How to Transform a Product into an IoT Device

By: Kenny Fok
Date: July 7, 2021

Electronic Product Categories

IoT, Internet of things, hardware is expanding in an exponential way. IoT devices are the nonstandard computing devices that connect wirelessly to a network and have the ability to transmit data, such as the many devices on the Internet of things IoT. IoT involves extending Internet connectivity beyond standard devices, such as desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets, to any range of traditionally "dumb" or non-Internet-enabled physical devices and everyday objects. Embedded with technology, these devices can communicate and interact over the Internet. They can also be remotely monitored and controlled.

Today, many more traditional electronic products are being transformed into IoT devices such as light bulbs, heaters, and garage door openers to name a few. If you are curious about how to convert a product into a smart IoT device, look no further!

This article aims to provide some insight into how you can transform an electronic product into an IoT enabled device and to demystify the world of IoT reverse engineering and product enhancement.

To begin, lets examine the two main categories to choose from when building an IoT device:

  • Designing from scratch
  • Based on an existing non-IoT product

Designing an IoT Device from Scratch

Designing an IoT devices from scratch allows for a bit more freedom and flexibility when designing and IoT product. You'll want to select an IoT platform that has a robust IoT device module with a expandable/flexible IoT software design. After you select your desired IoT platform, the manipulation of the electronic product(s), for both hardware and software, is a relatively straightforward process.

If you want to learn more about how to choose the right IoT platform, check our informative article "How to Choose an IoT Platform!"

Chart of IoT module interacting with IoT device

Building Off an Existing Non-IoT Devices

Transforming a non-IoT device to an IoT device will not be as straightforward as designing an IoT device from scratch. There may be some of obstacles you'll encounter with the existing hardware. Physical space issues, retro fitting pieces, or building/3D printing custom pieces to name a few. In some rare cases existing firmware can also play a factor too.

We have provided you with a series of steps and things to look out for, to ensure the development process is as efficient as possible. Those steps are as follows:

  • Acquire a non-IoT product as-is. Typically you won't have the design source files (schematics, and software sources).
  • In order to enhance the product type, you must first develop the conceptual design for the enhancement, for both hardware and software, and then build the enhancement.
  • For development of the design, without the original source files, the best course of action is reverse engineering.
Photo of non-IoT product

Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering is the process of disassembling, examining, and analyzing in detail (a product or device) to discover the concepts involved in manufacture usually in order to produce something similar or to update an existing design. Reverse engineering a PCBA without the original design (schematic and layout) varies based on the complexity of the PCBA design (e.g., number of layers, what size of parts being used, chipset … etc) and the experience of the Engineering team.

Reverse Engineering PCBA does not have a particular procedure, but here are the recommended steps:

  • Identify the components on the PCBA
  • Identify the PCB routes, how the parts are inter-connected with each other, aka traces.
  • Map out the route map (roughly).
  • Operate the device in all of the possible combinations while monitoring the main processor input and outputs using Oscilloscope and Logic Analyzer.
photo of engineer using multimeter photo of engineer using oscilloscope photo of oscilloscope graph

Finalizing the Transformation of a Non-IoT Product into an IoT Device

Now that you have acquired a list of components, a rough PCB route map, an input/output data set, and an experienced engineering team should have sufficient information to build and attach the custom hardware set onto the non-IoT product. Then, by integrating the IoT platform you've selected with the IoT device module on the non-IoT product, a brand new IoT device is born!

chart of IoT hardware interaction

It's important to not over do it! Most engineers, especially the highly skilled ones, have a tendency to fixate on every little detail. The goal here is to design an enhancement of the existing PCB and product, not the development of an entirely new product. However, it's always okay to go back to perform more reverse engineering during the enhancement process

Reverse Engineering may not make sense in all scenarios. For example:

  • At a certain level of complexity, the effort (cost & time) of reverse engineering exceeds the effort for designing it from scratch.
  • The quality of the design is not worthy of the cost afforded to reverse engineering.
  • It's highly recommended to have a professional engineer (or engineering firm) review your project and product before beginning the reverse engineering process.

Transforming a non-IoT product into an IoT device can be a quiet an undertaking. The projected growth of Internet-enabled devices on market is expected to grow from 2 billion devices in 2006 to 200 billion devices by 2021, which equates to nearly 26 smart devices for each human on Earth. With so many IoT platforms and devices on the market it's evermore important to select the right IoT platform, that has a modularized design for easily integrating additional features and components. It's also very important to hire an experienced engineering team, consisting of hardware and software/firmware engineers. By following the steps we've laid out, it will save you a lot of heartache and time. If you have any questions feel free to give us a call. Good luck!

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