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Top concerns before working on an IoT design project

Posted: 24 Jul 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Internet of Things  IoT  virtual prototyping  certification  standards compliance 

Does your product need to communicate with other products? If so, then you need to make sure they are interoperable. This goes beyond compliance with organisations such as IEEE, ISO and others, as even these well-known standards are sometimes open to interpretation in more than one way. For example, say there are two different manufacturers of media access controllers (MACs). Both are compliant with the 802.11b standard, but one doesn't include all the functionality required for a specific operation by the end user. Even though both MACs are compliant with the same standard, they may not be compliant with one another or with the user's application. The only way to ensure interoperability is via an interoperability testing and certification process.

What about security? Even if your application isn't targeted for use by the military, financial industry or health organisations, security of information is, and always will be, a major design consideration. Bottom line, you need to design-in as many layers of encryption protocols as feasible; SSL and passwords at the very minimum.

Now that we've outlined the key questions to ask during the analysis phase, let's take a look at a couple of different applications that demonstrate how asking these questions can help determine the right technologies for each unique situation.

Case Study #1: Health care
Our first case study is a customer that asked us for help in designing a Real Time Location System (RTLS) to ensure the safety of hospital staff and patients. The goal was three-fold: to tag infants for identification/parent matching; to tag children to ensure that they are protected from abduction and from wandering off; and to protect and locate staff so that security services or emergency notifications can reach them in the fastest possible time.

Each tag was to have a unique identifying number for patient identification, including bed location, room number, personal details, etc. The tagging system would be deployed within an adjustable bracelet for patients, or a badge for staff. For example, an infant's ankle bracelet tag would be associated with a tag attached to its mother's wrist at the time of birth for system identification. Staff would usehand-held devices to read identifications from all tags to identify a match. The user interface could be as simple as a green/red light.

The size parameter of the application was a huge variable for us as the customer wanted the device to be able to work in a wide variety of hospital sizes and setups. We advised the customer to survey different hospitals and gauge the approximate minimum and maximum dimensions of patient rooms, corridors, entrance halls, etc. The resulting estimate enabled us to plan out the infrastructure needed, including the number of anchors and tags to be used, the number of Wi-Fi access points/routers needed to ensure sufficient signal transmission throughout the facility, and the electrical specifications for the various components to be used in the wireless communication model.

We also needed to determine the ideal min/max range of signal transmission needed between each transmitter and receiver. Understanding range parameters is vital as it ensures that transmission signals reach the receivers with enough power to decode the signal efficiently and accurately. Identifying the type and number of devices required to supply long-range vs. short-range communication depends largely on the type of room. For example, empty rooms promote better signal reception than full rooms, so need fewer transmitters. Corridors, much like tunnels, have a natural tendency to carry signals in a specific direction and so need fewer transmitters than, say, a big hall with lots of furniture and people moving about. In the latter situation, more transmitters and receivers would be needed to overcome potential signal interference and distortion. Understanding all of various components, including low-noise amplifiers, power amplifiers, filters, frequencies, antenna specifications, etc., is necessary to determine the RF parameters for any wireless communication system.

Environment was another important consideration. Knowing that the end application would be a busy hospital, and that RF signals can quickly lose power and integrity when faced with interference, shadowing, reflection, refraction, etc., we ultimately selected an ultra-wide band chip technology that was proven to be immune to stray interference and the penetration of walls, furniture and bodies.

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