Monday, October 13, 2014

The Internet Protocol for Smart Objects Alliance

The Internet Protocol for Smart Objects (IPSO) Alliance is an organisation, which has served as a resource centre and industry leader since 2008 – whose goal is to seek the establishment of Internet Protocol as the dominant, open standard adopted by industry as the basis for the connectivity of "smart objects", machine-to-machine and Internet-of-Things networks and applications.

The IPSO Alliance provides a foundation for industry growth by fostering awareness, providing education, generating research, promoting the industry, and creating a better understanding of IP and other open protocols and standards and the role they can play in the Internet of Things.

Through the work of the IPSO Alliance, many industries have come to realise the benefits associated with using the Internet Protocol within their Internet-of-Things and M2M products and applications. The Alliance is moving forward from explaining "Why use IP in IoT devices" to "How to use IP" down to the individual device level in connected IoT networks.

While the Alliance will continue to educate and inform on the numerous fundamental benefits of IP, it has embarked on defining the set of appropriate protocols, architecture and data definitions for IoT "Smart Objects" so that engineers and product developers working in this field will have access to the necessary tools in order "to build the IoT right" using open standards in a way that the IPSO Alliance considers to be the most valuable for everybody.

Primary goals of the IPSO Alliance are to promote the Internet Protocol as the universal, most secure and most resilient infrastructure on which to base ever more critical and ubiquitous connectivity, and to carry on their core mission of "Internet Protocol enabling the Internet of Things". It is a goal of the IPSO Alliance to promote the use of IP as the premier solution for access and communication for smart objects as well as to invest in innovation in IP- and open-standards-based Internet-of-Things technology.

The Alliance aims to uphold open standards for IoT connectivity including but not limited to IP, supporting the Internet Engineering Task Force and other technical standards organisations in the development of standards for smart objects and Internet-of-Things connectivity, building on the technical work of these bodies with promotion, outreach and education.

The main objective of the Alliance is not to define new technologies and standards, but to document the use of IP-based technologies defined by the standards-building organisations such as IETF with focus on support by the Alliance of various use cases.

Furthermore, the IPSO aims to promote the use of the Internet Protocol by developing and publishing white papers and case studies and providing updates on open standards-building progress from associations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, with a particular focus on Internet-of-Things applications and what IPSO refers to as "Smart Objects", which promote Web-scale interoperability between IP-connected devices and IoT applications.

The Alliance has recently broadened its standards vision to include education on the best practice for the use of IP and other open protocols to create end-to-end solutions for the Internet of Things, promoting the use of open standards, not just through awareness that these open standards exist but also through education of developers on how to actually use them most effectively in IoT products.

With an aim to understand the industries and markets where M2M and IoT devices can have an effective role in growth when connected using the Internet Protocol, and to organise interoperability tests that will allow members and interested parties to show that products and services using IP-based connectivity for "smart objects" can work together and meet industry standards for communication, the alliance is a beneficial group to further the use of IP in various products.

IPSO aims to build stronger relationships around IP and other open standards within the industry and to create a better understanding of IP and its role in connecting Smart Objects, fostering awareness that the Internet Protocol is an existing, proven networking solution based on open standards that is already deployed and demonstrated to be eminently scalable.

The availability of Internet Protocol, including IPv6 and 6LoWPAN, on constrained embedded systems and low-cost microcontrollers with very limited memory and other resources has made possible a new kind of device and a new kind of Internet, with ubiquitous interoperability between "smart objects" and connected Internet-of-Things devices.

The Internet Engineering Task Force specifies a set of standard protocols for Constrained Resource Environment (CoRE) IP-enabled networks, including the Constrained Resource Application Protocol or CoAP, applicable to low-power and low-bandwidth embedded devices.

CoAP is an application protocol for machines and connected devices, as HTTP is for the World Wide Web, but designed specifically for machine interaction and operation over networks of resource-constrained devices. IPSO's Smart Object Guidelines provide a common design pattern, an object model that can effectively use CoAP to provide high-level interoperability between "smart objects" and connected software applications on other devices and services.

For more information on the IPSO alliance, you can visit their website from the following URL - http://www.ipso-alliance.org/. And if you’re looking for a partner to help bring your new or existing products to the Internet-of-Things, we have the experience, expertise and team to get the job done.

Getting started is easy - join us for an obligation-free and confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Using Scrum methodology for Hardware Development

Although the Scrum agile methodology was originally formalised for software development projects, as with other agile frameworks it can be applied well to any complex, innovative project that a team works on.

Scrum is a way for teams to work together to develop a product where product development occurs in small pieces, with each piece building upon previously created pieces. Building products one small piece at a time encourages creativity and enables teams to respond to feedback and change, to build exactly what is needed using a most efficient manner.

Furthermore it’s a simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex projects that provide a small set of rules that create just enough structure for teams to be able to focus their innovation on solving what might otherwise be an insurmountable challenge.

So let's have a look at how scrum methodology can be applied, and its potential benefits and challenges, when applied to embedded systems and hardware projects. Building complex products for customers is an inherently difficult task, even more so for projects that have a hardware component, and Scrum provides structure to allow teams to deal with that difficulty.

However, the fundamental Scrum process is quite simple and at its core it is governed by a few core roles on the project team. Product owners determine what needs to be built during a "sprint" interval of 1 to 4 weeks and the development team does the technical work to design and build what is needed during this interval, followed by demonstration of what they have built.

Based on this demonstration, the product owner determines what to build next. The Scrum master ensures this process happens as smoothly as possible and continually helps to improve the process.

A key principle of Scrum that differentiates it from traditional project management philosophies is its recognition that during a project the customers can change their minds about what they need or want, and that unpredictable challenges cannot be easily addressed in a traditional predictive or planned manner.

As such, scrum methodology adopts an empirical approach, accepting that the project cannot be perfectly understood or defined in advance and instead the team focuses on maximising its ability to deliver small iterations of progress quickly and to respond to changing or emerging requirements as the project proceeds.

As the team proceeds through the "backlog" of tasks during a scrum project, it is accepted that changes can and will happen - the team may learn about new market opportunities to take advantage of, competitor threats that may arise, or customer feedback may change the way the product is supposed to work.

When it comes to hardware projects, the time constraints involved in fabrication of printed circuit boards, the ordering of components, hardware assembly or other external manufacturing dependencies and the commitment to a particular hardware prototype design once it has been sent for manufacturing can potentially make it much more difficult to respond to new or changing customer specifications or requirements within the fixed timeframe of a given sprint.

If these kinds of factors in ordering or manufacturing hardware devices exceed the time allocated for a sprint, these manufacturing issues can present a unique challenge when trying to apply agile methods to hardware development.

The "sprint" is the basic unit of development effort in a Scrum project, a period of typically 1 to 4 weeks in which development occurs on a set of "backlog" items that the team has committed to, restricted to a specific time duration which is fixed in advance for each sprint.

Over the course of a sprint the project team has a physical, co-located, "stand-up" meeting every day to communicate between the team and assess its work, while the scrum master keeps the team focused on its goal along the way.

For hardware projects, increasingly popular and accessible tools and technologies such as small-scale CNC milling, 3D printing, and laser cutting are becoming more important for rapid prototyping and agile hardware development, allowing components such as custom plastics or simple PCBs to be rapidly prototyped, demonstrated to the product owner and evaluated within a sprint.

A prototype iteration of a hardware system doesn't have to physically involve hardware. Simulation and visualisation tools, such as SPICE for electronic engineering, 3D rendering of mechanical components and PCB component dimensions, and thermal modelling for predicting heat transport with a device enclosure, for example, can all play an important role in assuring the quality, interoperability, industrial design, electrical and thermal performance and the "look and feel" of all the components that come together into a new product even before a prototype is actually physically constructed.

These tools and techniques can also be valuable to demonstrate hardware design and engineering progress relatively quickly, within the finite timeframe of a sprint, if the manufacturing of physical prototype hardware will take longer.

Once again this shows that agile can be used effectively with embedded (and other) hardware development if all members of the team embrace the methodology. And that includes the engineering team here at the LX Group – who can bring your ideas to life.

Getting started is easy - join us for an obligation-free and confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SmartConnect – Atmel’s new low-power IoT Chipset Solution

Atmel has recently expanded its SmartConnect wireless connectivity portfolio with the announcement of a series of new, turnkey 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi system-on-chips and modules which are aimed at enabling expanded possibilities in Internet-of-Things, home or building automation and smart energy management as well as smart, connected consumer electronics applications.

The Atmel SmartConnect Wi-Fi family is a range of self-contained, low-power and pre-certified system-on-chips and modules which bring 802.11 wireless LAN connectivity - and access to the Internet - to any embedded system.

These integrated modules offer a great solution for designers seeking to integrate Wi-Fi connectivity without any existing engineering experience with 802.11, real-time operating systems, IP stack concepts nor RF electronics.

Aimed at opening the emerging "Internet of Things", Atmel's SmartConnect Wi-Fi portfolio is ready to be integrated in a vast array of battery-powered devices and applications requiring the integration of WLAN connectivity without compromising on cost and power consumption.

Although an active 802.11 radio is more power hungry than some other RF connectivity standards such as Bluetooth Low Energy or 802.15.4/6LoWPAN - the familiarity and existing ubiquitous infrastructure built around the 802.11 wireless LAN standard makes it an attractive choice for many applications, avoiding the need for extra hubs, gateways or cables to be installed to get your devices connected to the Internet.

Atmel's Wi-Fi system-on-chips are optimised for applications requiring energy efficiency, such as battery-powered devices, with a wide 1.8V to 3.6V supply voltage range, a deep-sleep-mode with less than 20 micro amps of current draw and an architecture that allows for instant switching of the radio on or off or into a sleep state without startup delays.

This allows for battery-powered devices such as portable nodes in wireless sensor networks to be connected to the Internet whilst still retaining extremely good energy efficiency, staying in a sleep state most of the time, waking up several times per day for a moment to collect sensor values and send this data to a server on the Internet before going back to sleep.

Atmel's SMART SAMW23 Wi-Fi modules are based on Atmel’s low-power Wi-Fi System-on-Chip technology, incorporating WiFi along with an ARM Cortex-M0+ microcontroller core - a fully integrated single-source microcontroller-plus-Wi-Fi radio solution compatible with Atmel Studio 6 and capable of supporting network-connected battery-powered network nodes with a battery lifetime up to years, on a single chip.

This turnkey system provides an integrated software solution, which incorporates application and security protocols such as TLS, an integrated TCP/IP stack and other network services along with a standard real-time operating system.

To help you accelerate your development of these kinds of Wi-Fi connected embedded sensor networks and other Internet-of-Things applications, Atmel will be
making the SAMW23 Wi-Fi system-on-chip available on one of Atmel's standard Atmel Xplained evaluation boards which will be able to plug into any other Atmel Xplained Pro microcontroller evaluation board.

Getting started with coding is helped by the SmartConnect library provided by Atmel for use with their SmartConnect range of Wi-Fi hardware - a turnkey software framework that is available for you to use in Atmel Studio 6. It removes the need to understand the Wi-Fi stack, enabling designers to focus on the functionality and user experience of their product.

The Atmel ATWINC1500/ATWILC1000 SmartConnect system-on-chip is a family of IEEE802.11b/g/n network controller and link controller targeted at Internet-of-Things applications, providing valuable solutions for add-on WiFi connectivity in existing microcontroller solutions and product designs, bringing wireless LAN connectivity to your embedded device through a serial UART or SPI interface.

The WINC1500/WILC1000 chipsets connect to any Atmel AVR or SMART microcontroller with minimal resource requirements, and in their most advanced mode of operation these chips support single-stream 1x1 802.11n connectivity providing up to 72 Mbps PHY throughput.

Both devices feature a fully-integrated RF power amplifier, LNA, RF switch and power management system and provide internal Flash memory as well as multiple peripheral interfaces including UART, SPI and I2C.

For the serious enthusiast or less-technical developers, the Arduino team in collaboration with Atmel have recently announced the launch of the Arduino Wi-Fi Shield 101 - an Arduino shield based around the new Atmel ATWINC1500 802.11 network controller, which enables rapid prototyping of wireless, Internet-connected Internet-of-Things applications on the popular open-source Arduino development platform at a relatively low cost.

This cost-effective and secure new Arduino Wi-Fi shield is an easy-to-use extension that can seamlessly be connected to any Arduino board, enabling high-performance Wi-Fi connectivity, giving the Arduino design and developer community more opportunities to securely connect Internet-of-Things applications ranging from consumer appliances to wearable electronics, robotics, or countless other applications where wireless network connectivity is desirable.

And thanks to the open-source nature of the Arduino team’s projects, some leverage can be gained for your own products if using the same open-source licensing model. However the new Atmel wireless platform holds great promise for developers of IoT-enabled hardware. And that includes the engineering team here at the LX Group – who can bring your ideas to life.

Getting started is easy - join us for an obligation-free and confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.


LX Design House Wins The SEEA 2014 Software and Embedded Systems Excellence Award

The very best of engineering from LX Design House helps save our national icon.

LX Design House wins the Software and Embedded Systems Excellence Award as part of the 2014 Sydney Engineering Excellence Awards for their work in the Project Caramello Koala.

Project Caramello Koala is a response to the increasing risk facing an iconic native animal. Koalas have recently been listed as a vulnerable species, and monitoring programs are an essential part of the effort to protect them.
The main goal of Project Caramello Koala has been to develop a tracking device specific to the needs of koalas.

Although animal telemetry is not new, none of the currently available animal tracking solutions quite fit the bill for kolas. For example, koalas tuck their chins into their chest to rest, making it unfeasible to have bulky electronics under their chin.

The product of Project Caramello Koala, the K-Tracker, is a solution to the problems raised by the needs of the animals and the challenging environments they inhabit. The K-Tracker is proven in the field to have excellent animal welfare outcomes, and provides high accuracy near-to-live tracking and more comprehensive data than is available with existing systems.

As a dynamic, experienced and multiple-award winning design house, the team at LX are well-placed to bring a wide variety of embedded hardware and other systems to market for their growing client base, and this has been proven with their outstanding results in the 2014 SEEA awards.

The annual Sydney Engineering Excellence Awards (SEEA) celebrate the accomplishments of some of the finest engineering companies and individuals in the world. The Awards showcase leaders in the profession along with world class engineering and innovation.

Each Year the Excellence Awards’ judging panel consider the finalists of each category for an Engineering Excellence Award. As winners in their own right, these finalists represent the very best of engineering with the judging panel seeking to identify those unique finalists that demonstrate outstanding excellence, innovation and best practice.

The 2014 Australian Engineering Excellence Awards feature an exciting new array of state of the art technologies and innovations, cementing the position of the profession at the forefront of our society.

– ENDS –

Media contact:
Elwin Cross
t: +61 2 9209 4133
f: +61 2 9310 7232
elwin.c@lx-group.com.au

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Principles of Agile Development

The Agile Manifesto is based around twelve principles, guiding concepts which build upon the four core values of Agile and support project teams in implementing Agile management methods, helping to lead to better project outcomes, better engineering and better customer satisfaction.

Let's review these twelve principles of Agile project management and the relevance that they have to project management, particularly in the context of embedded computing, electronic engineering and product design projects.

The first principle is that it is the highest priority of an Agile project team to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable technology - and this remains true whether the product is software or hardware, embedded firmware, or any type of industrial design or engineering product.

Valuable engineering that is delivered to the customer early and continuously may not be the final product, but it might consist of rapid design iterations, demonstrations of certain subsystems or modules, proof-of-concept engineering, or prototypes constructed for demonstration using rapid manufacturing and rapid prototyping techniques such as 3D printing or digital logic synthesis in an FPGA.

The second of the core principles of Agile project management is that changing requirements should be welcomed, even late in development. This means that the customer should not be expected to provide a complete and concrete specification of all project requirements at the start of the project and never change or add to it.

Change should be welcomed, and Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage. This principle applies equally for embedded design and hardware projects as it does for the management of software projects, however obviously there can be challenges when incorporating new requirements from the customer into a hardware project late in development.

For example, it may be difficult to incorporate new or different requirements into an existing PCB design and layout, requiring increased time and cost to design and fabricate a new PCB. In some cases, depending on size and mechanical requirements, using multiple modules and interconnected boards within a hardware system can allow for easier changes or the addition of new functionality without "wasting" existing hardware and its embodied time and money if a new iteration is required.

The use of programmable logic devices or FPGAs, or microcontrollers with their functionality reconfigurable in firmware, can also be useful in this regard - although this may increase cost or power consumption compared to a hardware system with application-specific, fixed functionality.

The third of the core principles of Agile management is to deliver working technology frequently, over a timescale of a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference towards keeping this timescale as short as possible.

Like the other principles we have discussed, this principle is also useful and applicable towards hardware projects. Although there may be insurmountable time constraints, such as lead time for components, PCB manufacturing or assembly, the rapid delivery of working iterations of hardware, even if it is just for a subsystem or a prototype that validates part of the overall system design, is a valuable goal and it is practical to achieve in most cases in a typical hardware project.

Another of the twelve principles of Agile is that working engineering that can be demonstrated, even if it is just a subsystem, a component, an experiment or prototype and not the "final" deliverable product, is the primary measure of project progress. Other metrics that might be applied to gauge project progress are of secondary value compared to the actual technology created.

Further core principles of Agile are that business people and customer representatives should work together intimately with developers and engineers throughout the project, with close contact and communication between them during project development, preferably every day, and that project teams should be built around motivated individuals on the development or engineering teams who are given the support and environment that they need to get the job done, as well as given the trust that they will get the job done without micromanagement.

Among the other core principles of Agile project management are the principles that the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation, and the belief that Agile processes promote sustainable development and a sustainable use of the human resources of the team, where the sponsors, developers, engineers and users making up a project team should be able to maintain a constant pace of work indefinitely.

The remaining principles are that continuous attention to technical excellence, good engineering and good design enhances agility, that simplicity and the art of maximising the amount of work that does not need to be done is essential, and that the best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organising teams.

Finally, one of the core principles of Agile management is that it values regular adaptation to changing circumstances. Ideally, an agile team reflects on how to become more effective and then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly at regular intervals.

These Agile principles also retain their advantages and their potential usefulness irrespective of the technical nature of the particular project that you're managing - there is no real difference between a software project or a project working with electronic hardware or any other kind of engineering or non-engineering project when it comes to understanding the potential benefits of these Agile values.

With some thought and buy-in by all members of your team, you can use Agile methods on a wide variety of projects. And if you’re looking for a partner in yoru project development, here at the LX Group we have the team, knowledge and experience to bring your ideas to life.

Getting started is easy - join us for an obligation-free and confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Intel Edison – closing the gap between the IoT and your products

The new Edison development platform is the latest in a series of low-cost and product-ready, general purpose computing platforms from Intel that aim to help lower the barriers to entry for all entrepreneurs, from hobbyists and makers to professional engineers and companies working with Internet-of-Things, wearable computing and consumer electronics applications and product development.

The Edison platform includes a robust set of features into its small size, delivering great performance, durability, and a broad spectrum of hardware I/O interfaces and software support. Those versatile features help meet the needs of a wide range of customers and market segments.

Although announced some time ago, the platform is finally in the retail market, which has waited patiently as the Edison packs a large amount of computing power, communications and networking capability into a small, compact package - including an Intel Atom dual-core system-on-chip, integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy, along with a 70-pin miniature Hirose connector that exposes many GPIO pins and a wide range of different I/O interfaces for connectivity with external hardware.

With these features in mind, Edison is potentially a very useful platform for many of today's networked, connected embedded computing and Internet-of-Things applications where more computing power is required than can be supplied by a typical low-cost microcontroller along with wireless connectivity.

Edison's versatile features help this new computing platform to meet the needs of beginners to embedded computing, inventors and makers, as well as experienced users and of course a multitude of commercial applications.

Apart from the integrated hardware, thanks to the 70-pin connector there’s support for more than 30 different industry-standard hardware I/O interfaces – simplifying planning for and integration with peripheral devices and other hardware.

From a software perspective, Edison features out-of-the-box compatibility and support with software and tools such as Yocto Linux, the Arduino IDE, and the Python, Node.js and Wolfram languages. The Edison's Intel Atom system-on-chip includes a dual-core CPU and an independent single-core microcontroller, integrated memory and storage.

You may be thinking that all this is great, however Edison isn’t suitable for portable applications due to a perceived power issue. Nothing could be further from the truth – although there’s a powerful dual-core processor, WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy radios on board – it offers low power consumption and a small physical footprint.

Thus the Edison platform is attractive for applications that need a lot of processing power without the size or power consumption constraints of a larger PC or single-board computer. In standby mode with no RF communication, Edison's power consumption is just 13 milliwatts, increasing to 22 milliwatts with Bluetooth LE active, or 35 milliwatts when Wi-Fi networking is enabled.

The core of Edison is its’ Intel Atom system-on-chip that includes a modern dual-core, dual-threaded 500 MHz CPU along with an independent 32-bit 100 MHz Intel Quark microcontroller, dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy, 4 Gb of EMMC non-volatile storage and 1 Gb of DDR3 memory - all in a tiny module the size of a postage stamp – ideal for Internet-of-Things applications.

The unique combination of small size, energy efficiency, computing power and storage, rich capabilities and ecosystem support provided by the Edison module and its surrounding ecosystem of modular hardware blocks inspires creativity and enables rapid innovation from prototype to production for professional, hobbyist or education users.

Created to facilitate rapid innovation, prototyping and product development, Edison can be configured to be interoperable with just about any device, allowing you to quickly prototype simple interactive designs or tackle more complex projects with an embedded computer that offers much more power, on-board storage and networking capability than a simple 8-bit microcontroller.

Furthermore, the Edison platform also supports connectivity to Intel's new Internet-of-Things Analytics Platform, which enables seamless device-to-device and device-to-cloud communications for your connected devices in Internet-of-Things applications.

However Intel doesn’t just leave you with hardware – their IoT Analytics Platform provides a range of foundational tools for collecting, storing and processing data from your Internet-of-Things networks and devices in the cloud, and for example provides the ability to run user-defined rules on your data stream that trigger alerts based on advanced analytics on the data coming in from your devices.

Overall the Edison offers the product designer an incredible range of hardware possibilities from a reputable brand that knows the business. However implementing your IoT or other product with Edison can be a challenge to get right the first time.

However you can remove the challenge of development by working with experienced partners such as our team here at the LX Group. We have the team, knowledge and experience to bring your ideas to life.

Getting started is easy - join us for an obligation-free and confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.



Monday, September 8, 2014

Advantages and Possible Downsides of Agile Development

Agile project management methods aren't new, however they can still be considered somewhat foreign to most teams developing hardware or combined embedded hardware and software products.

There are a number of both advantages and potential disadvantages that are worth considering when it comes to the role of Agile management methods in hardware projects that should be considered in the decision-making process of switching from a traditional waterfall project management method to an Agile approach for the management of your projects.

Imagine a team that focuses on how their work will be used by the customer, and who quickly incorporates feedback from other teams and test users to build something that gets better and better in noticeable and usable incremental chunks of productivity. They may work without the usual documentation and strict procedures because communication is fast and usually face-to-face, with the results being what is important.

These are some of the typical advantages associated with Agile project management techniques, along with improvements in efficiency and team productivity that come from co-location of teams, pair programming (and more generally, "pair engineering" in the context of a non-software project), regular stand-up meetings and similar interpersonal communication techniques within your project team that are an important part of many Agile methods.

Some of the other key advantages that are typically ascribed to Agile project management techniques include the reduction of traditional, formal written documentation because of the sense that reducing the requirement for this type of documentation allows creativity to increase, a reduction in the time that is typically consumed doing blind research, and the relatively rapid delivery of new iterations of hardware or software prototypes which allow improvements to be demonstrated more rapidly, broken up into smaller chunks.

Another advantage of Agile methods is that multiple cycles of iterative development, testing and feedback speed up the evolution of a quality product, as well as allowing relatively rapid education of new members of the development team, allowing skills and experience with particular tools, client industries or user stories to be learned rapidly where prior experience may be lacking.

Despite many apparently compelling advantages of Agile methods, however, some development teams and companies prefer the perceived stability and predictability of a traditional development process and a "waterfall" project model.

They feel that the traditional approach of comprehensive documentation and specific up-front contract negotiation protects them from risk and allows one team to follow the work of another in a consistent and reproducible way. When your product involves a combination of hardware and software - as is often the case in today's world of embedded systems and connected Internet-of-Things devices, this involves special hurdles and some people feel that agile methods are not well suited, or insufficiently well developed, to handle this area well and that traditional engineering management strategies are the best when you're working with this type of technology.

Some possible disadvantages that you may encounter when trying to incorporate agile methods into your product development include an increase in the amount of data that you need to manage, in order to keep track of rapid revisions and many different versions of prototype hardware and software, and the increased complexity of your communication and coordination within your team and between the team and the customer as the project proceeds.

Some organisations may find that they have a hard time getting over the disadvantages of changing their processes and dealing with perceived increases in risk. There are real costs associated with your transition to new, different procedures and tools, and the perception that moving away from formal up-front contract and specification processes with your clients could expose you to increased risks can be, to some extent, correct.

Another one of the challenges facing agile management of projects with both hardware and software development components is that software can normally be developed relatively rapidly, and the software development process broken down into smaller chunks or iterations relatively easily.

On the other hand, it may require three to six months or more to develop an iteration of a hardware product and to demonstrate a working component or feature. Hardware is hard, as they say, and it is harder to break up the project into small components that can be worked on in small, short sprints with a working iteration of a product or component at the end. If the software must wait for the hardware to be created prior to final testing of the integrated system, this can add delays to your testing process.

Nevertheless, don’t let these put you off considering Agile for your project development. By working with experienced partners you can exceed your goals, and here at the LX Group we have the team, knowledge and experience to bring your ideas to life. 

Getting started is easy - join us for an obligation-free and confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.