Setting out on your first independent IoT project may seem overwhelming. Looking at the statistics, over half of IoT projects do not make it past the pilot stage and from those that make it, one third report below-average results. So it is no wonder that things may seem discouraging at first. Still, in many of those cases, the main culprits for failure are lack of in-house expertise and lack of careful planning that weighs in all the risks and maps out a reliable trajectory with clear milestones. From selecting the hardware to choosing the right IoT platform, putting together a stellar team of domain experts, and guiding them through implementation and deployment, the complex web of IoT project work may be difficult to navigate. But it all starts with choosing the hardware and settling on the right IoT development kit.
In this article, we guide you through the steps of selecting the type of hardware you need, from getting your hands on the right kind of development kit to initial prototyping. Assuming that you will opt for an IoT platform, we focus on the strategic considerations to make prior to making hardware decisions. We point out the things to look out for to make sure that you can connect your devices of choice to the IoT platform.
We are concentrating on the IoT platform scenario because it alleviates the need for in-house IoT domain experts and usually comes with mature technical support plus a community of IoT builders. Such platforms are usually tested for thousands of devices and are suitable for both enterprise and consumer scenarios.
Consider the challenge you need to solve
So before you even get started on your IoT project, have a look around and identify the main issues you want to resolve. IoT connectivity is not an end in itself but a step towards more transparency on the shop floor, better asset management, and enhanced risk assessment, to name a few. So an IoT project is foremost a business initiative that helps you extract more value out of existing resources, saves time and money.
Laser focusing is important at this stage so that you don’t end up building something that does not deliver in terms of business objectives. Here are the most popular ways to extract value out of IoT initiatives:
- Asset management. This involves tracking, classifying, monitoring and controlling connected assets in real-time, as well as certification and compliance, managing costs, and lifecycle support. Depending on your industry, this can mean fleet management for logistics companies, asset tracking for industrial enterprises seeking more visibility on the shop floor, or overall resource monitoring in retail.
- Predictive maintenance. Alerts and red button requests are already standard for industrial manufacturers, and the proactive handling of industrial assets ensures uninterrupted production and longer device lifecycles.
- Compliance and supply chain management. Monitoring IoT device status at all times allows you to manage your regulatory compliance requirements easier and get on top of supply chain operations globally.
- Environmental condition monitoring. IoT can be utilized in agriculture, water management, large-scale farming, soil monitoring, humidity tracking, and more. Large-scale farming is already benefiting from the powers of remote sensors to deliver more value and waste less.
Think about scale and scope
Scalability is a concern for each large-scale industrial-grade IoT project and doing this right cannot be underestimated. Here you need both the right hardware and a reliable IoT platform that has proven itself in deployment scenarios that involve rapid scaling. And this does not simply entail scaling from 1 to 1,000 devices but an overhaul of the entire IoT process. So apart from scaling the technology, you need to consider how the data collection, preparation, and analysis processes will scale, and how the existing infrastructure can be accommodated to support the new situation.
Interoperability matters here so you need to make sure that once you start incorporating hardware from multiple vendors, it will be compatible with your existing solution.
IoT development kits, including the industry classics such as Raspberry Pi, have been enhancing their levels of technical flexibility so that vendor lock-in is less of an issue nowadays. Still, when considering a connected device, the complexities of scaling and interoperability need to be cleared at the outset.
Identify the right IoT platform and build a prototype
Investing in an IoT platform with built-in infrastructure and benefiting from the know-how of the platform vendor can go hand in hand with picking the right hardware. IoT experts can consult you on the most promising IoT development kits or the boards that are most compatible with the IoT platform technology, saving you time and money along the way. So investing in an IoT platform that can do the job is just as important as selecting the hardware that works best for you.
Since the IoT platform market is extremely diverse and most of the technology is still evolving. The best way to navigate through the heterogeneous vendor landscape is to focus on your needs and the problems you need to solve, then see how an existing solution aligns with these.
The best way to understand the complexity of factors involved is to build a prototype and test it in conjunction with your platform of choice. This will allow you to experience how reliable and flexible the platform is, assess the scope of the device management capabilities, see how it behaves during application development or when you roll out an IoT app, and gauge the level of expertise you will require to take your IoT product to full deployment and massive scale-out. This is how you prepare to map out your IoT strategy.
When selecting your IoT development kit for prototyping, look for flexibility and the capacity to operate in iterative scenarios. It is best to have a development board with a slot for a SIM card that is easy to set up and use, and is suitable for less skilled users. The IoT development kit has to be compatible with existing hardware and should be affordable enough to allow you to test the platform for multiple devices.
Moving on to large scale deployment scenarios, there are other things to look at. First, the devices need to be robust enough to perform outdoors or under extreme conditions, and have to be fully certified. The devices have to be easily integratable into your existing IoT landscape and the connection to machines or other equipment should be established without much programming effort.
Get help from the IoT community
Building a prototype should not be a solitary effort. Consult with the IoT community on Stack Overflow or hackster.io to see what seasoned IoT experts have to say about the development boards that are most affordable and easiest to work with. The process of building a prototype is invaluable as it will allow you to discover gaps in your thinking early on, and set the right context for full-scale IoT deployment.
But even more valuable is the time spent talking to IoT specialists across the globe, solving issues together, and collecting knowledge about existing IoT projects. Some IoT projects within the developer community are even open-sourced and include detailed guides so inspiration is everywhere if you know how to look for it.
IoT development boards to use with the Record Evolution Platform
Your IoT development kit of choice can be used for scaling, but it may only make it through the PoC and operate in lab conditions, that is, in less demanding environments. It all depends on the use case and intent. Below are some standard boards you can use with the Record Evolution Platform as well as some IPCs you can use in production-grade environments. Resources on connecting are here.
Raspberry Pi 4
Raspberry Pi Zero
NVIDIA® Jetson Nano™ Developer Kit
NVIDIA® Jetson Xavier™ NX Developer Kit
Beckhoff IPC series of devices
Phoenix Contact IPCs
More about connecting development boards, IPCs, and other IoT devices to the platform here.
About Record Evolution
We are a Data Science & IoT team based in Frankfurt am Main, committed to helping companies of all sizes to innovate at scale. So we’ve built an easy-to-use development platform enabling everyone to benefit from the powers of IoT and AI.