IoT Prototyping 🖨

Learn to prototype your IoT devices
May 26, 2023

‍The promise of a connected world where devices can communicate in the background to answer your every need is the promise of the IoT. Whether you believe this is a possible reality or not, the number of devices connected to the internet keeps increasing!

Trying to enter the space and learning how to prototype in it is a great idea as the space has been in constant growth for the past decade.

This article will try and explore what an IoT prototype is, why it’s important and how you can build one.

What is Internet of Things?

What should an IoT prototype be like and what should you expect from it ?

Well, an IoT prototype consists of:

  • A user interface, this might be a web frontend or a smartphone

This is what your users will see. It is often overlooked because people typically prefer to dive into the details of the hardware device or the connectivity.

The user interface is however the first thing that people see when they look at your product, it pays off to make it look good.

  • A hardware device

This is the part of your prototype that most people think about when thinking about the internet of things.

The hardware device reaches out via sensors to the world around it. It measures your environment to choose an action. The hardware also possesses some kind of communication system, usually wireless.

  • Some backend software that implements the business logic

This is what makes your system intelligent.

It might often be overlooked because it’s not visible by the user but it’s where the magic happens and what gives strength to your design.

The backend both collects data and makes decisions based on that data. This part often runs in the cloud.

  • Connectivity

This is what connects the hardware with the backend, and the backend with the user interface.

Classically, this uses the internet, often with a REST API but there are a few widespread methods: IPv6 mesh or WIFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and Low-Power Wide Area Networks.

The IPv6 mesh remains a crowd favorite as it has relatively low complexity, doesn’t rely on any third-party infrastructure, and allows for very large wireless networks.

Building an IoT prototype means creating a basic system that showcases the basic functionalities of your idea.

Why build an IoT Device?

Building a new market-ready product from the ground up without a prototype, especially in a new technical field like the IoT can be risky. Sure, you might have done lots of research on the topic but one wrong guess can prove to be very expensive because of the time and money required to recompile the electronics. This is why your first step in IoT should always be a prototype.

That prototype will be used to understand the problematic points and figure out the details for your product development. Building a prototype doesn’t mean building a market-ready product, it’s just a trial version with the aim of visualizing your product the way you want it to work. It serves as a proof of concept of what your final product will be.

As an added benefit, having a functional prototype can greatly help you secure funds and investors. In most cases what they like to see is if your idea is going to work. Having a prototype will help them understand your idea and make their choice.

How to build an IoT Device

The development of your IoT prototype comes in several stages:

  1. Requirements

The first step is to clearly define your idea, what goals are you setting, what are the requirements for your final product ? This requires an in-depth analysis of your problem statement, market research, and analysis.

  1. Hardware selection

This is usually the part where developers spend the most time but it shouldn’t be.

Either you have very specific requirements which means you know what hardware to select. For example, while building a drone you already know what power your motors need, if not, do the calculations.

If not, pick off-the-shelf hardware to create a proof of concept, once you understand the flaws of your model, you’ll buy the right hardware for your market-ready product.

  1. Tech stack selection

As they develop a lot of prototypes, most companies in the business of IoT prototyping have a few ready-to-go frameworks they can easily deploy. If that’s not your case or if you’re just starting out, a great rule of thumb is to keep it simple, stick to simple scripting.

  1. Development

The development scheme of building a prototype follows an agile method. When developing it, try and gather feedback from your customer. Having a prototype will give your users and clients a better understanding of what you’re trying to achieve, use it to get feedback, and implement it to reach a final product.

Your development cycle should be: build, feedback, implement, feedback, implement, etc.

  1. Testing

When testing your prototype, try and get the customer to try your device, make sure they get the full experience. This helps them make decisions and guide you to your next step. This should help you have clear goals. You might even want to consider shipping a working prototype to them.

This testing phase should only end when you have concluded and agreed on the final product with your customer.

  1. MVP and production

Once the prototype has reached its final stage, you can take it to a specialist to get your product ready for market. Production is a huge task and requires immense planning. You might want to do it yourself, but be aware, it’s an entirely different business.

IoT devices are the present and the future. Being able to prototype your IoT ideas will set your business for the coming decade. The key is to iterate and make sure you get sufficient feedback to reach your goals.

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