Many product ideas require hardware for sensing, user interaction, etc. Until recently, it has been difficult & expensive to bring the hardware component of a product to market. Developments such as low cost rapid prototyping & manufacturing, energy efficient parts, crowd funding, etc, have made it easier for small startups to get into the hardware game. Everything from design, production, and fulfillment can be outsourced to quickly bring a device to market without the expense and time of bringing up in-house hardware teams. These trends are accelerating, so now is the time to create the next great product idea. Learn how to take advantage of these trends and focus on the core value of your product that makes it unique, the software.
Don’t Stop at Software: Make Hardware Too! SXSW 2013 Denis Bohm denis@ﬁreﬂydesign.comWelcome to “Don’t Stop at Software: Make Hardware Too!”. My name is Denis Bohm.I have a lot of experience in software development. I have also produced my ownactivity monitors as well as designed activity monitors for other companies, such asZamzee and LUMOback. This talk for people that have a software product in mindthat requires some hardware.
Hardware is Enabling Fulﬁll your unique technical requirements and control the full user experience.For example, let’s take a quick look at activity sensing. There are many differenttypes of activity sensing applications - each with its own unique requirements. Somedevices are targeted at adult ﬁtness where the users are willing to wear chest strapsto monitor heart rate. Of course there are many more types of activities, such asyoga. Each of these would require their own unique solution. This is really just thebeginning for these types of applications...
Software is Core Focus on the core value of a product - the software.Even though hardware enables, the software is where many people want toconcentrate their efforts to provide a unique user experience. Focusing on the higherlevel software allows you to bring the most value to your users. There are a numberof areas where you may want to differentiate the software for your application. Onthe device, real time processing algorithms are often essential. They can distill theraw data into a form that will be used to provide feedback to the user and that issmall enough to be uploaded to the cloud. Aggregation and analysis of datatransferred to the cloud is a common requirement. Of course user interaction viaapps and web sites are essential parts of the user experience.
Now is the Time Outsourced design, rapid prototyping, low volume production, crowd funding...There are a number of advancements that are now coming together to make it easierthan ever to create hardware. For example, open source hardware, rapid prototypingof both electronics and mechanicals, and crowd funding. 3D printing is one of theadvancements that makes it much easier to prototype certain parts. Small plasticprototype parts can be made for under $10 using services such as Shapeways. Thesethings all contribute to lowering the barriers to get started with hardware.
Technologies Radios, sensors, low power...Another reason it’s easier to develop hardware now is new technologies. Radios,sensors, and low power advances are opening up a diverse set of applications.Bluetooth Smart radios allow you to minimize the device user interface by providingmost interaction within an app, rather than on the device. This allows the device tobe smaller and use less power, while also being easier to use. Your application is incontrol of the pairing process which gives you more ability to optimize the full userexperience. Sensors provide essential data (accelerometers, magnetometers, gyros,pressure sensors, heart rate sensors, light, humidity, temperature, etc). Low powertechnologies are evolving quickly (microcontrollers, power management, energyharvesting, thin batteries, etc). The changes in battery technology are starting toopen up new form factors for devices.
Device Speciﬁcation • Form Factor, Size, Weight, Water Resistance, Temperature Range • User Interface, Algorithms • Communication, Memory Capacity, Updates • Battery Life, Charging, Storage & Shipping • Testing, CertiﬁcationsThe place to start on a new design is with a device speciﬁcation. Clearly andconcisely specify the user visible aspects. Keep it short but thorough- a few pages atmost. Do not specify the implementation. For example, don’t specify that you want aspeciﬁc radio or memory chip - specify what communication should happen with thesmart phone and how often. These are some of the things to put into your devicespeciﬁcation. This should give you some idea of what to think about. Some of thesehave standard values, such as temperature range - so you won’t have to put mucheffort into those for typical applications.
Outsourcing • Product Design • Industrial Design • Mechanical Engineering • Electrical Engineering • Software Engineering: Framework & API • ManufacturingOnce you have a speciﬁcation how do you get the device made? Virtually all aspectsof hardware development can be outsourced, not just the manufacturing. There is alarge range of design services available - from multidisciplinary individuals to largergroups with many people each in a different discipline. In general, the larger groupswill tend towards much higher NRE and tend to design for high volume productionwhich may make bootstrapping more difficult. Make sure the people you chose havea realistic understanding of your budget and growth strategy and are a good match inthose respects. Note that it does make sense to outsource some of the softwaredevelopment that is not speciﬁc to your application. For example the base ﬁrmwarein the device as well as the APIs for a smart phone or PC that communicate with thedevice. Make sure that the team you choose will create the test ﬁxtures and softwareto program and test the devices during production.
Volume Matters Design both the electronics and mechanicals for low volume production ﬁrst.When choosing a hardware team one of the ﬁrst things to discuss is your productionvolume. Be sure to design for low volume production ﬁrst. Do not design for highvolume production until you are ready for it. Designing for high volume productiontoo early will increase your up front costs signiﬁcantly. Once you have a provenproduct that is on a growth curve then you will have the time and money to optimizeyour design for high volume production. When your product is in the hands of usersyou will start to learn things so it is best to get your device out quickly and then taketime to iterate. Designing for low volume production will let you do that. Some areasto focus on when designing the electronics for low volume production are: self test,easy ﬁrmware upgrades, automatic diagnostic uploads to the cloud, hardware resetcapability, etc. For the mechanicals try to keep it simple: minimize custom parts,avoid irreversible steps such as gluing & sonic welding, minimize ﬁnal assemblycomplexity and time.
Per Unit Cost Example: Activity Monitor 10 Units: $375 Each ($3,750) 100 Units: $100 Each ($10,000) 1,000 Units $60 Each, $50 Next Order ($60,000, $50,000) 10,000 Units $40 Each, $35 Next Order ($400,000, $350,000)The price your company must pay to produce devices is your per unit cost. Note that this does not include NRE ormarkup. The per unit cost depends on the quantity made. The different quantities are typically: 10 units forprototyping, 100 units for user testing, 1,000 units for low volume production, and 10,000 units or more for highvolume production. Here are some example production costs based on an activity monitor I’m currentlydesigning. The average end user price for such an activity monitor is around $150. In this case it is possible toproduce 100 devices and still make some margin. Achieving reasonable prices in small quantities lets you start totest your market very early and make adjustments to the design before moving to high volume production.There is some additional NRE that comes into play at the 100 to 1,000 unit volume. While 3D printing is great forprototyping, for a number of reasons, it is still necessary to use injection molding for production quality plasticparts. There are some low volume injection molding solutions, such as aluminum molds, which can be used tominimize that NRE. FCC testing is another example of something that must be done before units can be made forsale. This type of NRE can be factored into the per unit cost for the ﬁrst batch at that volume. In this case ifsubsequent batches are made they will be a bit cheaper since the NRE cost will not be incurred again.
Don’t Stop • Create a succinct device speciﬁcation. • Design for low volume production. • Outsource hardware design.You don’t need a lot of up front money. You don’t need your own internal hardwaredesign group. Don’t give up on a great idea because it requires some hardware.Don’t stop at software: make hardware too.
Thank You Questions, comments, ideas? Denis Bohm denis@ﬁreﬂydesign.comSession Feedback Survey at http://sxsw.tv/cr2