Embedded Systems Prototyping 🔌

How to create an embedded systems prototype
May 26, 2023

‍In today’s competitive environment, creating a prototype is necessary to understand customers, create a new market or attend to elements that have been ignored by the leaders of your industry. The issue you’ll face is that most engineers don’t see the value in prototyping, most of them need convincing that prototyping is an effective way of developing.

This article will go over what embedded systems prototyping is, why you should be interested and how you can get into prototyping.

What are embedded systems?

An embedded system is a microprocessor-based computer hardware system with software that is built to perform a dedicated function. This device can be a stand-alone device or a part of a larger system. At its core, it’s a simple circuit board designed to carry out computations for real-time decisions.

The complexity of such a device can greatly vary, going from a single microcontroller to an array of processors with multiple sensors and peripherals.

Prototyping on the other hand is all about creating an initial device that will serve as a base for your reasoning and development. An initial circuit that might not be fully functional but that implements the basics so as to help you conceptualize your idea and show your client what your project is.

The idea then is to come up with an initial microprocessor that can handle the most fundamental requirements you have mapped out in order to help your team move faster and in the right direction.

Why should I prototype an embedded system?

We’ve already mentioned a few reasons why you should consider prototyping when developing your product and the reasons are numerous, let’s go over a few:

  • Provide value to the idea for funding

To an investor or funder’s eyes, building a prototype for your idea shows you are determined to get your project out in the open, it shows passion and commitment to further develop the idea. Most of the time execution matters more than an idea, that’s what they want to see. Having a prototype in hand shows the execution and provides a precise look into the functionalities of your idea.

  • Alternative ways to present projects

Presenting the full spectrum of your project can be a daunting task which typically involves trying to draw technical details and transform your idea to paper.

As information can easily be lost, a prototype puts the idea physically in front of the user, it provides a visual experience in a direct manner and in all its details. Your customer can directly look at what matters to him and understand in his own way what he wants to see.

  • Reducing production costs and determining initial costs

As you develop a physical prototype, you will determine the distribution of your costs and have an estimate of how much manufacturing will cost you. This will help you factor in the cost early and make adjustments to your design if necessary.

Your prototype can also help you find better designs, ones that will be cheaper or faster to build with the same capabilities.

You might also think that a prototype will cost you a lot of money initially, and it’s true, but that money will be saved up when further developing the project by saving you time and preventing potential errors.

  • Getting feedback

One of the great advantages of prototyping is that you get the big picture directly, the idea is shown in full all at once, this fosters constructive criticism by showing your customer see and feel your project.

They will better understand what you do and help you perfect the idea for the target consumer.

  • Technical benefits

Regarding the technicals, prototyping will help you in several ways, first of by identifying design flaws early. Usually, almost half of the costs involved in projects are attributed to rework due to design flaws that were determined far too late in the design process.

Secondly, having a prototype means you can try and modify aspects of its design for improvements or simply to test out new designs and builds.

Thirdly, a prototype helps you understand the feasibility of your product, it underlines the problems you’ll face in manufacturing, costs, and design.

How can I get started in prototyping embedded systems?

It seems like you can’t go wrong with a prototype, let’s look at 5 things to consider before prototyping:

  1. Defining the problem and goals

Ideas often come to mind to address an existing problem. To have a clear direction for your idea, make sure to define the problem, set goals to serve as guidance. This will prevent you from going too in-depth or wayward into idea development.

  1. Gathering market analysis

Coming up with an idea, you might realize that it applies to a lot more areas than what you initially had in mind. To make the most out of your idea, focus on targeting your idea to a specific market. To do so, analyze your different areas to focus your idea development.

  1. Gathering competitive analysis

No matter how innovative your idea seems, there’s usually an existing product that it will replace. Understand what the other products in your market are, what technical solutions they use, and what flaws that might entail.

  1. Quality feedback

It’s sometimes hard to choose which feedback to follow. One way to do so is to look at your goals and see which one fits best. Not all feedback is quality feedback.

One way of targeting quality feedback is through your market analysis, you will be able to distinguish the experts from the casual users.

  1. Assessing initial goals

Once you have an idea, it can be tempting to play around with it and analyze it with no goal in mind. It’s very easy to lose control of the initial idea by changing it too much. If you get lost and realize that none of your basic goals have been achieved, it’s okay, try and develop a prototype and move on from there.

Idea development is a very delicate process of streamlining, don’t restrict ideas too much but at the same time determine a point where changing ideas too much might actually hurt your project. Setting goals early on will help you find that point.

Prototyping has its hurdles, the process is initially expensive but can greatly reduce the costs of production later down the road of product development. It will help you build a well-rounded product to market faster without making changes too deep in the production cycle.

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