How To Reduce IoT Product Development Lead Times

Designing an IoT product from scratch is costly, time consuming, and may not be the most efficient way to get it to market.

The importance of IoT to the competitiveness of large and small enterprises alike has placed enormous stress on development teams to roll out new products at record pace without incurring cost or scheduling overruns.

Why do IoT product development projects become costly, inefficient and sometimes unsustainable? Some of the reasons are purely technical. In the first place, it’s a challenge to build a prototype. Dealing with interoperability and security issues are significant hurdles. Add into the mix, the issues of scalability and the need for cross-regional deployments, and you can easily see why IoT product development can get messy.

And there’s the human factor: As a component of complex cyber-physical systems, IoT products require multiple knowledge domains – sensors, power management, processors, wireless network connectivity, security, embedded software, data analytics, cloud platforms, etc. – to develop a complete IoT product. Few organizations have the in-house talent to bring such a complex IoT product to market.

Reducing IoT product development lead times can be approached in different ways. One way would be to provide the building blocks – a device-to-cloud framework – that simplifies the design process. This article discusses such a framework provided by the mangOH Green from Sierra Wireless.

The Hard Realities of Hardware Design

As hardware complexity increases, hardware design becomes a time- and resource-consuming task, especially if you are building it from scratch.

Sourcing and testing custom components always takes more time than you expect. Complex hardware poses constraints on the use of board space. Building hardware can be painful if unexpected problems occur and a lot of re-engineering is required. And once you have a functional prototype it needs to be tested and validated. At this point, you haven't even touched on the cost of actually producing the hardware or the associated tooling costs. The bottom line is building your hardware from scratch can be a long journey. A more cost-effective and practical approach would be to utilize a pre-configured and pre-tested open hardware platform. This is the idea behind is the mangOH Green by Sierra Wireless (see Figure 1).

The mangOH Green was designed to help product development teams build industrial-grade products quickly by removing the hardware complexity associated with prototyping. It combines cellular-based connectivity for IoT/M2M applications with an integrated device-to-cloud architecture, enabling developers to build a Linux-based product (see Figure 5) on a single module and seamlessly push the device data to the cloud (see Figure 4) and manage the operational aspects of the product (see Figure 6).

Altogether, the mangOH Green can deliver nearly all of an IoT prototype in days, not months, because it eliminates much of the resource “expense” of IoT product development.

Achieving Interoperability is a Cost Factor

Interoperability between different technologies is crucial to moving development projects forward. It shouldn't be surprising that achieving interoperability is a recurring problem, given all the short-range standards – Wi-Fi®, Bluetooth®, Zigbee®, Thread, etc. – that are used by different IoT vendors today.

The mangOH Green addresses this problem in a simple yet clever way. It utilizes an open interface standard with plug-in IoT Connector modules (see Figure 3) that are designed to provide technology interoperability while making it easy to add new combinations of wired, wireless, and sensor technologies.

You can develop new applications and use-cases by combining any number of IoT connector modules. To save development time, you can purchase modules already developed by companies such as Freescale (Thread), Linear Technology (Dust Networks), or Texas Instruments (Combination Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and Bluetooth).

Obstacles to System Integration

Impediments to IoT product development aren’t limited to cost considerations, resource limitations or even technical talent. Integrating the hardware, software and wireless technology can be a mountain to climb, creating obstacles to meeting project deadlines.

And to make the collected data available to enterprise applications, the data will need to be aggregated and sent wirelessly to the cloud. No simple set of tasks!

To address these requirements, the mangOH Green incorporates a next-generation AirPrime WP series highly integrated cellular module that combines 3G/4G LTE, long-range cellular connectivity with an ARM Cortex A5 integrated application processor and GNSS receiver, reducing the number of components, integration time, and cost for developers. WP has ultra low power modes for applications that need to prioritize power management over constant connectivity.

The open-source, Linux-based, Legato platform is pre-integrated on the AirPrime WP module’s processor, providing the modem services needed to get the module communicating on a cellular network, as well as providing an application framework and secured processing space to run third-party applications.

Legato enables the WP module to seamlessly collect data from the IoT modules and Arduino shields (see Figure 2). Additionally, every wireless and sensor module designed with the IoT connector standard can be added in any combination and used out-of-the-box with full Legato support. Through Legato, AirPrime WP modules are pre-integrated with the AirVantage cloud for simple, secure configuration and management of the device and its data.

Challenges of Building and Maintaining a Cloud Platform

Many development teams soon realize after attempting to build and maintain an IoT Cloud platform (along with developing applications and integrating the data into ERP, CRM or data analytics systems) that it's a bigger job than they had anticipated. Cloud platforms are hard to develop because they are often custom jobs, configured for a specific need.

Besides, as platforms get more complex they do a lot more than collecting data; they are used to remotely program devices and respond to alarms, among others. As a result, the cost of building and maintaining a proprietary IoT cloud infrastructure can become prohibitive.

One way to avoid the cost of IoT platform and application development is to utilize a pre-built platform with integrated device management and enterprise services. One such platform is the Sierra Wireless IoT Acceleration Platform, featuring its AirVantage® suite of cloud services. AirVantage combines device-to-cloud connectivity, application enablement, and device management into a unified platform.

AirVantage is integrated with Sierra Wireless’s Legato Application Framework. It allows users to update, activate and suspend the edge application over-the-air directly from the operations console or with the APIs. AirVantage also offers a comprehensive set of web service APIs for acquiring data from a massive series of connected devices. AirVantage even protects your data - from the connected devices all the way to the cloud.

AirVantage is connected to a mobile network in order to perform basic SIM management. And cloud connectors are available to make device data from the AirVantage IoT platform available for use by other Cloud applications and enterprise systems, such as Google’s Cloud Platform.

From Prototyping to Production

You would think that most of your work is accomplished once you have developed a functional prototype. Well, making the prototype production-ready is another set of challenges.

To simplify the process, a prototype based on the mangOH Green can be easily repurposed for mass production using the industrial-grade components of the reference design and the applications developed in the open-source Legato platform.

In addition, the IoT connector standard allows the connector modules to be moved seamlessly from prototype to final production-ready designs. The WP Series cellular module is built with a CF3™ (common flexible form factor) design to ensure a consistent XY dimension of 22mm x 23mm across all modules regardless of current and future technologies’ requirements or features, making it flexible for mass production or build-to-order assembly.

All reference schematics, BOMs, and Gerber files are provided with the mangOH Green. A Sierra Wireless Developer Zone provides the tools, libraries, samples and tutorials and a Developer Forum allows you to get help from other embedded and cloud developers. Finally, the mangOH reference design is provided with a business friendly open source license, available under the Creative Commons license attribution.

The mangOH™ Green by Sierra Wireless

Figure 1. The mangOH™ Green by Sierra Wireless is designed specifically for cellular-enabled IoT applications and provides a sensor-to-cloud platform for rapidly prototyping ideas and getting them to production quickly.

The mangOH Green has connectors that support Arduino compatible shields

Figure 2. The mangOH Green has connectors that support Arduino compatible shields. This enables IoT developers to incorporate any 3rd party Arduino shield with full software support through the Legato Linux® framework.

The IoT Connector Module is based on an open interface standard from Sierra Wireless

Figure 3. The IoT Connector Module is based on an open interface standard from Sierra Wireless that simplifies product development with a single interface for connectivity and sensor module technology.

AirPrime® WP Series Wireless IoT Modules are more than a cellular modem

Figure 4. AirPrime® WP Series Wireless IoT Modules are more than a cellular modem. They provide a secure device-to-cloud architecture enabling IoT developers to build a Linux-based product on a single module – reducing overall system complexity and time-to-market.

The Legato® Open Source Linux Platform simplifies application-level development

Figure 5. The Legato® Open Source Linux Platform simplifies application-level development with a secure application framework, maintained Linux distribution, and feature-rich development environment.

AirVantage® offers a suite of cloud services

Figure 6. AirVantage® offers a suite of cloud services for acquiring ready-to-use device data and managing the operational aspects of your connected service.

What do you think is the best way to speed up IoT product Development? Join the discussion and share your thoughts.