As the number of connected devices in the world tops 25 billion this year, connectivity is becoming the norm rather than a product feature. That’s brought bold new startups into the market alongside established brands adding connectivity to existing products as the IoT and general electronics converge. Benchmark works with companies of all sizes and types to optimize their connected device designs and bring them to market quickly. Despite this variety of customers, we receive certain questions on a regular basis. We asked members of our business development team and engineering teams to list the most common customer questions for connected devices.
Here’s the top five:
1. How Fast Can I Get From Concept To Production?
Benchmark’s entire connected device realization service, from industrial design and engineering to technology solutions and advanced manufacturing, is focused on getting our customers’ products to market quickly with staying power. We do this in several ways: first, we offer connected device platforms that reduce development time by providing a foundation of embedded software and hardware. Our Smart Gateway platform is a flexible, Linux-based system that includes a foundation of security, sensor fusion and operating system features that can be customized as part of a customer's connected device. We also offer sensor fusion and machine learning platforms that all work together, cutting development time. Whether or not a customer uses one of the platforms, our combined engineering and manufacturing offering works together to create efficient designs with reduced risk in the hand-off from engineering to manufacturing, including reduced supply chain risk. Our specialized engineering capabilities in RF design (including millimeter wave design for 5G), robotics, optics, photonics, ruggedization, miniaturization, and more allow us to overcome technology challenges that might otherwise stop a project in its tracks.
So while the specific timeline varies from product to product, it tends to be in the range of “faster than you thought possible” to “faster than any other technology provider”.
2. When Should I Start Looking At Making A 5G Version Of My Device?
Harvard Business Review recently recommended connected device OEMs pursue “an aggressive but measured approach to planning for and investing in 5G today” (Harvard Business Review, March 2019). Business leaders read this type of advice and realize they need to do something but the uncertainty surrounding the timing and exact composition of 5G makes it difficult to choose a course of action. That’s why working with a network-agnostic partner with extensive 5G expertise is essential. Every company that markets a connected device should be evaluating where hybrid 4G/5G, wi-fi/5G or other connectivity options might fit into their product roadmap. It is too early to plan to retire non-5G versions but it is time to start developing enhanced features enabled by 5G. The timing of releasing a 5G device depends on the specific market: what’s the additional value? What’s the customer price sensitivity? Benchmark has the technology and know-how to help each customer develop their plan and execute to not only survive the 5G transition but thrive. (Read our new whitepaper “Considerations for an IoT Product Roadmap in the 5G Era”)
Dave Higgins talks about the role of 5G in IoT
3. How Can I Make My Device Secure?
There is no one way to make all connected devices secure. Instead, each connected device needs a security strategy appropriate to the type of data being collected and processed, the risk if the device is breached, the type of network the device will be on, etc. That strategy will likely involve a combination of hardware solutions, such as Roots of Trust chips and software solutions, as well as a plan for future software patches and updates. Most importantly, security considerations must be integrated into the design from the beginning, not tacked on as an afterthought. The Benchmark Smart Gateway platform includes hardware and software security features that are customized for each use case. Whether or not a customer chooses to use one of our platforms, Benchmark’s engineering design teams work with each customer to come up with the best security strategy for their device.
4. Can You Make The Battery On My Device Last Longer?
We have several strategies for addressing the power consumption of wireless IoT devices. One of the easiest is using motion sensors that activate systems only when there is a change in status if that works for the use case. Some connectivity options are less power-hungry than others and other architecture choices can help reduce power consumption. In cases where data needs to be sent constantly over distance, miniaturizing the electronics can reduce power requirements, as well as allowing for smaller and more convenient form factors. Using Benchmark’s breadth of engineering expertise, we can nearly always find a solution to improve battery life.
5. How Do I Make My Connected Medical Device HIPAA-Compliant (or EU Privacy Law-Compliant)?
The major misconception we hear is that HIPAA-compliant just means extra-secure. While you want to incorporate strong security features into any connected medical device, meeting HIPAA standards also requires compartmentalizing the data in certain ways to avoid storing a patient’s data with information that would identify it as belonging to a specific individual. One of the most challenging aspects of HIPAA compliance for connected medical devices is staying compliant, as device firmware may require updates over time to comply with regulatory changes. To stay ahead of the regulations, our software development process is compliant with IEC 62304 regarding medical device software, something the FDA has been considering adopting. Benchmark has decades of experience working with the complex regulations for FDA-approved medical devices and has worked with connected medical device customers to ensure HIPAA compliance as well.