IoT, or ‘Internet of Things’ is a powerful game changer for many industries , opening a new era of possibilities in user interaction and business models for both consumers and brand owners.
By connecting people and products through almost limitless control, IoT will facilitate the merging of product as service, and service as product. But what exactly is IoT, and how can it be integrated effectively?
Most people are familiar with the way smart phones and have moved beyond simply making phone calls. They know their devices seamlessly connect via cellular networks (and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth etc.) to access all sorts of services. IoT is similar, but applied to more traditional products (or things) which are then monitored and operated through a phone app, laptop or desktop PC.
- Users – unprecedented levels of convenience and control of their device remotely via a user-centred interface
- Manufacturers – new levels of features, value-add possibilities and even payment models (i.e. pay-for-use, subscription etc.)
While the under-the-bonnet workings of IoT are advanced and technical to create, done well IoT products can be ‘frictionlessly easy’ to use. Many are already using this technology even if the terminology is only now becoming commonplace.
Some common examples of IoT today include:
- Consumer products such as laser printers that print wirelessly from your desktop or mobile – even if you’re not in the office. These printers will also let users know when ink is running low and facilitate ordering replacements.
- Industrial equipment such as bus ticketing machines that can communicate in both ways with the system operator; offering real time customer feedback, status or failure notifications, payment processing, software and firmware updates, etc.
- Other common products such as security alarms, smart home systems and object tracker tags
But while IoT is around us more than we think, we’ve only scratched the surface of its true potential. Products and user-experiences (UX) can be truly reimagined to better meet current and future user needs. Products can become more integrated into people’s lives, and brand-owners can offer more flexible/profitable delivery models.
A complete IoT system requires a number of elements that work closely together. These elements include creative and UX approaches (design), technical implementation (engineering) and ongoing service support (service suppliers). A user-centred design approach is the key for these elements to work cohesively as an integrated whole.
A typical system might include:
- Service (or Experience) Design: The design/integration of the total system
- Industrial Design, Mechanical Engineering: The core physical product (such as a home alarm, or a cow-mounted GPS)
- Information Design, App Design: Development of the Graphic User Interface (GUI) for both the product and app, and any other specialised product display sound or haptic notifications
- Electronics Design, Software Engineering: Development of the electronics, firmware/software, wireless communications, power management etc. systems.
- Data Engineering: ‘Cloud’ platforms that collect/process data for both operator and user operations.
A Cobalt IoT Case Study
At Cobalt, the integration of IoT in our product design has been at the forefront of many projects. For instance, the eShepherd virtual herding system, engineered for agri-tech innovator Agersons is a cattle collar that allows farmers to remotely manage and monitor their livestock from any smart device. Cobalt created the heart of the system to be a wireless IoT GPS device, and this allows farmers to construct virtual fences that define grazing areas. The seamless integration of IoT in this project ensures that the livestock are safely, reliably and humanely controlled, and that the welfare of the farmers is also at a priority.
Additionally, Cobalt’s KickerTube design for Concave Sports is an interactive point-of-sale installation where customers can have their kicking speed measured and displayed.
Mechanically, the KickerTube is designed for quick and portable set-ups, and its integrated GUI offers users with instant speed statistics, single and multi-player modes, links to social media and comparison with champion players. This IoT integration provides an immersive physical experience that is unique and memorable.
Cobalt have also successfully integrated IoT into a number of more GUI centred designs, including the Setec Drifter and BM Pro mobile home management devices, where the IoT systems manage all battery-powered functions for users with a limited tech background.