Key Design Elements for IoT Sensors
Here are some vital things to remember as a sensor designer or someone trying to select the most appropriate products to buy.
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Internet of Things (IoT) sensors are now common in numerous industries. However, when decision-makers invest in those technologies, they want the assurance of well-designed products that meet their expectations. The people designing IoT sensors are primarily responsible for creating functional, safe, cost-effective products. Here are some vital things to remember as a sensor designer or someone trying to select the most appropriate products to buy.
Many IoT sensors receive power from wall outlets or have built-in rechargeable batteries. However, those solutions aren’t feasible for some connected sensors applications.
Consider if wildlife researchers want to use them to track birds in a hard-to-reach area for several years. In cases like that, it’s necessary to develop long-lasting power sources that don’t require frequent replacements or recharging to work. Research indicates there will be 78 million discarded IoT batteries by 2025 without efforts to improve current power sources.
One option is to design the sensors to function through energy harvesting, whereby the components get power from the surrounding environment. One of the most accessible options is to make them work with sunlight. Some solutions have energy-storage aspects, so they’ll be operational at night or during cloudy conditions.
Alternatively, many people deploy sensors in vibration-heavy environments. They’re potential candidates for mechanical energy-harvesting systems. For example, some heavy machinery produces up to 150 microwatts of energy per centimeter square because of vibrations. It’s easy to see how a sensor that gets its power from mechanical energy would be a good fit for a machine-monitoring application.
The main consideration when choosing a sensor’s power source should be the total energy required for the product to run. One practical way to estimate it is to consider the various cycles people will use during operation. However, designers must also consider whether specific power sources provide better user experiences than others.
Advancements such as higher-density circuits and smaller overall component sizes have led to the miniaturization of IoT products and the sensors inside them. However, smaller IoT sensors are not necessarily better than larger ones.
Aspects such as desired GPS performance and antenna size and type will help determine the hardware sizes necessary to make the sensors work properly. Think about instances such as large household appliances with IoT connectivity. If you’re designing a sensor for a smart washing machine, there’s no need to spend time trying to make it tiny. That’s because the main product containing the sensor is already substantially large.
Understanding a client’s needs is essential when making hardware design decisions. However, it’s also necessary to explain any associated tradeoffs to them. Perhaps a customer wants a device to have a smaller footprint, which would mean changing its sensor size. If that alteration would negatively impact performance, give the details about why that’s the case.
Durability and Ruggedness
Understanding what conditions IoT sensors must withstand during normal usage is another vital design element for a successful product. Many items with waterproof characteristics have ingress protection ratings that help people understand how effectively they keep water out. For example, you can immerse an IP67-rated product in 1 meter of water for half an hour without ruining it. IP ratings also describe the level of dust protection a product has.
The experts tasked with designing sensors must consider which harsh elements are risk factors for particular IoT sensors in development. Some sensor-containing products may receive near-constant exposure to the elements. In such cases, strategies to keep delicate parts encapsulated will ensure they keep working even if customers subject them to temperature extremes or moisture.
People are also exploring the possibilities within an Internet of Things subset called the Internet of Bodies. They envision a future where smart objects could monitor human biomarkers. Then, health care providers and their patients could get earlier alerts of possible health problems, paving the way for quicker interventions. However, those devices must tolerate stomach acids and other challenges associated with staying in the body for months or years.
Sensor designers must weigh each case's potentially harmful environmental factors. After that, they’ll be better able to account for them in their design choices.
The people who use or own IoT devices with sensors must take some precautions to protect those products from hackers. The things they do might range from setting strong passwords to using applications that ensure only authorized users can access connected products.
However, security should also be a primary concern during the sensor design phase. One design-related mistake could be using a communication protocol that sends passwords or other sensitive details in unencrypted formats. If someone can access the control interface without getting authenticated first, that’s another significant oversight.
One way to design an IoT device for better security is to ensure firmware updates can only happen when the new content comes from the device manufacturer or another trusted entity. Similarly, use data protection strategies to keep the information safe during transmission and storage.
A study found that people at 57% of organizations view cybersecurity risks as the most significant barriers to implementing the IoT. Decision-makers must feel confident that IoT designers and manufacturers take online threats seriously. By reducing device-based vulnerabilities, consumers will be more likely to use the technology long-term.
Carefully Designed IoT Sensors Lead to Beneficial Products
When teams take time on the overall process and think about these critical elements, it’s more likely that their products can perform well.
Oversights can and do happen. However, thinking about the sensor and its purpose in all-encompassing ways can reduce those knowledge gaps. It’s also valuable when IoT design teams treat all mistakes as opportunities to learn. Even the most thoughtfully designed products can have some shortcomings. Keep a record of those and be willing to grow to foster a culture of continuous improvement.
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