Don’t Design the Next Useless IoT Gadget

December 6, 2016

Christine Young By: Christine Young
Blogger, Maxim Integrated 

Do we really need $300 smart learning consoles that keep our dogs engaged while they’re home alone? Or $1500 intelligent ovens that automatically recognize and cook (only) certain foods? Or how about smart water bottles, floss dispensers, and umbrellas?

IDC forecasts that the global internet of things (IoT) market will grow to $1.7 trillion in 2020, with the number of connected devices topping 29.5 billion by that year. Amidst all of these things are some truly useful devices and also a fair share of duds.

Why? Some products simply do not solve a very compelling problem.  

“I do think that some IoT devices can be disappointing. But when they’re disappointing, they’re often disappointing in consistent and predicable ways,” said Mike Vladimer, co-founder of Orange IoT Studio during a talk at the recent IDTechEx Show!

IDTechEx Show! brought together people interested in emerging technologies in areas such as wearables, IoT, 3D printing, energy harvesting, and electric vehicles. Held in mid-November at the Santa Clara Convention Center, the conference attracted attendees from roughly 25 countries.

Change Behaviors, Or Create New Ones

During his talk, “From Disappointing to Delightful: Building with IoT,” Vladimer reminded the audience that there’s almost always an existing solution to an IoT device—and devices themselves are just the tip of the IoT iceberg. There’s much more to discover and deliver in our smart, connected world.

So why does IoT disappoint? Vladimer observed that there’s a “herd mentality to IoT-ify devices,” but not everyone is moving in the right direction. Prices of components such as sensors and actuators have dropped 10X over the last 10 years. The same technology that was once only feasible in missiles is being designed into dog collars, for example. This dynamic is helping to bring a ton of different IoT products to brick-and-mortar and virtual shelves.

Vladimer and his colleagues are focused on helping companies create IoT products that delight, not disappoint. What makes a delightful product? A product that solves a problem in a better way than an existing solution fits the bill. So does a product where “the total is more than the sum of its parts,” he said. For example:

  • The Kinsa digital smart thermometer tracks health-related data by location, giving schools and municipalities the insights needed to manage public health
  • Bloomlife smart pregnancy trackers automatically display, track, and count contractions, helping women better pinpoint when they’re ready to give birth and, through crowdsourcing, providing a trove of data that can be used to help doctors better predict and manage pregnancy complications
  • Jawbone fitness trackers frame data in the context that users most care about. “It’s really boiling down data into actionable insight,” Vladimer said.

Orange IoT Studio is behind LoRa, a new signal modulation technique based on chirp spread spectrum. Focused on long-range (2-10Km), low-power (<100x a cellular radio), low data rate (0.3kbps-11kbps), and low-cost applications, LoRa is intended to address some of the technical and economic challenges of existing connectivity solutions for IoT designs. Indeed, developing IoT products does come with unique design challenges, given their small form factor, low-power requirements, and security vulnerabilities. To address security concerns, Maxim offers an array of secure microcontrollers in its DeepCover family and has created an IoT embedded security reference design. MAXREFDES143# (Figure 1) protects an industrial sensing node via authentication and notification to a web server. 

 “It’s really exciting if you can replace an entire behavior with an IoT device,” said Vladimer, citing voice command devices like Amazon Echo as an example. “There’s lots of opportunity for IoT to delight, and it won’t be disappointing with the right design.”