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I am working on my BSc Electrical Engineering final-year project, and have been asked to do a literature review to include in the project report.

My project is an Arduino-based power strip which can be controlled wirelessly using an Android application, and has power consumption reporting capabilities (among other things). It doesn't involve reading scientific papers, journal articles and the like - rather it is simple, hands-on electronics. It can be constructed easily by following tutorials and Instructables.

I chose it because it is in line with the whole 'home automation' theme, and will give me practical experience, not because I was looking to solve a scientific problem of some kind.

From what I've read about literature reviews, it seems as if they only apply to research-based projects that do solve a scientific problem. The student compares the previous work in that field, and expands on it in his project from a 'scientific' point of view. In my case, I just have a cool product that fits a particular market, but there is nothing scientifically new about it.

In this case, what should I do differently compared to a 'normal' literature review?

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The difference between research and product development, is research is done to understand some natural phenomenon, product development is done to create a practical device to solve a problem. In the product development context, it's usually called a "market review," or similar. It's a review of similar devices on the market, their features, specs, etc. Normally, a large part of this work is not done by engineering. Ask your professor, but I'm guessing they don't want you just copying a commercially available product, and want you to be able to say, "My design is an improvement on what's out there because it does ____."

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I advise you to discuss it with your professor/advisor, but since you asked...

This is just my perspective as a working engineer, not as an academic so take it for what it is.

What it sounds like you're really doing is product development. Rather than focus on academic research papers, your review should focus on:

  • Defining specifically the problem(s) you're solving and whose problems are they. (Market research)
  • What needs do potential customers expect, want, desire to be met?
  • What are the specific functional requirements of your system to meet those needs?
  • How and how well do competing products meet those needs (even if you have to select multiple products to cover all of the functionality your product provides)
  • Specifically, how will your product fulfill each of those requirements?
  • What are the options for providing each function and why is the option you have selected the best?

Another way to think about it is to think about your professor as a potential investor in your company that's going to make and sell this device. What information are you going to use to convince them that they should invest?

If you can't address these things, then you're just cobbling together gadgets from the internet and not really engineering something.

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    $\begingroup$ I would also add any cost savings you make. Eg technique A is more effective but technique B was chosen because it was simpler/cheaper to produce. $\endgroup$
    – BenG
    Sep 23 '15 at 20:03

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