The sum of its parts
A great IoT device is smart, connected, and more than the sum of its parts. Discover what it takes to bring it all together.
The sum of its parts
A great IoT device is smart, connected, and more than the sum of its parts. Discover what it takes to bring it all together.
Who doesn’t love gadgets? I won’t say I’m an early adopter but there’s always something coming out that I’d happily add to my collection. And for anyone thinking the pandemic would slow down innovation, think again! Just checking out the range of new products and technologies displayed at this January’s CES 20221 proved how device manufacturers aren’t just staying afloat, they’re surging ahead.
From fully connected autonomous cars, laptops with foldable OLED displays2, VR headsets, advances in smartwatches, connected vacuums, smart thermostats, smart doors, and connected outdoor gaming consoles3, you name it, the list was massive! You can even get a smart bird feeder!4
This isn’t even mentioning all the industrial innovations. But one thing is noticeably clear. Connected devices are king and are everywhere. Not that long ago they were seen as emerging technologies, today they’re mainstream. We aren’t that far from 4D printing, quantum computing, nano-engineering, and even ‘smart dust’5 becoming common.
But this surge in connected, IoT devices, clearly comes with many challenges and concerns. Especially regarding security, safety, and reliability. Being widespread shouldn’t mean that devices are rushed into production. Industrial use, especially, can’t afford to get this wrong. If a new smart ring sends incorrect or incomplete data to a healthcare provider about a patient, that can result in potential trouble. And what if that data is stolen?More
Maybe you’re developing (or using) autonomous robots to deliver pizza6? Just imagine the thousands of things that can go wrong. Late and cold pizza being the worst. Jokes aside, think of the regulatory and legal issues7. The need to test in random environments – especially for human interactions – and having to run potentially millions of scenarios to ensure it can meet safety requirements.
The coming years will undoubtedly see the demand for connected devices increase tenfold across every industry. Their uses and potential are limited only by our imaginations. But we must be smart about their development. If one part fails, it all can. And the harm may be more widespread than an unhappy customer or unfinished device. As Microsoft noted in their paper on ‘The seven properties of highly secured devices’8:
“Even the most mundane device can become dangerous when compromised over the Internet: a toy can spy or deceive, an appliance can self-destruct or launch a denial of service, a piece of equipment can maim or destroy. With risks to life, limb, reputation, and property so high, single-line-of-defense and second-best solutions are not enough.”Show less
“So, let’s get every part right!”
Georg Hansbauer, CEO & Co-Founder, Testbirds
In the 14 years since the Internet of Things was born10, we are ever closer to the day when all devices will be connected to the internet. This isn’t hyperbole.
The IoT industry is now worth over US $380 billion10 and the international IoT market revenue is expected to reach over US $1 trillion by 2024. By 2030, it’s estimated that connected devices will number nearly 30 billion11 a good four devices for every person.
Such universal and democratized connectivity will revolutionize industries and profoundly change the way people work and live. It also has the potential to power sustainability and benefit our environment. For device manufacturers, speed to market and optimized customer experiences will be key to their success. Digital transformation is everywhere.
Today, not only are consumers spoilt for choice but as we move further into the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0), so will every industry. The merger of recent technologies, including sensors, connectivity, streaming, cyber-physical systems12, cyber-security, machine-to-machine communication, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, is spurring ever greater efficiencies and enabling organizations to make meaningful insights across their business.More
From home use to schools, food production, factory floors, hospitals, car manufacturers, and more, connected devices are set to create value not just for individuals and companies, but for society.
This won’t come automatically. Or easily. There are platforms to choose and learn. New technologies to consider. Industry specific challenges to navigate. Strategies to evaluate. Regulations to meet. Physical and digital design to optimize. Security concerns to mitigate. And, perhaps, most importantly – customers to keep happy.
With that in mind, let’s look at what’s new and impacting the industry, where it’s showing its true potential, and the various areas to consider when putting together all the parts of a connected device.Show less
„Only 20% of consumers understand the term Internet of Things yet nearly 70% own an IoT device“
Connecting the dots
As defined by Oracle14, “The Internet of Things (IoT) describes the network of physical objects – “things” – that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet.”
These ‘things’ can be sensors, security devices, wearables, tablets, industrial machines, anything. If it can be made to interact online or with other devices, it transforms from being a ‘dumb’ device to a ‘smart’ device.
And there are billions of them around the world.
While they’re often associated with personal use, IoT devices are used in multiple industries and are quickly gaining in popularity as their benefits become clear. They enable easy automation and control. Optimize efficiency and productivity (keeping costs down). Improve monitoring and real-time data collection. Even improve quality of life. Let’s look at how some industries are using them.
Traditional farming methods are being drastically improved with the use of IoT devices. Sensors can conveniently track livestock, measure water levels, and even check weather patterns15. Additionally, the data collected by IoT devices are used to help farmers improve crop maintenance and decide when the ideal time is to plant and harvest16.
IoT devices will be essential in combating sustainability issues, food stress, and changes to farmland from climate change.
IoT devices in retail revolve around two fundamental things – supply chain optimization and the customer experience. RFID and GPS technologies track inventory while in-store IoT-based beacons17 track customers and provide personalized push notifications based on where the customer is looking. Such real-time data is then used to boost efficiencies and provide instant support, recommendations, and offers.
IoT devices will be a strong tool for traditional retailers to compete with their online competitors.
IoT in healthcare can improve workers’ productivity, track (and self-repair) equipment, and help provide care for patients, whether they’re at home or in a healthcare facility. IoT devices can remotely track a range of health issues such as hypertension,see if they are taking their medicine, and even be ingested to monitor for chronic disease18. Data gathered can then be used to improve care, reduce costs, and drive efficiencies.
The IoT in Healthcare market was valued at US $46.44 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach US $89.6 billion by 202619.
IoT devices are rapidly transforming how medical professionals approach healthcare.
When production lines must be efficient, safe, and minimize waste, IoT devices can collect real-time metrics on what’s happening on the shop floor, manage assets, equipment usage, and provide predictive maintenance20. Sensors can check for harmful emissions, product quality, and help with process automation.
IoT devices in manufacturing are big business, especially when it comes to industrial use.
Every industry has its unique challenges, needs, cultures, operating environments, and technical requirements. For device developers, this poses many challenges when it comes to thoroughly testing their devices across each industry. Even if a device is designed to work within one industry, every business is different. As are their expectation. This can also become additionally complicated if their business is spread
across multiple countries. Crowdtesting is an ideal way to mitigate these challenges. By selecting testers who work in each industry, from any country in the world, it is possible to address specific needs with an extremely high level of detail. Testing solutions to consider:
An enabler of Industry 4.021 (which is all about the digitalization of manufacturing), Industrial IoT is the use of IoT devices within industries such as manufacturing, transportation, and energy22:
“Industrial IoT is an ecosystem of devices, sensors, applications, and associated networking equipment that work together to collect, monitor, and analyze data from industrial operations.”
This data can then, according to Cisco, be aggregated and analyzed to better control operations and:
- Improve worker safety
- Increase production uptime by predictive maintenance of machinery
- Maintain product quality
- Help ensure regulatory compliance
- Improve operational efficiencies
- Accelerate response times with real-time collection and processing of operational data
For developers of IoT devices, the business potential is immense. Everyone is looking for devices that can transform their traditional operations (and lives) for the better. But the challenge will be in fully understanding and staying on top of the latest technologies that underpin the IoT.
New kids on the blockchain
As IoT devices and smart services continue their unstoppable expansion into homes and industries, the amount of data collected, sent, processed, analyzed, and sent again is eating up processing power, bandwidth, battery life, and storage. Thankfully, a variety of technologies are appearing (or maturing) that promise to help.
Linking security and trust
As defined by IBM23, “Blockchain is a shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network. An asset can be tangible (a house, car, cash, land) or intangible (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, branding). Virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded on a blockchain network, reducing risk and cutting costs for all involved.”
For data sent from IoT devices, this provides the highest levels of security as stored information cannot be changed and is placed within a decentralized peer-to-peer network. In realtime. All data is then secured within a unique ‘block’ (ultimately building into a chain of blocks) using cryptographic principles. Such blockchain networks can involve thousands of servers or connected computers, and this removes the potential of a catastrophic failure, or security breach, from a single point. In the mid to long term, this is what will drive the adoption of IoT and blockchain. With so many devices connecting to single system, secure vulnerabilities are too high. Blockchain can solve this.
Users benefit from data security, speed, and reliability. IoT developers can easily track their devices, effectively manage and secure data, save money by not using a service provider, and most importantly, build trust with their customers.
Working on the edge
One technology that is set to become core to IoT devices, is edge computing. ‘The edge’ is a distributed computing framework that is extremely fast, accurate, and secure. Traditionally, an IoT device sends data to the cloud (or a specific data server) where it is analyzed before being sent back to the end-user.
When every millisecond counts between a happy or frustrated customer, each device must have extremely fast and reliable response times. This requires looking closely at bandwidth, load balancing, stability, scalability, and more.
An additional challenge in achieving this is where each person or business is located. Each will have its issues regarding Internet access, speed, and accessibility. With crowdtesting this isn’t a problem. Regardless of where the device needs to be tested and under which conditions, testers can be quickly sourced. They can even be your employees or customers. Each then tests the device in real-world conditions to gather detailed insights into the device’s performance.
Testing solutions to consider:
This can lead to latency and broadband issues. The edge, however, does this analysis far closer to where it was created by using edge nodes24. This also makes it more secure than the cloud because data isn’t stored in a centralized location, which makes it easier for hackers to find and compromise. Valued at US $4.68 billion in 2020, the edge computing market is predicted to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 38.4% from 2021 to 2028.25
This comes as no surprise. The many advantages of the edge, as noted by Orient Software26, include:
- Less waiting time
- Reduced network congestion
- Improved security
- Improved customer satisfaction
- New IoT functionalities
- More affordable IoT solutions
- Improved battery life
- Improved machine learning & AI capabilities
- Unsupervised learning-enabled
- Low latency
- Better network management
That makes it a strong contender to eventually dethrone the cloud.
Clouding the issue
When it comes to IoT and the cloud, there are several choices. Public (where cloud services are offered by a cloud provider to multiple customers), private (where a provider supplies a cloud service to only one customer), hybrid (a mix of public, private, and/or an on-premises data center), and multicloud (a collection of public clouds where you might use one for storage and another for their applications).
All also offer a range of service models, including:
- Software-as-a-Service, where applications are hosted on remote servers, not local devices
- Platform-as-a-Service, where developers pay for the tools needed to build their applications
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service, where only servers and storage are used to build applications, with the IoT device developer building their applications with their own tools
- Function-as-a-Service, where the service provider owns everything but lets developers run code (for a fee), which is ideal for developers with only limited processing needs.
However, all cloud types have their specific pros and cons. Public tends to have security and compliance issues and there’s always the problem with vendor lock-in, however, it is costeffective and time-efficient. Private is often more expensive but provides more security, scalability, and flexibility. Hybrid is more complicated when it comes to integrations and security but offers more flexibility and fewer disruptions (if one cloud goes down). Multicloud generally has more latency, greater complexity, and higher difficulty balancing performance and reliability. But it does offer more redundancies and reduces vendor lock-in.
Regardless of which is used, the cloud is extremely important to IoT. By offering the storage space and tools to effectively manage vast amounts of data, the cloud provides a simplified, highly scalable, and cost-effective solution (compared to developing and maintaining your in-house system).
Currently, when it comes to IoT devices and the data they generate, the cloud is a popular choice, especially for small to mid-sized businesses.
Take center stage
One of the most important technologies required for IoT device development is the platform it is developed on. Deciding on the right one to use is a challenge but by carefully analyzing aims and goals, and determining how to achieve them, this can be simplified. One way to do this is by looking at IoT Technology Stacks and comparing them against the IoT Decision Framework.
The most common tech stack features five layers:
- Device hardware
- Device software
- Cloud platform
- Cloud applications
On the other side, the IoT Decision Framework defines six areas to consider when developing an IoT device: The User Experience, Data, Business, Technology, Security, and Regulations & Standards.
These are then evaluated against the five layers. For example, when it comes to device hardware, what makes a great user experience? You then continue down each decision area across all the layers. Is the Data easy to find and use within the Device Software? What will each layer cost my business / where is their potential for making money?
It’s complex. Especially when you hit the framework’s Technology level because this is what you need to build a final product. It’s also where your need can determine which IoT platform(s) is best for you to create the specific features that will make up your device.
Defined by Gartner27, “An IoT platform is an on-premises software suite or a cloud service (IoT platform as a service [PaaS]) that monitors and may manage and control various types of endpoints, often via applications business units deploy on the platform. The IoT platform usually provides (or provisions) Web-scale infrastructure capabilities to support basic and advanced IoT solutions and digital business operations.”
By combining a variety of tools and functionalities, IoT platforms are what help you to connect your physical device to the software that produces actional insights from the data they collect.
They can include stand-alone platforms for hardware development (to include microcontrollers/processors, Systems-on- Chip, etc.), app development, connectivity (the technologies required to connect the device to the data center, such as Bluetooth, MQTT, and WiFi), and analytics. You can also use full end-to-end platforms that cover everything required to develop an IoT device.
Alongside analytics, device management, connectivity management, and application management, a fifth key element that each must include – according to IDC28 – is dashboard and reporting.
Ideally, they will also offer appropriate data security control, scalability, ease of use, flexible integration, interoperability, and a range of implementation options.
Examples of platforms are Google Cloud IoT29, IBM Watson IoT30, Amazon AWS IoT Core31, and Microsoft Azure IoT Hub32.
Discovering the best technology to build and run an IoT device is essential. But many other elements cannot be ignored. From overall security (both physical and cyber), the user interface, physical challenges, and even your overall IoT strategy.
All are integral parts of a fully formed solution.Show less
Customer Journey Testing
The line between the real and digital world continues to fade. Test interactions in all parts of the customer experience with the help of the Crowd, and in real-world conditions.Find out more
Meeting the challenge
In a simplified sense, a successful IoT device is useful, usable, and used. If they aren’t used, they create no data, and that means they cannot create real, actionable, value.
Every step of product development, from alpha, beta, (or minimum viable product and proof-of-concept) to the pilot stage is a chance to fix issues and optimize the device. While early, consistent, and ongoing testing is best, this is not always possible because of time constraints and lack of resources.
During this time, devices have yet to be tested outside of a lab environment. This presents additional challenges – environmental differences, user behavior and preferences, connectivity issues, and much more.
Not only does crowdtesting enable real-world testing in real-world conditions, but it also puts each device in the hands of people who closely resemble your customers. They can then test if it does what is expected and provide unbiased feedback on its overall performance and functionality.
Testing solutions to consider:
Moving past the pilot stage and creating a device that will be used requires a close look at several factors. Getting each right is vital for success. But first up, it is worth considering the bigger picture about what is being developed and whether everyone is on board. In a recent article, McKinsey outlined three habits that are essential for a successful IoT project:
- Begin with what you already do, make, or sell (basically, play to your strengths)
- Climb the learning curve with multiple use cases (for maximum impact, go big)
- Embrace opportunities for business-process changes (if something isn’t working, change it)
- Once that is all set, it is possible to move on to getting each part right.
Develop a data-led strategy
Regardless of the use case34 for an IoT device, there is one thing they all do, and that is collect data. A lot of data that must be then analyzed, secured, and stored. That may be manageable for a few devices, but what happens when there are thousands? Data streaming and storage are quickly impacted.
It’s important to determine exactly what the data is to be used for, how to manage it, and how long to keep it. Not all data is created equal.
If the device (and its defined function) is to collect real-time data, how long do you keep it? To determine patterns over a longer period, should that data be moved to an analytics data warehouse? What happens to any data on the device?
Such considerations can help determine product design and which platforms, edge solutions, and cloud services can best meet these data requirements. To see how the technology stack can manage such data.
In a recent webinar35, the unbelievable Machine Company (an Orange company), outlined seven tips for building an IoT data strategy:
- Map your data to your use case at the beginning
- Plan and create your IoT architecture
- Overarching data management is core
- Decide on data storage
- Assess data volumes
- Adopt end-to-end encryption
- Collect only data that you need
The sixth point is vital.
Focus on security (physical and cyber)
In October 2016, an IoT botnet called Mirai launched a distributed denial-of-service attack on service provider Dyn36. Once an individual device was infected it would then search for other vulnerable IoT devices and infect them, they would all then be ‘coordinated into bombarding a server with traffic until it collapses under the strain’. The botnet ultimately brought down huge sections of the Internet throughout the US and Europe.
In 2017, the US FDA confirmed that St. Jude Medicals’ implantable cardiac devices could be hacked37. Batteries could then be depleted, and incorrect pacing or shocks could be administered. That same year, a children’s toy (the Cayla doll) was banned in Germany by their Federal Network Agency38 because it was deemed to be like a surveillance device that could record video and sound without detection.
A 2020 study by Ordr39 of over 5 million unmanaged, IoT, and Internet of Medical Things devices, found a ‘staggering number of vulnerabilities and risks’, including multiple issues with Shadow IoT40.
An online search will find many more instances. Whether through weak passwords, old and unpatched software, insecure interfaces, lack of security updates, not enough data protection, or even hardware issues, IoT devices are prime targets for hackers, cybercriminals, and other bad agents.
To help address this, Microsoft develop their ‘seven properties of highly secured devices’41. Specifically, that highly secured devices must have:
- A hardware root of trust – Device identity and integrity are protected by hardware. Physical countermeasures resist side-channel attacks.
- Defense in depth – Multiple mitigations applied against threats. Countermeasures mitigate the consequences of a successful attack on any one vector.
- A small trusted computing base – Private keys stored in a hardware-protected vault, inaccessible to software – Division of software into self-protecting layers.
- Provide dynamic compartments – Hardware-enforced barriers between software components prevent a breach in one from propagating to others.
- Use password-less authentication – Signed token, signed by an unforgeable cryptographic key, proves the device’s identity and authenticity.
- Online error reporting – A software error, such as a buffer overrun induced by an attacker probing security, is reported to a cloud-based failure analysis system.
- Renewable security – Update brings the device forward to a secure state and revokes compromised assets for known vulnerabilities or security breaches.
Another essential component to consider is the physical device itself. Is it vulnerable to tampering? Could it be open to side-channel analysis?42 Body Bias Injection?43 Temperature attacks?44 Whether it’s to physically tamper with a device or introduce a fault that may enable access to the overall system, a device’s physical security must also be considered. When a device is situated in open or public areas, does it use a tamperproof enclosure? Security must be incorporated into the entire design process.
Don’t skimp on UI and UX
When focusing on use cases, technology, and security, it can be easy to forget one of the most important aspects of any device. Its user interface (UI). Beyond the physical device itself, the UI is all the users can see and interact with. If it isn’t user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing it can put the entire device back on the shelf. It is also the launching point for building a great user experience, where functionality, usability, and accessibility are constantly improved upon.More
A successful UI should be consistent (don’t overcrowd it and use too many different styles) and enable users to accomplish what they want as seamlessly as possible. It should be intuitive, familiar, responsive, consistent, clear, and inclusive. The device itself may work perfectly and its style and functionality are second-to-none, but when the UI elements are not working optimally, the overall user experience is negatively impacted.
This cannot be understated. A good, if not great, user experience is essential for a device’s success.
Battery life is key
Not much else can impact a customer’s experience than their device constantly running out of power. This, naturally, becomes more complicated and serious when discussing medical devices and manufacturers that may need to replace batteries in thousands of devices.
What is clear is that any IoT device manufacturer who can demonstrate that their solution offers long and reliable operating times will gain a clear advantage over those who cannot. This is regardless of whether a device is remote and in difficult to access areas or worn on the body. Ensuring this for IoT devices is a challenge because they are expected to operate under a range of conditions, including variable workloads, different climates, temperatures, changing network efficiencies, and processing speeds.
Consider a battery’s float life, which is the battery’s ability to run on a constant charge. Simply increasing the temperature can drastically reduce its float life45.
When selecting the right battery for any device, several areas must be considered:
- How much power the device needs
- The size, shape, and weight of the battery
- Whether it is for one-time use or rechargeable
From that point, you need to consider a range of other parameters46:
- Battery chemistry
- Charge cycles
- Cell voltage
- Voltage stability
- Peak discharge current
- Self-discharge current
The effort is real, but the benefits of picking the right battery are significant.
With billions of devices using billions more batteries, this has clear issues with sustainable IoT. Especially when it comes to their eventual safe disposal. Sensors and battery-free / echargeable battery devices that ‘harvest’ energy47 from the background environment just might be the answer.
By taking advantage of wireless communication and ultralow-powered circuits, indoor and outdoor light sources, radio waves, and motion can be used to keep a device charged. What’s good for the environment, might finally be good for business.Show less
Customer journey testing of the KELLER online shops: Keller Sports and Keller x
Smart technology for a sustainable future
One of the biggest promises of connected, smart devices, and digitalization overall, is its potential to help optimize efficiencies and lead to more, improved, sustainability solutions.
This was discussed – at length – in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) report on Digitalization and Energy48, which noted that:
“Over the coming decades, digital technologies are set to make energy systems around the world more connected, intelligent, efficient, reliable and sustainable. Stunning advances in data, analytics and connectivity are enabling a range of new digital applications such as smart appliances, shared mobility, and 3D printing. Digitalized energy systems in the future may be able to identify who needs energy and deliver it at the right time, in the right place and at the lowest cost.”
This is already being seen with smart building controls that regulate heating, lighting, and air conditioning, that track humidity, monitor air quality, and more. While today most are relatively primitive (sensors noting when someone is in the room or temperatures manually set via an app), some are taking a more intelligent approach. Soon, homes and offices are likely to be run by AI-driven solutions that collect and analyze data, learn preferences, and automatically make decisions on the best ways to save energy consumption. Not a terrible thing as, according to the IEA, ‘buildings account for nearly one-third of global final energy consumption and 55% of global electricity demand’.
Imagine if every building could reduce its energy consumption by half. This also means that enormous amounts of data are being generated from every building. Consider what that data could mean to building designers, city planners, and infrastructure developers.More
With smart traffic signals monitoring traffic in real-time and smart (and autonomous) cars and trucks being constantly monitored, traffic flows can be optimized, and congestion minimized. Predictive maintenance can ensure vehicles are off the road before there is any chance of a breakdown. Commute times can be reduced, as was shown by Waze (a community-driven GPS and navigational app) in a pilot program in Europe where they “reduced driving time by 19-percent via license-based routing and regulating the traffic flow and traffic routing of cars whose license plates ended with odd numbers or even numbers.”49
Smart parking can ensure drivers save fuel and reduce emissions by not spending an average of 17 hours a year driving around searching for a parking spot.50 IoT sensors connected to satellites enable smart farming (or precision agriculture)51, which results in more efficient production and less waste.
Whether through smart energy management, smart waste management, air pollution monitoring, fleet management, smart water management, supply chain monitoring, and much more, IoT is in the perfect spot to drive sustainability.Show less
Every part matters
As IoT devices fill every home and impact every industry, developers who consider every aspect of their device’s development will gain a clear competitive advantage. Each must alleviate privacy concerns, be reliable, secure, compatible, and deliver a great experience. Every time it is used.
With the potential to positively impact individual lives, society, business efficiency, and even the environment, IoT devices can only go from strength to strength. Everyone should be happy to be a part of that.