Hardware Doesn’t Have to be Hard

by Tommy Bennett

It seems like every other day an article is published with the same cliché headline:  Hardware is hard.  As someone who has worked as a hardware engineer for over a decade, this message intrigues me.  While there are aspects of hardware engineering that can certainly be classified as “hard”, many times some of the challenging work can be mitigated and/or eliminated.  Let me explain.

Back in 2004, I was given a task by my boss to build a laser control system to drive a flashlamp pumped, liquid cooled, Nd:YAG solid state laser.  With no experience in laser control systems whatsoever, I would need to design the system to control:

  • The cooling system
  • The charging of a large and rather dangerous capacitor to discharge into the flashlamp
  • The discharge repetition rate of the flashlamp pump

All with an easy to use and configurable touch-screen GUI interface.

It was a very intimidating task.

Now, the story I want to tell you is that I locked myself in the nearest library, “A Beautiful Mind”-style, and spent the next month crunching differential equations on a window obstructed with century-old wrought iron.

But that simply is NOT modern hardware engineering.

As a junior in college, I had all but mastered the art of being resourceful.  Fortunately for me, the internet was a “thing” and introduced me to the world of hardware reference designs. With these freely published reference designs, I could quickly identify companies who had already designed systems doing exactly what I needed them to do or very similar. In turn, I was able to use their pre-existing design frameworks to accelerate my own hardware designs for this project, with slight modifications of course. Additionally, I was able to connect with these companies (who specialized in laser driver design) and they aided me in my design efforts as well. This newly discovered method allowed me to focus more of my efforts on the product’s custom features versus having to reinvent the wheel. By using existing reference design solutions for the laser and cooling system drivers, the end result was a laser control system developed on-time and within budget. 

Without reference designs, I perhaps could have given you the story I wanted to tell you, but at the sacrifice of my health and personal relationships in order to meet a very demanding schedule.

Reference designs make hardware-engineering efforts move faster by allowing engineers to leverage the work of other engineers.  Why not use the work of others, especially when this work has been thoroughly validated?  Reference designs allow engineers to focus their energy on problems unique to the product they are building.

At UniKey, we recognize the value of reference designs and have created them for OEM partners that take advantage of “Smart Ware”, a building block within UniKey’s CORE platform. UniKey’s Smart Ware solution allows for effortless integration of mobile access technology into OEM hardware:

  • Inside/Outside Intelligence
  • Advanced Cryptographic Security
  • Security Options for Peripheral Sensors and Activation Methods
  • Hardware Compatible with UniKey’s Electronic Key (eKey) Ecosystem

Be Smart.

Let Unikey’s Smart Ware solution work for you by getting your mobile access control product up and running faster than you thought possible.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, it can be very rewarding to discover hardware designs and strategies on your own and I highly encourage it.  But save that for outside of the demanding work schedules (and keep your boss happy).

Tommy Bennett is Principal Hardware Engineer and co-founder of UniKey Technologies, where he manages all aspects of UniKey hardware engineering efforts. He has extensive experience in product development in the commercial, medical, and military markets. Mr. Bennett earned an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Central Florida in 2005.