A couple of years ago, a self-driving Google Car was out for a spin around Mountain View, California, when it came to a complete stop in the middle of the street. It had encountered a scenario in the intersection it had never seen before: a woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck with a broom.
The car waited for the road to clear and then went on its way, but not before making a contribution to the advancement of traffic safety worldwide.
That is, the car relayed the incident up to the Google mothership. Google then sent that information back out to all its other cars. Now, no other Google Car will be confused about what to do when it senses someone in a wheelchair chasing waterfowl with a broom.
Image by Thomas Quine - Female Mallard close-up, CC BY 2.0
Equipped with sensors, processors, and communications devices (making it part of the internet of things (IoT)), the smart, connected Google car is just one of millions of devices sending and receiving information via the cloud all the time.
What does that mean to product developers? We asked industry experts to peer into the future and answer that question. But first things first:
By now we’ve all heard the term “big data,” but you may not know exactly what it means. (It’s not helpful that no one authoritative definition exists.) Most experts agree the term describes information that shares these three attributes:
● Volume. The most important factor that sets big data apart is its size. Cloud computing and internet speeds allow companies to gather and transmit quantities of data that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
● Velocity. Big data comes at you fast. You don’t have to wait for someone to email you a file attachment--the data is already on its way to you before you even know it exists.
● Variety. Variety refers to the different kinds of data are sent and received. It could be text, images, information from a sensor, or just about any other kind of data you can think of.
Big data is going to impact many industries, and product design is no exception. That’s in part because engineers will increasingly design sensors and communication technology into their products—like the Google car. In fact, some expect 50 billion devices to be attached to the internet by 2020!
Here’s some other ways design engineering might change as a result of IoT and the big data it enables:
Better-informed product development. How would the way you design products change if you could learn not only how customers are using them, but where they are having trouble with them and what features they are ignoring altogether?
That information is going to be available to you soon. Michelle Boucher, Vice President of Research for Engineering software at Tech-Clarity, says “Mechanical engineers have the opportunity for product insights that were never possible before. With an IoT-enabled device, products can stream usage data back to engineers.”
Imagine, for example, a bike fork that captures force measurements or a utility cabinet that transmits internal temperature readings.
“A new generation of smart products will provide design engineering with practical information on how products are used in the field,” add Thomas A. Gill and Ken Versprille of CIMdata. “Information discovery and analysis (tools) will help designers intelligently sift through mounds of data to provide wisdom that will help improve product development, the design of products, and enhance business performance.”
More empowered engineering. Traditionally, engineers rely on marketers, customer visits, or their own best guesses to design competitive products. But big data could provide volumes of reliable feedback that none of those channels offer.
“Products are generating a lot of information during their lifecycle and new trends for IoT will bring even more information to manufacturing companies,” says product lifecycle management expert Oleg Shilovitsky. “A tremendous amount of data will be collected from connected devices and this can be transformed into consumable information assets.”
Because products will be able to talk back to engineers, Boucher says that product designers will benefit. “Engineers will be empowered like never before to have a direct impact on the competitiveness of their products.”
Faster product development. As more and more data resides on the cloud, more people can securely reach information faster (and at a lower cost) compared to working within corporate networks and specific platforms.
That may lead to more participants and disciplines involved in the product development cycle early on. Gill and Versprille say, “The IT infrastructure of cloud computing will enable new approaches for concurrent CAD design and system engineering principles combining mechanical, electrical, and software in product development.”
With all those disciplines accessing data throughout the design cycle, engineers should encounter fewer unwelcome surprises late in the design cycle, leading to better products reaching the market faster.
The influence of IoT and big data isn’t the only change coming to CAD. Augmented reality, virtual reality, modularity, and more are right around the corner. Learn more about what Boucher, Gill, Versprille, Shilovitsky, and other experts had to say in our new eBook, 10 Expert Insights: The Future of Product Design in the Age of Smart & Connected Devices.
Plus find out why one blogger says, “We are in front of a significant technological disruption that will transform manufacturing over the next 3-5 years.” Download yours now!
Cat McClintock is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years experience working for CAD, PDM, ERP, and CRM software companies. Prior to that, she was employed editing science journals and as a technician in medical device manufacturing. She holds degrees in Technical Journalism, Classics, and Electro-Optics.