Smart devices need even smarter design teams

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Products and services that create actionable data are increasingly linked to added value. Making a product smart through human-machine interface, integrated electronics, and connectivity can generate high-margin revenue opportunities.

The HMI is the brain of a device, telling it to act when the end user needs it. HMI technologies range from traditional machine-mounted touch screens to advanced technologies such as gesture recognition sensors.

The HMI technology market is poised to grow into an $ 11.88 billion space by 2026, and much of its success can be attributed to smart home technology. More and more devices are starting to use capacitive touch, proximity sensing, natural language processing, and other technologies designed to think, make decisions and learn, which places HMI design and manufacture at the center of product discussions.

The evolution of HMIs and associated functionality is increasing consumer demand for smart home devices. At Jabil Smart Home Technology Trends Survey 2020 Out of 215 IoT decision makers, 57% of participants said the opportunities for connected home solutions have more than doubled in the past two years. In addition, the production and development of these devices in all categories has increased at the same time.

The example of the fitness industry

The fitness industry is an area of ​​opportunity for connected home solutions, especially as pandemic lockdowns have made consumers aware of the range of options available for “home fitness”. Trends in the fitness industry are moving towards “smarter” equipment with smarter, more integrated electronics.

Fitbits and Apple watches were once primarily used in the gym; now we have connected home equipment that measures our blood pressure, heart rate, calories burned and more. Peleton’s home fitness equipment connects in real time with remote live trainers.

We see the future of smart solutions that combine the laptop with the world. Wearable devices such as smart watches, body monitors, and fitness trackers can send a signal to the user’s smart home network when they enter their home perimeter. The device can act on this signal by turning on the living room lights, television, or air conditioner. What makes it all possible: HMI design.

Design essentials

Modern HMI design for the smart home requires a clear understanding of the users of the device, to understand preferences, anticipate needs and respond to dynamically changing actions.

From the start, product engineers need to decide on the visual language of the IoT device. For example, should the device use icons or colors? It is essential that users can use the device intuitively.

Indication of condition is also essential. It’s not just a matter of determining whether a device is on or off; it must perform many other functions and understand the end user at a sophisticated level. An electronic status indicator signals a function of a device to the end user. Light can shine through the device and communicate in a number of ways: light pipes, panel mount indicators, or capacitive touch sensor displays. Such metrics play an important role in how well or poorly an end user engages with a smart home product.

Engineers must also consider the communication functionality in the design of the HMI system. Usually, the less text and the more visual cues are used for the HMI, the easier it is for the consumer to understand it. The brain processes visuals faster than text, so using visuals instead of words whenever possible can speed up visual communication and eliminate language barriers.

Form follows function. Many smart home and appliance brands want to start the design process by creating the aesthetic of the device. However, it is wise for engineers to focus on the actual interface of the device first. The user interface and user experience of a device are most important when designing smart home products.

When designing a human-machine interface, keep these design tips in mind:

Provide real-time feedback in the design process to help reverse or rectify a situation.

Include incremental critical security steps instead of having them all happen on the same screen or at the same time.

Differentiate between error messages involved in safety priority actions and non-safety critical actions.

Make sure that tasks require some level of active end-user involvement while minimizing repetitive or passive actions.

Once the interface design and HMI software are complete, engineers can focus on the HMI aesthetics. After all, the appearance of an HMI is what initially attracts a consumer to a product and will impact user experience, customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty.

Hardware considerations

Home and smart device engineers use many materials when developing HMIs, including:

Stainless steel is exceptionally durable and has better corrosion resistance. It is generally chosen for its visual appeal. Engineers typically use it because of its laser fused profiles.

Composite materials, which are available in an assortment of colors and finishes and are very suitable for use in flat front panels.

Carbon fiber, which offers an incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio and is much more durable than stainless steel, but only a third of the weight.

Fiberglass, a polymer composed of a plastic matrix reinforced with fine glass fibers that is light, strong, less brittle and more expensive than carbon fiber and glass. It will not rust, which makes it ideal for the outdoors.

Glass is a high quality material with great mechanical and optical properties. Very few companies have equipment large enough to handle large pieces of glass, making it an expensive option for smart home and appliance companies.

Plastic, high tooling costs make plastics profitable when ordered in larger quantities. It is tough, energy efficient and lightweight.

The choice of materials and finishes can have a significant impact on the strength, durability and suitability of HMI technology. But to make HMIs smart, the right connectivity infrastructure must be achieved. The smart home industry is poised for a prolonged wave of growth after COVID-19, as devices will automate, monitor and further control our personal and individual environments. Whether it is called a “smart home” or “digital home”, it is the center of activity for HMI, connectivity and sensor solutions. Today’s smart home technology is only scratching the surface of what’s to come as the market continues to make great strides towards a full ecosystem of technologies that work together.

Andrew Glickman is the Director of Strategic Development for the Smart Home and Appliances sector at Jabil. He has worked at Jabil for the past 10 years in many functions and roles including business development, business units, strategy and engineering. He holds an Executive MBA from the Wharton School of Business and undergraduate and MBA degrees from the University of South Florida.


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