Meet the uWand team: exploring the development process

uWand: Developing the technology

For any technology company, the strength of a product lies with the technical ability and creativity of its development team.  Often seen as unsung heroes, engineers spend their days improving, researching and pushing their designs to the limit, to ensure the product works as expected time and time again.

Within the development team there are many roles, contributing to different elements of the product development cycle. Without meticulous attention to detail, from pre-development to testing, the end product could be shipped with faults or provide a poor user experience. You only get one chance to make an impression and failing to do so could have significant knock-on effect for the rest of your business.

The development cycle starts with pre-development. Pre-development engineers are responsible for realising the design and plans for products, new functions or processes.  They also optimise the system to improve its efficiency, which is particularly important for uWand.

We interviewed some of the key engineers who contributed to the uWand development process, to discover precisely how they adapt uWand technology to meet the customer’s specifications. Hopefully this will give you a better insight into our development process and into the life of an engineer.

The process begins with Sandor Gordijn, customer support and design-in manager, who looks at the best way to approach a design brief. He evaluates the product specification and ensures he has a full understanding of the customer’s requirements to develop a user-centric design. Sandor explains that designing flexible solutions enables constant development and pushes the technology to new boundaries. Enhancing the user experience is the ultimate goal by continually improving upon the features in the product. Once the initial design has been finalised, the production process can commence. A timeline is produced that highlights milestones in the process that need to be achieved. If these milestones aren’t met it can cause knock on effects to the manufacturing schedule and delay the completion of a design.

Before new designs are let loose on the customer, the technology is put through an intense testing process. Theo de Rover, systems tester, is responsible for uWand testing and emphasises how essential this is ahead of the product going to market.  Theo revisits the initial product specification provided to confirm that all requirements have been met. This is an important stage and if any faults are found, Sandor will have to go back to the drawing board to iron them out.  Theo explains the intelligence behind the method and how even human error is taken into account. Once the product specification has been satisfied the engineers then begin to look at what can be developed next.

Software is often the first stage of redevelopment, as it is cheaper to initially upgrade. Once the software has pushed the existing hardware to its limits, a redesign is then undertaken to take the product capabilities further. Martjin de Jel, hardware engineer, explains how maintaining and improving the hardware is more complex than you may think. Customer feedback is crucial to redevelopment and Martjin uses this to base his redesigns on. Working closely with system architects and software developers, Martjin explains how he brings the design to reality. It is important that all elements of the uWand technology work to their optimum, therefore they are under constant scrutiny from the systems engineers.

Once a fully functioning design has been developed, user engagement can begin. Involving users from an early stage helps to fine tune the usability of features. This testing is a crucial part of the production process as it is integral that the way the user interacts with the product is natural. Understanding how the user will instinctively operate the device will help enhance certain features or eliminate them from the process all together.  From user testing sessions it can become apparent that certain features are not working to their optimum.  This is where the systems engineers take the opportunity to evaluate a specific feature that can be enhanced beyond its current capabilities.

Eric Penning de Vries, systems engineer, says that analysing one element at a time is the most effective way to develop uWand technology. Describing how the uWand camera has been meticulously analysed and tested, Eric stresses that understanding the behaviour of the camera enables a system to be designed that will effectively address the original specification. Creating a flexible design that pushes the technology’s boundaries demonstrates to the customer exactly what can be achieved. A particular highlight for Eric has been reducing power consumption, allowing a device fitted with uWand technology to be used for a longer period of time before charging is needed.

Each engineer makes a significant impact on the process and enables uWand technology to continue to evolve through testing and development.

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About Navin Natoewal, General Manager Philips uWand

Navin Natoewal is General Manager of the Philips uWand team. uWand is a direct pointing and gesture control technology for remote controls. uWand offers fluent 3D gesture control and direct pointing capabilities with the same intuitiveness as a multi-touch screen. uWand, a result of 80 man-years of research and development, can be implemented in remote controls and interact with multiple electronic devices such as PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, DVD players and game consoles. Users control the devices simply by pointing in the appropriate direction or making specific movements in all three dimensions. For more information please visit http://www.uwand.com
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