Connected ecosystems constantly grow in scale, complexity, and a number of connected devices. This, in turn, calls for the increased quality of embedded systems software and hardware aimed to perform certain tasks.
Dealing with this complexity of embedded project development becomes a real challenge to many businesses. Embedded systems can become so complex that their development gets risky and is prone to delays. In addition, there are quite a few challenges in hardware development, including the cost of prototyping, device manufacturing expenses, compliance, etc. Nonetheless, the industry is expected to grow and reach $139B by 2027.
At the beginning of the project, it is often difficult to foresee the issues that may arise during the software and hardware development process. They may not be obvious right off the bat, so you need to have experienced hardware and software engineers by your side to help you out.
In this article, you will discover why embedded software and hardware development are worth it, what difficulties you may face, and how to address them. Let’s dive in!
Why is embedded software and hardware development worth the effort?
The use of embedded systems has long been established across the aerospace, automotive, industrial machinery, consumer electronics industries, and many other industries. However, recent developments—for example, automation, connectivity, analytics, and the Internet of Things have moved embedded systems to the center of attention within these industries. To achieve the required functionality of embedded systems, multiple systems must interact precisely with one another. The key to this interaction usually lies within the software part of an embedded system.
Let’s take the automotive industry as an example. The embedded software is widely used there. For instance, embedded systems are critical for advanced driver-assistance systems, automated driving, or in-vehicle infotainment systems. So, no wonder that embedded software and hardware development is already a multibillion-dollar market, expected to grow by roughly 10% more by 2030 as projected by McKinsey.
However, to succeed in embedded project development, you need a clear vision of the end product, a profound understanding of the project needs, challenges you may face as well as ways to address them. So, what should you be aware of?
10 common problems of embedded projects
Costly purchase of equipment
Usually, it takes a single laptop for a programmer to do his job. It is different for an embedded engineer, though. These professionals need a so-called developer kit that includes application processors and microcontrollers. Some embedded projects also require multimeters, oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, or other equipment. It all takes money.
Solution: partner with a vendor with long-standing embedded expertise
The equipment can be used for a long time and on many projects. Therefore, experienced vendors already have everything they need. So you will not have to worry about setting up the work environment for your embedded team by yourself. For example, N-iX has a subscription to Altium services — a top tool for electronics development, which makes the development process less costly for our clients.
Lack of compliance and certifications
Every product that enters the market must be compliant with certain standards or rules. In some cases, these checks are a pure formality, in others— very strict and each released copy must be tested. Therefore, before the development stage, you have to determine which certifications your product needs. It depends on the type of your product, the industry you operate in, your location, etc.
Solution: opt for a vendor with successfully delivered projects in your industry
You should look for a provider of outsourced software and hardware development services that has expertise in your industry. This way, you can be sure that your partner has experience getting such products certified. For instance, at N-iX we help our clients with hardware manufacturing verification and develop software for specific certifications your product needs to meet.
Cost of prototyping
Often prototyping is a complex, lengthy, and expensive process. It is vital in embedded software and hardware development, though. Scrutinizing a prototype allows you to reduce the number of revisions and versions of your final product. The fewer this number is—the less costly the overall process of hardware development gets. It sounds good, right? So, why can it be a problem? And the answer is—not everything can be prototyped, or the effort spent simply will not be worth the achieved result. For example, the cost of some devkits can be comparable to the cost of manufacturing a small batch of your prototypes.
Solution: find a partner with long-standing hardware development expertise
On one hand, such providers of outsourced software and hardware development services usually have internal resources and components to build a prototype for your project. On the other—during their long presence in the market, experienced vendors often have contracts with companies that manufacture hardware components, so you can get them for a lower than the market price.
For instance, N-iX partners with Nordic Semiconductor, a Norwegian company that develops wireless communication technology. Our experts have been applying Nordic’s tech across numerous projects for clients in industries like telecom, manufacturing, logistics & supply chain, healthcare, automotive, and more.
Different manufacturers create different embedded devices with different communication protocols and different logic. Thus it might be challenging to introduce new devices into your existing embedded system.
Solution: hire skilled hardware developers
There are several ways how an experienced hardware development engineer can address the interoperability challenge. For instance, it is possible to design custom embedded devices that match the requirements of your ecosystem. Or, if you decide to connect your embedded system to the Internet, skilled embedded developers will ensure that the devices are fully compatible with your environment.
Quality control automation
This is a vital component of the manufacturability of your product. Testing can reveal the smallest deviations in work. Quality control automation is essential for mass production, as it can spare you the headache of withdrawing batches that have already been manufactured or even sold. However, it is rather challenging to find experts that can realize QC automation for you.
Solution: partner with a company with versatile testing expertise
For instance, by establishing cooperation with N-iX, you get a test automation framework and a set of test cases to ensure the proper functioning of the product. N-iX experts will automate any type of testing, including Smoke, User acceptance, and Black box testing, to ensure the stability of the product over the years. We pick or create test frameworks, provide full test sets for full functionality coverage, offer CI/CD integration for continuous automatic testing, and create test set-ups for different types of testing. When it comes to hardware development, we have experience in creating hardware setups, both for tests during development and production control in mass production.
Maintaining high security
Security is of paramount importance to any business, and unfortunately, there are many threats to the security of embedded systems out there. Security threats might occur at any level, from physical theft of the device to interference in your data storage.
Solution: go for a hardware development company with an established security policy
Secure architecture is a must for any embedded ecosystem. Information breaches, service and account hijacking, DoS attacks, malicious insiders, abuse of cloud services, and other types of attacks can occur. Secure cloud infrastructure has to be considered at the design stage of the IoT development lifecycle. It can help in protecting your network from attacks and data theft, and you will need an expert team who can design a high-load architecture and use the DevSecOps approach to implement threat intelligence and security solutions across the system.
Hardware development project management
Typically, an embedded development project unites three teams: programmers who write the code, electronics developers who design the hardware, and designers who think about the appearance of the product. Usually, each team works independently, but there are cases when one of the teams needs information or the results of the other's work to complete their tasks.
Solution: choose a vendor that has experience working according to Agile methodology
To make the work of all teams smooth, the project manager must control and predict the points when one team's progress depends on the results of another team. With Agile methodology, your hardware developers can make gradual progress while delivering measurable results throughout the embedded software and hardware development process, as well as firmware development and design stages. Project stakeholders can monitor the progress throughout iterations, control the development process, and make timely changes based on feedback from users and stakeholders.
High complexity of the mechanical component
The embedded project development is subject to multiple constraints. These include technical constraints—such as energy supply, physical space, signal round-trip times, and computing and memory capacity—as well as business constraints, such as cost. These drive complexity because embedded systems need to deliver functionality to customers while staying within the bounds of these requirements.
There are also cases when devices that are complex mechanically are rather simple electronically. Let’s say your device has a few LEDs, a button, and a few other components. In terms of custom hardware development, it is rather basic. However, this mechanism needs to be installed at a certain angle in an irregularly shaped and futuristic-looking case. Such tasks require high precision in component placement, and clearance requirements, as well as constant coordination with the designer and mechanic.
Solution: hire a skilled mechanical engineer
Hiring a senior mechanical engineer is a viable solution if your hardware has complex design. To make the final product function properly, you have to make sure that all the hardware components are compatible with one another, can ensure the required functionality, and are of high quality. In order to make it happen, you need experienced hardware engineers.
Real-world data collection
Pretty much all embedded devices interact with the surrounding world. They can measure temperature, determine position, do a blood test, or recognize images. This data will need to be somehow configured and checked. Mathematical modeling plays a very important role in this process. However, to get a dataset for a mathematical model you need data “from the field.” And this process can be thorny from the point of view of management and planning.
Solution: allocate experienced project managers to your team
These professionals will ensure that the real-world data collection process is the most efficient and accurate by planning the process properly.
Preparing accurate documentation
Another feature of hardware development is a significant amount of documentation. It can be user manuals, certifications, assembly drawings for production, and much more. It is a common practice that the hardware developers prepare the documentation themselves. However, it can be not effective, as they are busy with the embedded software and hardware development process itself.
Solution: hire a technical writer
It is better when a separate person prepares documentation. It does not necessarily have to be an engineer with a technical education. The experience with regulatory agencies, knowledge of their requirements, and design standards is more valuable.
So, basically, every challenge of embedded project development may be addressed with the help of a reliable vendor by your side. So, the next question is—how to find one? Here are the steps that will make your search easier.
How to find the best provider of full-cycle hardware and software development services?
Here are some of the vital steps and criteria for selecting the right vendor from which you can hire the best developers for embedded hardware development:
- Compile a list of the top embedded companies. Filter the vendor by their rating, market presence, expertise, security standards, and client reviews;
- Try to filter out the companies by the size of their talent pools. Partner with companies that can offer a considerable talent supply;
- Look at the embedded projects portfolio. See what kinds of services they have delivered to their previous clients and see whether this experience suffices your project’s needs;
- Make sure that your potential partner complies with the international security regulations (SO 27001:2013, PCI DSS, ISO 9001:2015, GDPR, and industry-specific certifications). Such regulations are essential for the proper validation and certification of your equipment;
- Find the feedback from the company’s previous clients. You can use such rating platforms as Clutch.co to see client reviews and testimonials.
Why choose N-iX as your custom hardware development partner?
- We can assist you at each stage of hardware and software development, including product discovery, design, development, hardware manufacturing, validation, and installation support;
- N-iX sticks to a one-stop-shop approach in embedded project development, which will allow you to optimize both cost and time;
- Our software and hardware developers apply Agile methodology to create new products, improve the existing ones, or rework your legacy system to optimize its performance;
- We comply with international industry and security standards like ISO 27001:2013, PCI DSS, ISO 9001:2015, GDPR, and HIPAA, so your sensitive data will be safe with us;
- The tech enterprise has a legal entity in the USA, and over a third of our clients are North American companies.