Hardware Device with AI
PCH worked with an industry-leading cloud computing software as a service (SaaS) company that specializes in customer relationship management (CRM) and cloud-based enterprise applications. The company launched a unified Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform that allows businesses to better connect with customers, partners and potential customers. The new platform has the ability to collect, integrate and analyse data from across the company’s network, generating key analytics for smarter, faster and more predictable decision making. To mark the launch of the new platform, PCH was tasked to engineer, develop and produce 60 fully operational voice-activated devices that incorporated AI in a bid to showcase the capabilities of the company’s new service offering. The voice-activated device required a unique user-friendly form factor, while also demonstrating the company’s commitment to voice recognition and AI.
PCH was contacted by the customer and tasked with bringing its vision from concept to a fully functional cosmetic product. Given the complexity of the product, and the limited time available, PCH sprang into action to create a custom smart speaker with a unique industrial design. The end product would sit on a user’s desk and replace manually entered computer queries and tasks, through an efficient, high-productivity conversation between the user-friendly “assistant” (that connected to the company’s cloud-based AI platform) and the user.
PCH assembled a team that comprised of mechanical and electrical engineers, as well as firmware and software application experts to successfully execute the project. The team was also tasked with managing the coordination and collaboration between the required six key project partners , bringing together capabilities across design, AI, voice assist and app development to deliver the final product.
With the company’s launch date just eight months away, PCH was challenged to produce 60 fully functional product prototypes that were 100% reliable and would be demonstrated live in front of analysists, the press, customers, employees and partners. In addition to the complex engineering needed to support the customer’s voice-recognition and AI platform, the final industrial design required working with a variety of non-traditional materials to achieve the company’s unique vision under an aggressive timeline.
The industrial design posed numerous challenges. The end-product would need to have no visible fasteners, yet the final design would integrate 10 external parts. The charging dock would also have to enable wireless charging, with no visible charging contact points. In addition, the design required several parts that were so complex they needed to be handled separately within the modeling software in order to avoid the computational demands within the assembly.
The device also had to he configured to respond to custom wakewords, and a new ‘voice command skill’ was developed to facilitate communication between the client and the AI backend system. Also included was a powerful and flexible “demo mode” system that allowed the client demo team to control and test the device functions remotely over a network. To update the device firmware, over the air (OTA) updates were configured over Wi-Fi.
OTA updates proved to be essential in getting updates out to the client demo team quickly as some last minute changes were made.
PCH’s first task was to help the customer identify the right industrial design partner for this unique project. A local agency in San Francisco was selected, and PCH began working with them to test, guide and monitor different form factors and feature-sets to determine engineering and production feasibility. To do this, PCH assembled a cross-functional internal team of mechanical, electrical and firmware engineers and program managers.
Once the initial designs were narrowed down, the next step was to build prototype mock-ups of each of the highest risk sub-systems to get qualitative feedback from the design agency and the customer, such as the speaker sound, lighting elements, and the overall quality of the fabric integration.
After refining the design with feedback from the design agency and the customer, the next phase was to build the first round of integrated prototypes so that the complete system could be put through its paces to identify any weaknesses. This would also be the first time that the customer saw a complete unit with as much functionality as possible. Overall, they were pleased with the result, and only called for minor changes to the final design. Those updates were made and rolled into the final delivered units.
In the end, over 100 custom parts were developed to bring all the key features seamlessly into the final product which stood at just 237 milimeters (mm). Delivering the final product within such a short timeframe was the highest priority, and all decisions throughout the process – from prototype to final delivery – were made with this in mind.
High performance rapid prototyping technologies enabled the delivery of highly complex parts with more functionality than those typically achieved through traditional manufacturing methods, while still being exceptionally robust. From a feature standpoint, the audio was configured with extreme care for both the speaker driver and the microphone, as this would serve as the main mode of communication between the end-user and the device. This and many other features were developed and tested with experts in their fields to culminate in a best-in-class user-experience.
Additionally, PCH worked directly with our customer’s marketing and creative teams to create two packaging solutions – a shipper box to protect and transport the product globally and locally during development, and a presentation/retail branded box (with its own shipper). The branded and uniquely shaped tower presentation packaging included a cover and display base. We engineered the display base to maintain both the product presentation space and to create parabolic surround to focus voice interactions with the device in a showroom environment. All of the packaging was engineered with sustainability as a primary concern. We used a variety of materials including degradable recycled papers (80%) and cushion/common recyclables (20%). PCH printed and constructed 40 shippers and 20 presentation boxes within our PCH Innovation Hub lab in San Francisco.
Despite the complexity of the industrial design and technology requirements, PCH delivered the high-specification, smart speaker on time, meeting and exceeding the customer’s expectations. The product is able to collect, integrate and analyse data, generating key analytics for smarter, faster and more predictable decision-making, while providing an engaging user experience and aiding increased productivity.
Since its launch, more than forty new features have been added to the product. Users can now skip manual data entry and related tasks, replacing them with a conversation between the user and the voice assistant.