Software cannot be bolted onto physical products to survive IoT: Autodesk

Autodesk manufacturing industry strategist, Diego Tamburini, believes product designers must partner their creations with software in mind, in order to compete in a world of the Internet of Things
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Product designers have to design with connectivity in mind from the beginning, according to Diego Tamburini, manufacturing industry strategist at Autodesk.

Tamburini said the future of the IT industry lies with the Internet of Things (IoT), and as a result, manufacturers will need to shift their focus in a new direction.

"Devices, by way of being connected, don't just perform a task in isolation; rather they become part of a larger system comprised of other IoT devices and software systems that collectively perform a task or a mission," Tamburini said. "This is a change for them."

He said designers need to start looking at products as software development platforms that are intended to be enhanced and augmented by third party software developers, or even customers.

"They have to become comfortable with the idea they won't be able to predict all of the use cases in which their product will participate, because now users and third parties will probably come up with unexpected uses for it," he said.

"That's one big shift in the frame of mind for a designer, it's a completely new landscape for some products."

Using what was previously a standard household appliance as his example, Tamburini discussed the June Intelligent Oven -- an appliance June said has the ability to recognise foods when you put them in the oven and recommend the appropriate cooking settings. Tamburini said it is called intelligent as it has a lot of software inside to control the power, the turntable, the internal fan, and to cook the meal in the most optimal way possible.

"If you're the manufacturer of an oven you've traditionally worried about efficiency, power, and heat, but now you're needing to start to think about software controlling these things," he said.

"This particular product is connected to the internet which means you can remote control it, and that also means that you can download recipes into the oven.

"The design problem has changed immensely, as now people that have designed ovens for a long time are faced with a completely new group of issues."

Another household example which highlights the pace of the IoT, Tamburini said, is door locks.

"There are companies that have been doing primarily mechanical devices and design, worrying about mechanisms and forces, and now we've added sensors and connectivity," he said. "It's a completely new challenge and now they have to learn about software, controls, and sensors; it has changed the landscape significantly."

"Software and hardware are converging and what we're seeing is that many problems that were traditionally solved with a hardware solution are now being solved with a software solution."

Tamburini said designers are shifting to solving problems with software first, rather than hardware, but said the marrying of software and design needs to be thought of simultaneously.

With the increase in connected devices comes the increase in data, and according to Tamburini, each IoT device becomes a data collection device.

"The data generated by a product becomes part of the product, so clever companies are coming up with ways to monetise this data and provide attached services to the product, such as predictive maintenance and energy optimisation," he said. "Data is the new oil; these connected devices are now pumping this oil into the data repository."

"If you can extract data out of every device, it's going to be very interesting."

Tamburini said that what he finds just as fascinating is the use of data and the services that manufacturers and companies can provide out of that data.

"We design software for people to design products; we strongly believe that if we don't provide the tools and services to help our customers design connected products we would become irrelevant," Tamburini said. "We want to help our customers collect and make sense of the data they generate."

Tamburini said Autodesk has recently acquired a company that does just that.

In August, Autodesk acquired enterprise IoT platform, SeeControl, in a deal which would see Autodesk sell and support the SeeControl platform and integrate the technology in its design tools for the manufacturing and building industries. At the time it was said the aim would be to allow designers to create structures that would incorporate IoT.

"It's a cloud service that helps people find, connect to, and collect the data from IoT devices, and manipulate it," Tamburini said.

A few weeks later, Autodesk acquired Netfabb, a German software startup focused on additive design and manufacturing. Additionally, Autodesk said it is investing in Netfabb's previous parent company FIT Technology Group.

At the time, Autodesk said it would add Netfabb's technology to its Fusion 360 and Spark 3D printing platforms.

"We are software developers; it's what we know how to do very well," Tamburini said. "We're trying to find ways to move that expertise to help our customers who have been developers of hardware traditionally to also develop software that is embedded in their products; which is a completely new area for some."

Highlighting how ubiquitous connectivity has become, Tamburini said it is hard for him to find an object around him that he would not like to see connected.

"I am having a hard time because I would actually like a lot of this stuff not connected, connected," he said.

"Once we weed out the trivial applications, the superfluous stuff that doesn't do any good, we'll be better off."

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