Engineering Inside:

2016 Issue 3
The Internet of Things

Design a Phone and Set the Standard

August 2016

by Robin Hegg

Multi-Heads Of Mobile Phone Charger (universal Charger)One of the challenges in growing the Internet of Things is that connected devices need to be able to work together. With a wide range of competing manufacturers and operating systems, incompatible devices would slow the development of the Internet of Things and render some otherwise good devices useless. One way engineers work to solve problems like this across disciplines is by developing technical standards.

A technical standard establishes uniform criteria for an area of engineering or technology, setting a norm or requirement for an item, material, component, or system. They influence a wide variety of items, like computers, phones, medical devices, tools, power, energy, transportation, and even toys. They help to ensure that devices, networks, and power systems are safe, used ethically, and can work well together. IEEE Standard 802.11 allows your computer to connect to any wireless router, even if it was made by another company. In the mechanical industry, standards were developed for screw thread compatibility, allowing compatibility of tools and hardware across manufacturers and suppliers.

IEEE is the world’s leading standards developer and also works to encourage and enhance standards education through efforts like IEEE Standards University.

iPhone chargers use the Lightning connector, a proprietary Apple connector. Most other phones use either a mini-USB or a USB Type-C connector. If there were a universal standard for phone chargers, people would be able to share chargers across phone brands and models. In the Internet of Things, standards will be needed to ensure that IoT devices are compatible and able to work together. This will be a major challenge as the IoT continues to grow and develop.

In this activity, you will design and build a mobile phone to be compatible with a new kind of charger. After designing your phone, you will develop a technical standard describing what is required for a mobile device to be compatible with this new charger.


Plastic fork
Pencil or pen
Building materials such as cardstock, construction paper, clear tape, glue, scissors, markers, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil


1. Examine the plastic fork. This is the new phone charger that has recently been developed. What properties does it have? Think about its size, shape, and other properties, taking measurements if needed.

2. Using paper and pencil, design a cell phone that would be compatible with the new charger. The fork’s tines need to “plug in” to the cell phone for it to work.

3. Next, using the materials you’ve gathered, build a model of your cell phone.

4. Test the charger in your phone. Does it fit? Is it compatible? If not, make adjustments to your design until the two products work together.

5. Next, try to develop a technical standard that all devices will use in order to be compatible with the new charger. Thinking back on your initial observations of the charger, the data you collected about it, and your experience designing a compatible phone, what is required of a device in order to be compatible with the charger? Be as detailed and specific as possible.

6. To test out your standard, ask a friend to design a phone that is compatible with the fork charger based only on your standard. Were they able to successfully build a compatible device based on the information in your standard? Are there more details you need to add?


1. What did you notice about the charger right away? What other details became more important to you as you worked on designing and building your phone?

2. Did the charger fit your phone the first time you tried it, or did you need to make adjustments to your design?

3. What was it like to write a standard based on your experience? How did your initial observations of the fork compare with how you looked at it in writing the standard for it?

4. Was your friend able to design a compatible phone based on the standard you wrote? If not, were you able to pinpoint the missing information that led to the incompatibility?

5. Some standards are voluntary, meaning manufacturers can decide whether or not to follow it. Some are set up as guidelines for major buyers. Others are established as regulatory or legal requirements, making non-conforming products unlawful. How would your standard be used?

6. Some manufacturers choose to ignore voluntary standards. What are some reasons they might choose to do so? Why might a manufacturer decide to ignore your fork charger standard?

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