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Introduction to IoT hardware prototypingPrototyping is the process of building IoT hardware (that is, devices enhanced with embedded systems and smart sensors) using numerous off-the-shelf components like circuit boards, sensors and microcontrollers. Off-the-shelf solutions are freely available to end consumers: in fact, you can buy an Arduino board on eBay and have it delivered within 24 hours.
A prototype is by no means a market-ready product; it is a trial version of your connected solution and the proof that your innovative idea can be brought to life.Like the majority of IoT software vendors, R-Style Lab Software Development Company does not build hardware and works with off-the-shelf prototyping solutions only.
These can be divided into two groups:
- Single-board microcontrollers. Such microcontrollers are built on a single circuit board and feature low-power processors supporting special programming environments (C++, Lua scripts, etc.). Their primary purpose is to collect sensor data. Microcontrollers consume little to no power and operate at low frequencies (up to 100 MHz). They don’t need an operating system and use firmware instead. The firmware gathers sensor data and sends it to a cloud-based or on-prem server (wirelessly or over the wire, respectively). Considering the amount of microcontrollers available on the market, choosing the right prototyping components for your IoT solution can be tricky. There’s the ESP8266 chip with the full TCP/IP stack and Wi-Fi connectivity. There are Arduino microcontrollers which support the deep sleep mode, thus prolonging battery life up to 4 years. There are more sophisticated ARM microcontrollers powered by real-time operating systems. To cut a long story short, the choice of an IoT development board totally depends on your gadget’s feature set and performance requirements.
- Microcomputers. If a customer decides to process large amount of sensor data locally for security reasons, it makes sense to use a more powerful prototyping solution like BeagleBoard or Raspberry PI. Such computers are equipped with quad-core processors and graphic accelerators, operate at a frequency of 1.5 GHz and are powered by a classic OS (mostly Linux). Unlike microcontrollers, microcomputers use custom software and support multiple output devices.
3 reasons why you should consider prototyping
- Prototyping saves time and money. Smart gadget design (which involves the design, verification and validation of a printed circuit board) and production are resource- and time-consuming processes. Pavel Shylenok, CTO at R-Style Lab, claims hardware production and certification often amount for 70-80% of an IoT project budget. You surely don’t want to build a device only to discover it does not perform the intended functions or collects inaccurate data, right? Creating prototypes with an IoT hardware development board is a great way to prove your solution can be used in real-life situations and has commercial appeal.
- Prototyping facilitates rapid development. With off-the-shelf components, an experienced vendor can put up a viable product in a couple of weeks and continue with embedded system/mobile application development while you negotiate the deal with a device manufacturer. Innovative products typically have tight market windows. IoT development boards will help you buy time and outperform competitors in the long run.
- Prototyping helps you choose the right tech stack early on. Our company has recently worked on a complex Home Security system which was supposed to track movement both inside and outside buildings. We enhanced an Arduino board with PIR motion sensors and connected the prototype to a laptop. As the ratio between the measured properties and data output did not meet our customer’s requirements, we opted for more sensitive Doppler-effect sensors – and they did not provide the desired level of accuracy either. As a result, we turned to optical motion tracking, replaced the Arduino microcontroller with Raspberry PI and paired several cameras to the Internet of Things development board. Imagine how much it would cost our customer to make those changes during the production stage!
How much does it cost to build an IoT prototype?Back in October we told you how much it really costs to develop an IoT solution, citing Proof of Concept, software feature set and novelty factor as the key reasons why you can’t embark on an IoT project with less than $50 thousand in your pocket. The article did not dwell on hardware development costs, though – and no vendor would specify them for you until he saw your spec. Pavel Shylenok, for instance, says that a sophisticated Home Automation system which incorporates surveillance cameras, multiple types of sensors, a central hub and mobile apps may cost you as much as $5 million. A simple insulin temperature tracker built with an Internet of Things hardware development board like WunderBar reportedly cost the Insulin Angel start-up less than $55 thousand.
Compared to IoT software and custom devices, off-the-shelf prototyping components are dirt cheap and would consume less than 1% of your project budget. A reliable vendor would only bill you for the actual hours spent on putting an IoT development board parts together and enclose hardware receipts with the first report.However, innovative projects are always carried out by senior developers, software architects, experienced QA engineers and certified Business Analysts who can dive into your domain, define business objectives and put cutting-edge technologies to work. Their hourly rates range from $250 (USA) to $40 (Eastern Europe). Also, IoT projects involve research, and the phase will not necessarily bring you closer to a market-ready product. It doesn’t mean you should give up on your IoT project (and using development boards for initial IoT prototyping in particular). Even if you don’t have millions to put your gadget into mass production, you can always address an experienced vendor to build an IoT prototype and apps and pitch your idea to investors! Think big – and success will follow!