With all the buzz around crowdfunding new hardware and after meeting some of the founders of these startups I thought it wise to talk to someone who has literally written a book on electronic products design, John Teel. John comes from the world of IC design at Texas Instruments so for folks in the ARM world he is a bona fide chip guy and brings an interesting perspective to designing products. John now runs his own company called Teel Engineering and consults for anyone building electronics.
I initially got in touch with John to ask him about the Exploring the world of ARM based Embedded Computing Boards (ECB) project but he told me that although most of his design projects use ARM (very occasionally an 8 bit processor) 80% of his projects are custom so he doesn't start with a development kit, the remaining 20% use an Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or other development kits initially with a custom design the longer term goal. There has been a debate in the industry about whether professional design engineers use "hobbyist" platforms like Raspberry Pi and Arduino for prototyping and here is yet another concrete example. As an aside I noticed that at least 3 of the graduates of the HAX hardware incubator (batch 6) used an Arduino in their design and are going to production with it so now we know.
Getting back to John's work he told me that everything wireless is hot, every design has some kind of RF capability and because he has been through the cycle many times he pushes companies to consider using RF modules because FCC certification and the RF design itself is inherently very hard and can slow them down.
John also told me that he is working on wearables a lot these days and in that market a fully custom design is the only logical way to go. His added value is to get the design functional enough to be launched on Kickstarter (remember our Kickstarter Week here on the community). John often does a proof of concept on a Raspberry Pi or Arduino board if it's not a wearable.
John's biggest pain point in wearables design right now is power because battery life is a big issue and he told me that he has spent hours searching microcontroller data sheets for the power specs and his current favourite microcontroller is the STMicroelectronics STM32L4 which uses an ARM Cortex-M4 processor. He told me that for wearables this part is the best current combination he can find of low power with the processing capability he needs. John thinks that good datasheets still matter because he spends a lot of time matching features to functions, power is key and so is a small package size. Some things in electronics never change.
As a working designer he told me everything IoT related is also hot, GPS designs are also big, as are beacons which he thinks will take off soon. John stays up to date by reading sites like TechCrunch, he also is a fan of DigiKey (this is almost universal among US based engineers). John's advice on system design is to keep the prototype as simple as possible, aim for the minimum viable product, extra features are just guesses at this point. This is where Kickstarter and IndieGogo have changed the product development landscape forever because you are basically getting the very best early market research and viability study you could ever buy. By starting with crowdfunding you find out if people going to buy your product and that's a game changer. That’s why Kickstarter is worth looking at early on in your design journey.
John has a lot of software experience but he now outsources to other programmers because in his opinion it's hard to be cutting edge in both hardware and software design these days and he is focusing on hardware. John has written a book on how to start a product design and you can download it for free and its really worth a look if you are designing a new product. John is not just an engineer, he is also an entrepreneur and has worked with buyers at Walmart and Home Depot so he knows his stuff.
If you are going to use an Embedded board in your design, please check out the Embedded Computing Board (ECB) Resource Guide.