Strategic Design Advantages of Using Wireless Platforms

DN Staff

May 5, 2015

4 Min Read
Strategic Design Advantages of Using Wireless Platforms

There is currently much discussion around the term "platform," which may be preceded by the adjectives "mobile," "wearable," "medical," "healthcare," etc. However, regardless of the platform being discussed, they usually have one key aspect in common: They tend to be wireless. So, why is this one aspect so fairly universal? The answer is convenience.

As highly mobile organisms, we humans like to have the flexibility to maintain this mobility, as we interact with the products we've engineered to improve our lives. So what exactly is a "platform"? Simply put, it is a common foundation upon which differentiable products can be built.


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Why use a platform? There can be many specific reasons, but in general, the use of platforms can speed up time to market. How a platform can accomplish this goal includes some very interesting facets:

  • Product line engineering - Re-use of modularized hardware and software components has been supported by systems engineering principles that have been evolving over the past few decades. A platform can allow for minimal re-engineering.

  • Security - Once a baseline of risk controls for security vulnerabilities has been established in foundational technologies, additional layers of security may only need to be addressed for the added layers of design detail needed for product differentiation. A platform can allow for improved security.

  • Safety - Once basic safety aspects of a platform have been established (e.g. electrical safety, quality system, etc.), then these elements also may be re-used in the final system context and more development resources can be applied to examining application-level risks. A platform can allow for improved safety.

We have seen rapid innovation across almost all market sectors, driven by the adoption of platforms upon which specific product development is based. This has grown from the hobbyist market under the Maker movement to now also include commercial product development -- and often the migration of hobbyist technologies into the commercial product space. We have seen a particularly focused growth in microcontroller-based platforms, which support ease of integration in the following areas:

  • Software-to-software integration with the preponderance of platforms coming prepackaged with at least driver-level software; a trend has emerged that software developers can quickly leverage interfaces to the platform's software to quickly implement hardware-software systems that provide application-level functionality.

  • Communications with the current focus on mobile and wearable devices, the ability to move data from "Point A" to "Point B" wirelessly is an important customer need to be addressed. A plethora of platforms now exist that allow data to not only be passed to wireless communication modules within the hardware platform, but for the data and Quality of Service (QoS) metrics to actually be managed in many cases by the platform.

  • Connectivity, increasingly, with the platforms available today using communication protocols that incorporate features such as automated discovery. It is not only "unnecessary" for system integrators to understand the communication protocol details, it is also unnecessary to manage connection to other devices.

While platforms provide such great benefits, what risks lay before us? One of the most significant concerns has to do with safety and security.

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If system developers become lax in the adoption and integration of such off-the-shelf technologies, they could easily overlook potential areas of risk. For example, what failure modes exist at the platform hardware component level that might compromise system safety and security? Is the software of the platform fully compatible with the application software...even as edge cases and stress conditions are considered?

What are the limits of the platform's communication capabilities, and how might my platform-based product negatively interact with other products in the environment of use? Can connections to other devices in the operational environment be trusted?

We will be exploring these and other topics at Design & Manufacturing New England, a Design News event, in my session, called "Wireless Medical Devices: Meeting Platform and Interoperability Requirements."

Design engineers, New England's premier design and manufacturing event, Design & Manufacturing New England, will take place in Boston, May 6-7, 2015. A Design News event, Design & Manufacturing New England is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on with the latest technologies, be informed, and expand your network. Learn more here.

Anura S. Fernando is principal engineer for medical software and systems for Underwriters Laboratories (UL), with global responsibility for medical device software certification and serving as technical lead for the development of standards for interoperable med device interface safety. He holds degrees in electrical engineering. He holds degrees in electrical engineering, biology/chemistry, and software engineering. Anura has over 17 years of experience at UL with safety-critical software and control systems certification and has also conducted research across multiple application domains - industrial automation, alternative energy, medical, hazardous locations, appliances, optical radiation, nanotechnology, battery technologies.

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