Vidushi Gupta, Co-founder of Psiborg on How Their IoT Solutions are Bridging the Gap between Hardware and Software Systems

Interview

ByAswinth Raj 0

Vidushi Gupta, Co-founder of Psiborg

IoT would soon bring the next technological revolution! From home security, smart farming, logistics, health care, and others, the potential for IoT deployment is huge, and its applications are limitless.

Psiborg is an IoT company that is working towards providing end-to-end IoT solutions, which include consulting, device engineering, cloud and mobile application development, data analytics, and support and maintenance. Their IoT solutions help in bridging the gap between hardware and software systems by providing a one-stop solution for all the development needs.

Interested to know more about the company and its plans for the future, we had a conversation with the co-founder of the company, Miss Vidushi Gupta, and asked her a few questions.

Q. What inspired you to start Psiborg? How did you put things together for your startup and took it off the ground?

Our co-founder, Vishad and I were working in our core domains in different companies. Vishad is a Computer Science Engineer and has huge exposure in software development, and I am an Electronics Engineer and I have worked in a power Electronics Company. What was common in both of us was that we wanted to make ourselves aware of technology trends existing globally. IoT was a buzzword talked about five years ago, everyone knew what IoT was. We were driven by it and we started building projects with the help of websites, one of them being Circuit Digest. From home automation to sensor-based systems, we built few projects.  While researching, we found out that the companies which were posting about IoT were totally into the hardware domain, or totally into application development. Those companies were just making a mobile cloud application for IoT hardware and were also calling themselves IoT companies. We took this as an opportunity and started making solutions to provide a one-stop solution to our clients. I would say innovation, experimentation, and opportunity are the key ingredients that helped us take this company off the ground.

Psiborg Team

Q. Tell us about the services offered at Psiborg. What kind of solutions does the company offer?

IoT, we all know is not a product but a technology, rather a combination of existing technologies, which includes designing hardware, programming hardware, connecting it to the API, and back-end development of the application, and designing of application as well, which requires UI and UX.

Psiborg Services

At Psiborg, we are a team of young, energetic electronic design engineers, and software developers smartly collaborating to create next-to-perfect products in all aspects. From hardware designing to firmware development to integration to cloud-based platforms, or building a mobile application, we cover all, even with customized form factor design. To be precise, we transform client’s ideas into a product in a single place.

Q. When working on a new IoT Project at Psiborg, how does a typical Product Development Lifecycle look like? How do you split your time and resources for each?

Most of the development is done simultaneously like the software and hardware team start the work simultaneously. So, splitting of time, resource allocation is done according to the complexity of the project, and some other internal factors are also taken into consideration. There are no fixed steps in a typical IoT product development lifecycle; improvisations are being done according to what we have done already and what new we have to achieve in a particular project. So, a typical IoT product life cycle goes like this - After gathering requirements, the next step is to brainstorm with the client on functionality, considering power and size estimates.

Psiborg Team Meeting

We also discuss what features can be implemented in the same hardware or the same system. After freezing the requirements, the strategic plan is created to take the project further in milestones. Here, we also decide on technologies and communication protocols. The major step is to eradicate that toughest problem out of the way first. It's very important to start with the riskiest assumption while building an IoT prototype. This forces us to take some hard decisions in the early stage, rather than investing time and resources for the development. Then the POC is done with off-the-shelf commercially available developing boards and POC is nowhere similar to the ready-to-market product. It is just to visualize your product the way it would work practically. After POC, we design a custom PCB on which all the freezed components are assembled and everything is according to the final project but the shape and placement are not as perfect as the final product.

After making this custom PCB, (which could also be given to the client for validation testing), the designing team as well as PCB designing team sit together and discuss the placement of the components and peripherals and user interaction components like user LEDs, user buttons are finalized. Refinements are done according to the feedback of both the teams and a mature product takes into account the refinements that have to be made and production control monitoring is done and that is given to the client for validation testing.

Q. Psiborg provides IoT solutions for a wide range of sectors from home automation to smart agriculture to health care, logistics, etc. Which sector according to you seems to adapt IoT solutions very fast? How is it benefitting them?

We deal in various domains, one being smart agriculture, as you might also have seen many emerging startups in the sector in India as well as worldwide, second is security devices. Security and tracking devices have implementations in various sectors from home security to security of workplace in a remote location, to children safety to women safety, livestock monitoring, pet monitoring, geo-fencing, pet, and livestock, avoiding carjacking, fleet management; there are already many implementations we have worked on, and there are many for which we anticipate to get requirements soon. So, with time, IoT security devices will be evolving the most with different use cases and there is no end.

Q. As an Engineer what are your go-to hardware and software choices for an IoT project? Why?

Undoubtedly, developing IoT solutions is much more accessible with the growing number of commercially available development boards and platforms from Google, Amazon, etc. We have built good expertise in TI SoCsNRF SoCs, Microchip, and Quectel. So, we prefer good SoCs the most because we have already built custom modules that help us to meet timelines for the PoC and the product and it helps us to do rapid prototyping. We have designed notes and gateways for various low power wide area network protocols such as Sub1 Gigahertz. These can be customized according to the cloud services and analytical tools as per the application requirement.

One of our approaches is also to make our design quite modular so that we could substitute new peripherals with the different specifications with evolving requirements of the client so, that cost saving can be done as building a new PCB, again and again, requires a lot of time and money. So, we try to expedite that. For software, if we talk about cloud and mobile applications, we use the latest tech stack, which is flexible and scalable. Also, other technologies can be merged and cross-platform apps can be created. Currently, MERN and GoLang are the most supported technical stacks. For communication between IoT devices and the cloud, our backend, we prefer the MQTT protocol. It is a lightweight protocol and has many other advantages over HTTP. However, the choices are again dependent on the type of application we are building an implementation of that.

Q. From BLE to NB-IoT we have a lot of wireless protocols to select from for an IoT application. How do you compare and select the right protocol?

Selecting the protocol depends on the use case, geographical conditions, coverage required target, BoM cost, etc. There are communication protocols like Sub 1 Gigahertz, SigfoxLoRaWANZigBee BLE mesh, which are used where a large number of devices have to communicate. These particular devices need not to be connected to the internet directly, but they can send data towards the central gateway, and this gateway is connected with the technologies like LTE CAT M, NB IoT, GSM, LTE, 4G, etc. because all these devices are sending data to the gateway through some particular frequency and these gateways send the data and return to the cloud and from cloud the data returns on our applications for visualization. So, choosing a particular protocol depends on various factors, and they and they differ in other factors as well like frequency, latency, data packets, etc.

Q. Based on your experience, which is the most preferred wireless protocol?

People want their product to be built on LoRaWAN if many devices are to be connected. But I would prefer the Sub1 Gigahertz protocol because power consumption is less and ranges more but people are not much aware of Sub1 Gigahertz as much as LoRaWAN.

Basically, in this protocol, the devices are connected over a particular frequency like it could have the frequency of 400-900 gigahertz depending on the graphical condition because some of the frequencies can’t be used in some countries because of the military limitations and other factors. Lower the frequency, the higher the range and higher the penetration among the buildings. So, there are various advantages Sub1 Gigahertz protocol has over LoRaWAN.

Q. For most remote IoT devices, low power consumption and long battery life will be of major importance. How does Psiborg handle low-power IoT designs?

Charging the batteries of thousands of devices in a radius of 10 kilometers or completely changing those batteries requires a lot of costs and that is not even feasible. Power optimization of the circuit is one of the major points we consider by building any circuit. Sometimes there is a tradeoff between the performance and power consumption as microcontrollers with higher processing power consume more energy. So, first, we do a thorough analysis and choose the components having ultra-low power consumption in which you spend most of the time in the lowest power mode or sleep mode, it's like they perform their specific task and quickly enter into the lowest power mode. We are very careful in managing the sleep cycles of all the controllers and modules chosen for the design and making architecture in a way in which the system can be used to the maximum capacity with the least power consumption.

Writing optimized code is also very important so that no extra thread runs in the background. A combination of ultra-low-power components and optimization of code helps in getting the job done.

Q. Today most entry-level IoT projects are built around Raspberry Pi and ESP modules. What is your opinion on using these modules for commercial designs?

ESP, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and node MCU are for hobbyists and not for commercial products at all. During productization, usually companies opt to move towards designing their own boards. Most entry-level projects are built on these developing boards as they are easy to code. Also, these hobby boards are much cheaper as compared to various development boards available in the market. For example, if we talk about the Snapdragon processor kit and Raspberry Pi, the price range is quite different. So, building using commercially available boards is very time-consuming, because they are complicated and have a lot of new features which people are not even aware of. Also, you would have to write the code from scratch. You don’t get the readymade code on the web. I don't understand why people are so often using these developing boards in their design, what is the point of using development that can be programmed by anyone by reading just a couple of articles on the website. We don't support using these developing boards other than using them to check the feasibility in lesser time, but not in the product.

Q. How does this transformation from Arduino Raspberry Pi or node MCU takes place?

There are many development boards available in the market for developing an application. Even when we are doing hirings for embedded development, we notice that 90 out of every 100 resumes have the only experience in these boards. This is a very big problem in the industry because we require a particular skill set in the industry like we opt for writing custom libraries for most of the peripherals. There is a very huge gap, which is among the hobbyists and the industrialists and this gap needs to be bridged somehow.

Q. As an IoT solution providing company in India, how do you source components and fabricate PCBs and enclosures for your designs?

We are into prototyping and we source companies from Digi-Key, Mouser, Arrow, etc. because they provide original products and other sites cannot be trusted for this. There are some Indian websites as well for purchasing components like Robu that are very good if the product is in the early stage. There are many developing modules available that can be used like for peripherals at an early stage. Fabrication of PCB when MOQ is very less is quite challenging. Earlier, we used to face a lot of problems because companies/manufacturers that used to make fake commitments like they will provide the PCBs in two weeks and they were unable to provide those even in two months. So, that was one of the major problems. But now, with time, we have explored many companies and online stores that provide the PCB within the timeline. So, yes, now, the market is evolving. We don't face this problem anymore and for 3D product designing of every electronic product, the client requires enclosure as well and for that, we have a partner company with which we discuss the design in the early stage after the components are freezed so that the placement can be done according to them.

Q. For prototyping purposes, what type of enclosures do you use? Do you go for 3D printed enclosures?

If the PCB is in some specific size/shape, then obviously 3D printed enclosures are the best. Besides, in the Indian market, there are many enclosures available online and your PCB can be made according to those enclosures saving time as well as cost. So, we prefer both according to the projects.

Q. How do you see the market for IoT devices in India? Psiborg already has clients in the US, UK, and Australia how would you compare the adaption of IoT between India and other countries?

Indian market is very different; it is very cost-sensitive and quite influenced by Chinese manufacturers. Sometimes, people want the product to be in the same price bracket as of the Chinese competitors. So, that is one of the main problems with the Indian market. Also, they have short to-go-to-market days; people want their products to be deployed at the earliest.

Moreover, people want to work on a per-piece basis. They want us to develop a product, do R&D, and deploy the software. They are ready to pay more than BOM costs saying you can keep your margin, but we will be getting devices on a per-piece basis. I don't know why they totally neglect the developmental costs and resources. I'm not sure about other geographical regions if we only talk about India, but yes, in Delhi NCR that is one of the major problems.

The US and UK markets already have many IoT products running. People there are very much aware than in India, and those products are already generating huge revenue. In other countries, the companies provide IoT devices on a subscription basis.  The user doesn't have to pay all at once rather than have to pay on a monthly subscription basis. It is common in those countries but not in India. Here, people want a device for $10. They can use a phone of $600 but not pay for IoT devices.  

The market in India has evolved a lot in the last two years. In fact, the adoption of IoT has exploded in India and we have deployed various IoT devices in a different areas. So, currently, the market is good in India and it will be better in the coming years.

Q. How much percentage of your projects that you work on is from India and how much is from other countries?

We have just 20% from India and 80% from other countries. Initially, it was very tough to get Indian projects, actually in the initial days, the number of projects is less so, development costs cannot be arranged to buy other projects. The people in India are not ready to pay quality-assured development costs. That was one of the major problems earlier. We never got an opportunity to work with Indian clients because of the cost issues mainly. But yes, we’ve got various other projects, which were very good and we learned a lot from those projects.

Q. What are some of the current projects that Psiborg is working on? What are your future plans for the company?

We work on client-specific projects; we have built almost every possibility in smart agriculture, from satellite imagery to detection of nutrients, macro and micronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, etc. from the soil, and accordingly, AI/ML can be done and the database can be created, so that the farmer can get a database of what crops to be grown with this nutrient level.

Also, we have worked on workplace automation; we have done workplace automation in our office as well. We have made many security devices, which are now at a level where AI and ML have to be integrated. Those are one of the projects which are which have very good potential. And some use cases are different and as we are under NDA, I cannot disclose those projects, because they have different use cases. We have not seen any such implementation till now. We are having really promising projects now and which have a very good potential market.

Q. How are you planning to take the company forward from here?

Being in IoT for more than four years, we have got a competency in various technologies. The pandemic has greatly affected the market and made it slow. Right now, getting a project is not as easy as it was a year ago. But I hope in another 2-3 months, this will get better. In the future, we plan to implement a lot of projects and we plan to make ourselves a leader of IoT in India, at least in another year. This is our mission right now.

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