As technologies continue to evolve and prices continue to fall, high tech and interconnected products are becoming increasingly available to the public.
Although consumers have been relatively slow to adopt ‘smart’ devices so far, manufacturers and industry experts are in no doubt: the Internet of Things (IoT), in which all manner of products automatically exchange data with one another, is going to become ubiquitous before long.
The only question is ‘when?’. So when you’re developing new consumer devices, how can you ensure that they are fit for this interconnected future?
Vincent Roes, Innovation Manager at DEKRA, helped to put together this overview of the four key aspects for manufacturers to consider when future-proofing their technology. “However, it’s no longer enough to tick just a couple of these boxes individually,” he points out. “They are all interrelated, so you need to take an integrated approach.”
When developing smart devices, the biggest challenge for manufacturers is actually not the technology itself, but finding a way to apply that technology meaningfully. “Adding connectivity to a relatively mundane product without delivering a meaningful functional benefit risks turning ‘smart’ into little more than a marketing gimmick,” says Vincent.
“Do consumers really need things like a smart fork? To make your product future-proof and to maximize consumer acceptance, ensure that the connectivity solves a problem or serves a useful purpose for the end user.”
2. User friendly
To encourage consumer uptake of smart devices, the technology must be easy to use and easy to implement. “It’s all about simplicity. Plug & play is crucial in future-proof devices,” comments Vincent. “We use our expertise to support retailers and manufacturers with safety and performance testing to ensure a product does what it should in both respects.
“Involving us early on in the design and development process means that we can test the usability and performance along the way, avoiding costly changes later on and shortening your time to market.”
Technological advancement is changing the face of safety too. “Today, safety goes beyond ensuring that devices pose no risk of direct harm to their users or the environment. With so much functionality being added to smart devices, product testing is shifting towards a hazard-based approach. You need to explore the broader risk of potentially harmful situations arising,” explains Vincent.
“For example, EMC regulations are important to ensure that electronic devices do not interfere with one another; imagine if one device prevents another from switching on or off when it should, meaning that it stops working or overheats…there are countless potential hazards. And even breaches of privacy and cyber security can hurt people, just in a different way.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a good step forward in safeguarding the storage, use and sharing of data, but there’s still a lot more to be done. To encourage consumer acceptance of smart devices, manufacturers must be able to reassure people that their data connections are secure.”
Technology is advancing so quickly that the legislation is struggling to keep up. Nevertheless, there are still many standards and regulations to comply with when developing consumer devices.
“And that’s especially true if you are planning to export your products worldwide, because unfortunately many international product standards are not yet harmonized; different countries often still have different regulations, requiring different certifications, testing, paperwork and so on.”
Written by Vincent Roes, Innovation and Business Development Manager at DEKRA.