User-centric Design – Volvo Example

Image From Autoblog

An interesting post at Autoblog has some data about product usability:

“Volvo CEO Stefan Jacoby has said his company’s products are “too complicated for the consumer,” according to Automotive News. Jacoby said 75 percent of Volvo customers don’t know “all the possibilities they have with their car.” He contrasted the automaker with Apple’s intuitive products, which make consumers feel in control of a device instead of overwhelmed by its capabilities.

In the past, we have discussed user-centric design and what we can learn from Apple. It is relatively easy to design pure hardware or software user interfaces. It is also relatively easy to manage pure hardware or pure software development efforts. Challenges arise when the product integrates custom hardware with integrated software: As development cycles, design processes and testing methodology tend to be quite different. What is a potential solution?Read More

Is Concurrent Engineering Beneficial to Complex Systems?

Source Jalopnik

Concurrent Engineering is simultaneous development of different subsystems, technologies and manufacturing process of a product across suppliers. This iterative development process can accelerate time to market and lead to cost/performance optimization at a system level.

As we have discussed in the past, concurrent engineering is absolutely critical to fast-paced high-tech and electronics industries. Global competition means that companies cannot afford to wait for suppliers complete their development to start planning theirs. In fact, this trend is only accelerating.

However, concurrent engineering adds to product development complexity and makes management even more challenging. If leading-edge companies such as Toyota face challenges due to complexity, is it worth applying these methods to low volume products in industries such as Aerospace and Defense or to a lesser extent Medical Devices?

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What is Research & Development (R&D)?

At InspiRD we get to visit R&D organizations across many industries. It is interesting to see that there is some confusion around what is R&D. Some firms define R&D as only scientific research. Others include New Product Development in R&D, but not sustaining product development. Yet others exclude incremental product development from R&D. Other names for R&D include Research and Engineering or Science and Technology. Even Wikipedia acknowledges that there is some variability about what is considered R&D:

The activities that are classified as R&D differ from company to company, but there are two primary models, with an R&D department being either staffed by engineers and tasked with directly developing new products, or staffed with industrial scientists and tasked with applied research in scientific or technological fields which may facilitate future product development. In either case, R&D differs from the vast majority of corporate activities in that it is not often intended to yield immediate profit, and generally carries greater risk and an uncertain return on investment.

There are many reasons why definition of R&D changes across companies: Corporate Culture, History, Organization Structure, etc. So, is there a good way to define what is R&D?
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Unmanned aerial warfare: Flight of the drones

The Economist has an interesting article Unmanned aerial warfare: Flight of the drones.  In addition to providing an overview of the market, it provides lots of interesting statistics and graphics that will be very useful.  To kick it off, the article says:

Over the past decade UAS have become the counter-terrorism weapon of choice. Since 2005 there has been a 1,200% increase in combat air patrols by UAVs.

A suprising statistic for me was the number of people involved in keeping each Reaper UAV flying (I am not sure how they arrive at that information. Sounds a bit too high)

There may not be a man in the cockpit, but each Reaper, a bigger, deadlier version of the Predator, requires more than 180 people to keep it flying. A pilot is always at the controls (albeit from a base that might be 7,500 miles, or 12,000km, away); and another officer operates its sensors and cameras.

Here is the market size and forecast:

It is amazing that US is by far the largest market much larger than the rest of the world put together!  I wonder how the competitive landscape is going to change in the time of austerity.  Another key concern is new innovations or breakthrough technology such as artificial intelligence that may change the landscape completely.

The article is an interesting read. Please check it out.

Specification and Design of Embedded Hardware-Software Systems

For last few months, I have been working on developing a new design flow that brings ASIC like reuse and semiconductor like cost curve to all R&D.  The idea is that semiconductors have increased in complexity and performance exponentially, while costs has come down continuously.  How can we replicate the same for all system R&D?

One of the earliest papers on the topic was  Specification and Design of Embedded Hardware-Software Systems.  In retrospect, the place where it should have come up first anyway – system where electronics/semiconductor and other technologies interact.

“System specification and design consists of describing a system’s desired functionality, and of mapping that functionality for implementation on a set of system components, such as processors, ASIC’s, memories, and buses. In this article, we describe the key problems of system specification and design, including specification capture, design exploration, hierarchical modeling, software and hardware synthesis, and cosimulation. We highlight existing tools and methods for solving those problems, and we discuss issues that remain to be solved.”

The paper suggests five tasks:

  1. Specification capture: Specify desired system functionality
  2. Exploration: Explore design alternatives
  3. Specification refinement: Refine specifications based on exploration
  4. Software & Hardware design:
  5. Physical design:
Much more on this in the future.  But a good paper to start thinking about things.