Interview with Tater Tot Designs (IoT Design Company)

Joe Heitzeberg
October 02, 2015

Tater Tot Designs is a creative design and engineering firm based in Portland that’s betting big on the Internet of Things revolution, and has built a team of EE, mechanical and software engineers, UI and UX designers to create a line of smart appliances, gizmos like a digital magnifying glass and an ultra-thin LED flashlight as well as offering out their services in web design, mobile app development, hardware prototyping, factory selection and sourcing, PBC design and more. We interviewed Tater Tot Designs VP, Software and Business Development Frank D’Andrea.

Hack Things: What is Tater Tot Designs?
Tater Tot Designs: Tater Tot Designs is a digital solutions company focused on bringing compelling mobile experiences to our Internet of Things (IoT) clients. We believe that users are going to expect seamless smart-appliance and smart-home technology experiences, so our team is very focused on ensuring our designs meet those expectations.

I think we’re special because we stand in the gap between the agency model and the boot-strapped, IoT maker community. Many of our team members have experience working on award-winning digital campaigns and app projects and they use that experience to inform our clients about the needs of the IoT adopter.

Hack Things: Why did you decide to take on the Internet of Things? Why not stick with being either a manufacturing/design company or a digital agency?
Tater Tot Designs: We think the Internet of Things is a world-view; it’s a conversation about how we behave in a connected world. Our job is to help our clients find the right solutions while looking toward the rapid changes in the world around us. We believe that participants in the IoT will expect the same empathetic user experiences, beautifully responsive and immersive designs they have come to rely upon in their browsers.

Hack Things: What is your smart appliance platform? What makes it smart?
Tater Tot Designs: We saw a gap in the marketplace for a true Smart Appliance solution, not a IoT solution hammered into an appliance, so we created the platform with household appliances in mind. The platform represents a diverse and robust appliance control system that can naturally be connected to the world. Our platform consists of three components; the appliance, the cloud architecture, and the app. A Wi-Fi connection brings the appliance to the world, allowing connection with the cloud and the application. A flexible application interface allows any environment to communicate easily with the appliance. It prioritizes speed, when latency within an appliance is unacceptable. Many appliances don’t have the BOM costs to support an expensive hardware adder, so the Smart Appliance Platform supports flexibility in its hardware, based on the requirements of the appliance, and can thereby be cost optimized.

It’s also more then moving standard appliance elements to the application, it introduces intelligent controls and prediction capabilities to the appliance. It allows the user better experiences and features via the application, with expanded functionality, depth and robustness that would not be achievable on the typical appliance. Appliance access can occur within or outside of the home and it uses proprietary appliance algorithms with learning functionality, firmware updates and integration with the cloud to allow for ongoing product improvements. Also, it creates an ecosystem with other appliances, allowing them to be aware of one another, allowing for integration between appliances. Lastly, our platform can push notify users and well as plug into Social Media.

Hack Things: I’m eager to get a Tater Tot Designs powered smart appliance, but the first production units won’t be available until the end of 2014 into the beginning of 2015. Why so long? Do you have a working prototype of the hardware?
Tater Tot Designs: Yes, we have a working prototype that is being released to another client this week. We also entered into a development deal with a top-tier kitchen appliance manufacturer that will be releasing a line of connected appliances in late 2014.

Hack Things: Do you have industrial design and software design expertise in-house?
Tater Tot Designs: Yes, definitely. We have an in-house, end-to-end product development team that starts with concept ideation, model development, and hardware design/PCB Layout. Another part of our internal team works on the software and firmware development, and yet another part works on mechanical testing and tooling. Oh, and we can also do our own packaging, end caps and displays.

Hack Things: What challenges do you see in the IoT space?
Tater Tot Designs: Right now, many potential end-users don’t see IoT as the solution to any particular problem they may have. Many perceive IoT as a “nice to have” but we believe consumers are going to begin demanding a more robust, interconnected home where newly purchased products will be required to connect to their home networks.

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