and privacy will be paramount. Whether protecting consumer data or high value private information, a solid security foundation is imperative to have a successful IoT device.
Developers must consider how programs will be accessible through both the cloud and the device itself. These multiple channels add a layer of complexity to an already challenging task. The functional and security capabilities of the hardware must be supported by software systems. To effectively leverage such solutions requires a substantial depth of expertise.
Protecting information that resides in the cloud carries its own set of complications. The difficulties in limiting accessibility of online information to authorized channels often outweigh the market potential of the device. Thus, easily discouraged developers tend to steer clear of the daunting task.
Even when an IoT solution can guarantee reliability and security, our instant gratification society challenges developers to increase the speed of their solutions. Since IoT devices inherently transmit information to and/or from the cloud, minimization of latency becomes an essential determinant of your device’s functional speed. For example, when you ask an IoT voice assistant any question, the device must relay your question to the cloud, find the answer, and transmit it back to the device itself, all before providing the requested information to the user. Thus, any latency quickly compounds to create substantial lag time for the user.
Excessive wait time can lead to the market failure of your device as consumers gravitate towards faster, more convenient options. The emphasis on rapid response time is only increasing the risks associated with IoT development. In short, if ‘Alexa’ takes minutes to answer a question you might as well have searched for the answer to the question yourself. Above all else, IoT development is difficult because it is fundamentally different from production of devices that do not emphasize connectivity. Unique expertise is required at every step of the way, from hardware selection to software development.
IoT devices require more processing power than their unconnected counterparts, and this also means higher power consumption. These capabilities must be considered in the development of the hardware itself. Though processing and power requirements lend themselves to larger devices, many IoT developers are pressured to offer increasingly compact solutions. For applications where low power consumption and small form factor are necessary in conjunction with connectivity capabilities, only the most specialized developers will be able to fulfill all device requirements.
The Modular Solution
Despite the obvious challenges, investment in IoT solutions is growing rapidly. Over the next 7 years spending on IoT platforms for manufacturing alone is expected to grow at the rate of 40% compounded annually. IoT solutions are being implemented for quality management, order fulfillment, systems automation, remote monitoring, and optimization of nearly every process imaginable. These innovations are proliferating, leaving OEMs in a veritable race to market.
With new technological investments comes the need for new development strategies. While traditional solutions design the device from scratch, from circuit boards to software, an increasingly efficient solution comes in the form of modular development.
Modular development presents the key advantages of accelerated development and reduced costs, with the added benefit of improved security and reliability. When an OEM utilizes a System on Module (SOM) for IoT development, the design process is streamlined. By including an entire system on the module, OEMs can begin configuration, software development, and prototyping without delay. This gives OEMs an invaluable head start by eliminating the time and expense OEMs incur developing a chip from scratch. Jumpstart development when racing your competitors to market and reduce production costs to undercut competitors price point by leveraging a System on Module.
SOMs also provide the benefit of unwavering security and reliability. SOMs include not only security measures built in to the chip, but integrated hardware secure elements. Most SOM providers even include a complementary software security suite. With lifecycle support and cross-compatibility for easy product updates, SOMs present a solution that can be easily updated to accommodate the security needs of the future.
Opponents of modular development may argue that these benefits do not outweigh the cost of compromising customization. However, many module providers now offer full customization of existing connected modules. This means your SOM provider can add, remove, or exchange components from your board to create an entirely original embedded solution. While chip down or chipset manufacturing delivers a custom solution, full-service modular developers now rival this offering. Customized SOMs offer a solution that has been specially made for your product while maintaining the modular advantage of accelerated timeline, reduced costs, and heightened security when compared to chip down strategies.
Most importantly for IoT applications, modular strategies facilitate unrivaled connectivity capabilities. Chip down methods may require conscious premeditation of connective capacity, but the modular approach allows connectivity modules to be integrated as needed. Mix and match cellular, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and ethernet connectivity to fit your specific product needs. Even double up with multiple connectivity channels to ensure your connection never goes down. For versatility, effectiveness, and connectivity, SOMs present an opportunity to leverage deep expertise without incurring the costs associated with staffing a whole team of experts.
What is Next?
The decision to pursue a modular development strategy for your IoT device development does not end the process. With countless SOM providers, selecting the module for you becomes a pivotal moment in device development. Many providers may design a SOM only to outsource manufacturing processes, compromising their control over quality. Other providers manufacture their SOMs in house but offer little supplementary support. OEMs are then left to ponder the risks associated with utilizing a provider that may not be able to provide the necessary development support or unwavering quality.
The best advice for OEMs in selecting a SOM provider comes in the form of a timeless proverb, ‘better safe than sorry’. While the cheapest option may present a certain allure, when development difficulties or quality concerns arise, you need a provider that offers the support necessary to rectify the situation. These SOM companies become more of a partner than provider, delivering full-service solutions from customization to integration. Even for off-the-shelf solutions, these comprehensive SOM partners offer peace of mind and quality assurances only possible with in-house manufacturing. To learn more browse our website or reach out to our team for specific questions!