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How To Create a Hardware StartUp: IoT Project from Idea to Production


 
  1. OVERVIEW 
  2. SHAPE IDEA INTO SET OF GOALS
  3. FIRST STEPS
  4. DESIGN THE PRODUCT
  5. PROTOTYPE AND TESTS CONCEPTS
  6. SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT
  7. CREATE A FINAL 3D MODEL
  8. START BETA TESTING
  9. LAUNCH MVP
  10. PACKAGE DESIGN
  11. MASS PRODUCTION
  12. CONCLUSION

1. OVERVIEW

It's time for the industrial revolution 4.0, and you won't miss it. Why? Nowadays, industrial businesses are getting to the next level of automation. Using artificial intelligence to control the process and predict possible issues with the help of modern sensors that communicate with the ERP system. So if your business doesn't transform, it will be impossible to compete on the market. It is not a secret that all in our world evolves, including business. If you want to be relevant, you have to invest in the integration of new technologies.

This write up is aimed at describing the step by step process involved in successfully managing an IoT project from conception to fulfillment. Unique to every project that would ever see the light of the day, there must be adherence to the process of project management 

Peculiar to IoT project are complicated technical specifications both for software and hardware, the need to recruit and create a core technical team; consultants and professionals; Sponsor and income flow. In the midst of all these, without a detailed process laid down, a project can suffer gross failure irrespective of how brilliant the idea of the project is.

Below are the detailed steps you must follow in other to bring an IoT project from idea to production:

 

2. SHAPE IDEA INTO SET OF GOALS


An idea is what it is, just the idea. Ideas by themselves rarely sell. What sells is the idea worked upon. For technical projects like IoT, the idea must be broken down into sub-goals to track success within the desired time frame.

It must be understood that the success of any IoT project is dependent on two major factors or resources: time and money. Both resources are critical because they are limited, hence the need to follow a strict project management techniques. Consequently, breaking a broad objective to smaller achievable goals within a time frame, not just only helps in timely success but allows managing finance. 

You should describe three points for the project requirements:

 

2.1 WHAT IS YOUR PERFECT FINAL PRODUCT?

Describe your final product in very lucid terms. Understanding what it would be like speeds up the whole process of achieving your desired goals. Alongside this, you must also consider a few factors that affect product feasibility, which is: process, finance, and time. 

2.2 WHAT ARE THE MAIN FEATURES?

The idea of your final product must fully describe:

  • functionality and benefits,
  • physicality (what would it look like in terms of aesthetics, durability, color),
  • a requirement of an auxiliary product (would it need extra gadgets or is it an independent project?),
  • software specifications (The UI, the functions, and the technical specification of the software). Also, take into consideration similar products on the market

2.3 WHAT IS YOUR FIRST PROJECT VERSION?

Your first project version is usually the first milestone in achieving your final product version. Your prototype is often basic, with just the major functions you desire to have in your final product.

Project requirements include both technical and business parts of the idea. Where, why, and at which circumstances will the final user use your product? The clearer you will be, the better-dedicated team will understand the goals. Otherwise, you may not be on the same page with the team, and it may cause failed deadline or additional expenses.

See our project description template for the reference. 

 

3. FIRST STEPS

3.1 FIND POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS

 Your biggest concern in any IoT project should be the availability of consumers for your end product. Involving yourself in a feasibility study and market research will reveal to you all the points you should correct or make in your product's final specifications. 

This particular step can save you a ton of money, wasted time, and resources and, in fact, can speed up the rate of acceptance both at product testing and launching the project.

3.2 FIND DEVELOPMENT TEAM

Selecting your development team is a sensitive issue. The right team can convert the most hectic idea into a great product. Having the right team reduces risk and unnecessary spending; the right team can be used for more projects in the future. The importance of having just the right team cannot be overemphasized.


Here are a few things to note when choosing a team:

CREATING A CORE TEAM
Every project needs a team, a team where all the fundamental aspects of the project have a representative. The goal here is to define a qualified team leads for each part of the project (design, hardware, electronics, software, etc.).
CONSULTING
A certain aspect of your project would need to outsource. Outsourcing reduces the expense of employing professionals full time into your project work. You and your team have now understood all that is required for the project and would then decide aspects you intend to contract out. 
When it comes to the choice of constituting a grand team or consulting, both have advantages and disadvantages. Where a team gives you full control of the activity involved, it comes with a high demand for finance, people management, sick leaves, and insurance. Consulting lifts off the burdens stated above significantly; however, the major problem is in choosing the right firm or people you would contract your projects to.

PARTNERSHIP
The other way to get a team is to find a tech company that would be interested in partnering with you. In that case, you may save the budget for the project and get and additional motivation for the team to push your project to success.

3.3 PREPARE TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

At this point, you have:
-a team.
-a deep understanding of the main project requirements
-goals that are to be reached

You are now ready to prepare your technical specification for the design of your product which must cover both hardware and the software 


 HARDWARE SPECIFICATION

Although all the specifications will be written by your team members, you have to have an overall understanding of its main points.

Below are a few things to put into consideration when setting the hardware specification of your project

  1. Power Source and Power Management
  2. Sensors/actuators: Most IoT devices gather information on the physical world through sensors or manipulate the physical world through actuators. Once you have a sensor that you are going to use, you will need to interface it with your MCU using amplifiers or analog to digital converter.
  3. Processor and memory storage: You should find out how and where to store local data, as well as decide which controller to use. You have to determine the main components of your device.
  4. Design requirements and constraints.


SOFTWARE SPECIFICATION

Below are a few things to put into consideration when setting the software specification of your project

  1. UI/ UX: You should determine if your product would have a software interface on the hardware part of the product like this: 

  1. Wireless Communication: choosing the proper technology/protocols which fulfill the initial requirements of the product.
  2. If you plan to develop a web or mobile application for your device, the software specification should also include core functions and features explained as user stories.


4. DESIGN THE PRODUCT

Armed with the technical specification of both your hardware and software, here are a few things that you should put into consideration while designing your product:

4.1 HARDWARE DESIGN and ROUGH 3D MODEL
BEAUTY: Your product should be appealing to your consumer in terms of color, design, shape, and texture.
PHYSICALITY: You should put into consideration the durability, maintenance, and ease of repairing or part replacement in case of damage.

COST: Your product should be designed in that way, so the final customer feels that this product costs its price.

Make sure you have refined the requirements for hardware design. It is vital to create a rough 3D model. The reason number one is to understand that the products' elements are feasible regarding the exterior and interior specification restraints. Reason number two is to approve the overall design concept. 
Usually, at this stage, the main components are approved by the engineering team, and an industrial designer creates a 3D model of the device with a rough exterior and internal alignment.

4.2 SOFTWARE DESIGN
Color, beauty, and design of your software have to be appealing to your consumers. Your software is usually your target customers' point of contact with your product. So it must be easy to use in real life and intuitive as much as possible.
Example:

5. PROTOTYPE AND TESTS CONCEPTS

At this juncture, you and the team have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Technically, your goal for the IoT project is well understood, and both hardware and software specifications are skeletal and seem to work appropriately on paper. Your next focus would be to test your concept, and the best way to do it is by building a prototype.

For application prototype, you may use:

Please check our UI sample for the hardware device here and for the mobile application here

 

Your first prototype is the key to the success of your IoT goals. For a hardware prototype, you are to focus on creating a functional device, the device designed to perform its desired function. As such, the focus cannot be on size, weight, and aesthetics. Your focus should be on the device's sensors, speed of execution, and ease at which it transmits data back and forth with your software.

Your first software prototype should also be basic, not much attention should be given to its aesthetics and user interface. Much more important is its embedded operating system, protocols, semantics, and basic requirements.

Example of our first rough prototype:


6. SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT

As stated earlier, the design of your software irrespective of its application has to be easy to use. The end-users are rarely concerned about the complexity of the development of your software, once they have your product at hand, they are more interested in 3 basic things:

  1. DELIVERY
  2. EASE OF USE 
  3. AESTHETICS

DELIVERY

The end-user is primarily concerned with your product precisely doing what it was bought for. At this point of a consumer using your product, they may endure the initial hassles that come with set up or signing in. Focus on creating software for your IoT project, that will make operating your hardware as quickly as possible from turning your device on to the actual first user experience. This means you may avoid registering process or signing up to the account and prompt the user to do it later. 

EASE OF USE

Once the end-user goes through the initial stage of testing your product delivery, what they are usually most interested in is the ease of use of your software. Irrespective of how complex the back end of your software is, the UI must be easy to use, easy to navigate from one function to the other. The more comfortable your software is, the higher the chances of sales.

AESTHETICS

How beautiful is your software, what choices of color did you use in designing the user interface, how easy on the eye is your software? Questions like these are what your team must list out and adequately address.

Bearing delivery, ease of use, and aesthetic in mind, you and your team best follow the steps below for successful work.

  1. Define your deadline: Every design must have a workflow, and for each goal set, there must be time allotted. There is no point in using forever in designing software. Usually, the longer it takes to develop software, the more money is spent that could be saved for an upgrade. 
  2. Create a test at each point: You and your team have designed a workflow and have begun developing your software. It is important to test your work at the end of each milestone. This would prevent overlooking or assuming everything works fine.

  3. Track Progress: You and your team must track the progress being made in the design of your software. This prevents the repetition of tasks and helps to focus on what is left.

 7. CREATE A FINAL 3D MODEL

While creating the first draft device, the focus was more on functions, which proves the feasibility of the whole project. Armed with the information obtained from the use of the prototype, engineers will create a final 3d model for the project. 

A few things will be put in mind in designing a final model:

  1.  The tech descriptions and specification for each hardware component. 
  2. The final 3d model must look exactly the same as you want the product to be (in terms of ease of handling, durability, strength, and other physical factors, that would encourage the first users)

To check if the device meets all the requirements stipulated at the beginning of the project, we should print the 3D model in a 3D printer. Our choice is using 3D Printing mainly because it is considered suitable for the production of functional prototypes, otherwise called rapid prototyping. It can also be used for industrial production technology, otherwise called additive manufacturing.

Printing result:

 

 

The final product isn't the final form of the device, but in terms of the main physicality, it checks all the boxes. This is called an MVP, which also means Minimum Viable Product.


8. START BETA TESTING

Beta testing is the initial release of the product to the first set of users with the primary aim of getting necessary information on what they think about the product.
Here are a few ways on how to run a successful beta testing.


Focus on Goals


Do not start beta testing without first stating your goals. Your goals can be divided into Primary and Secondary goals.


Primary Goals: These are the major reasons why you want to perform a beta test. They are the core purpose of your beta testing. 


They include:

  • knowing the state of your product
  • defining how long your beta testing will last for
  • identifying the overall number of testers or users
  • evaluating the customer experience
  • accessing customer acceptance of MVP readiness
  • inquiring feature request for roadmap validation
  • performing competitive analysis
  • identifying bugs to improve quality
  • assessing the real-world impact of known issues
  • analyzing and improve real-world performance 
  • testing real-world compatibility


Secondary Goals: These are goals with results that would not be necessary for the final mass production of the product.
 


Pick Great Testers

Do a thorough screening of your testers. Use people who are enthusiastic about the product, people who have a degree of expertise in the usage of the type of product. Ask a lot of questions when tester applies for your tests, so you know they are diligent and committed.
Double-check your Beta Product
You must be doubly ascertained that your product is test ready as a lot of time and money can be wasted if the product is not prepared.


Make the process easy


Your testers are limited in enthusiasm and energy; the more complicated the beginning of the process is, the less they are likely to be responsive. Your goal is to organize the testing of your product in the way that testers spend more time actually testing the products than unnecessary processes.


Make communication easy.


Keeping the line of communication smooth and clear will help your testers assess your product without any reservation. The more questions they ask, the more it shows they are interested in the product, so you need to be responsive and swift at supplying them information.


Record the result of the test.

Throughout the process of testing, it is of utmost importance that you are thorough about gathering the information provided by the testers. You and your team must not get lost in the actual organization of the test without putting the right framework for collecting the experience of the testers. Some methods can be used to gather this information, including questionnaires, interviews, video reviews.

Below is a vivid example of the experience in testing one of our products:

 

Testing

Full testing of the prototype, on a sunny day, by athletes and the military revealed that the screen was not bright enough, as well as it was rather small. The shooters had to peer hard at the screen in the blazing sun. 

The test also revealed a bug of the prototype with the "first shots." If the shooter made a shot at that moment when the prototype was still beeping, then this shot was not taken into account. Since the reception and emission of sound is the same component in the prototype. Silicone buttons have proven themselves very well, testers liked them. 

Analysis

Considering all the data after testing, we decided to change the screen dramatically, as well as its location. A screen was chosen with a different technology, in which the lighter, the better the image is seen.

Also, the screen itself was made several times more massive. Now everything is easy to read, even in very bright sunshine. Solving the problem with the "first shot" was a little more complicated. A unique feature of our timer is immunity to the effect of "ECHO." This means even in a closed space, the timer catches only the shot itself and not its echo. This is achieved by using a specific electronic component. Along with that, the new emitter of the timer signal is water, dust, and dirt resistant. 

From the above experience, you get how by testing the hardware, we got the initial assessment of the product from which we could redesign the device to overcome all the initial problems.

9. LAUNCH MVP

You and your team will make appropriate adjustments from the information obtained from the beta test by removing or adding features to your product. At this juncture, your final product should look and function as precisely as you want. It has to be functional to specification and aesthetics.

*Version 1 and Version 2 (based on collected information from the testers)

Concerning aesthetics (the final outlook of the product), you should keep in mind that people love to have beautiful things around them. It is of importance that you and your team deliver a beautiful product without compromising the functionality.

With the MVP, we have set up a small series production in the UDTech workshop to test it with real customers. We have sold around 80 items and got additional valuable feedback. It helped us to resolve a few issues which blocked us from being perfect :).

10. PACKAGE DESIGN

I don't want to ignore the importance of proper packaging, as it is first what the customer sees after getting the product. Efforts are to be directed to get good vibes from the process of unboxing, including smell (remember the Apple products packages). So this is something that should be done before mass production: Package Design, User Manual Design, perhaps some stickers ;).


11. MASS PRODUCTION

At this stage, you do a search for a proper factory. The good practice is using different contractors for each module of the product (like body and PCB) and assemble it in your local facilities or in a factory that you most confident in.
Don't forget to show the contractors an example of the quality you'd like to see by sending one of the prototypes or its elements. Otherwise, you will get a piece of cheap-looking part with a better price.

So, the goal is reached, and the next step is making sales and searching for international partners to expand your business overseas.
 

12. CONCLUSION

It is not a secret that the success of the project is based on guiding principles. However, as you begin to take these steps, you are sure to find better ways, perhaps unique, for your project, accept these changes, and apply.

What Next?
You have released your consumer electronics product and the app. Your target customers are quite interested in your IoT device, sales are going up, and you are satisfied. However, is there more? Of course, there is! There is always more to be achieved and more to be done: software updates, hardware remodeling, and more.

Here is our product development journey illustrated:

From the rapid prototype to the final version and improved one based on community feedback.

So, always remember, success is a never-ending journey, you should listen to your customers all the time.