Device Prototyping

Off the Paper

An Introduction to Physical Prototyping

“It is imperative that you attend studio,” is what we were told in an email outlining how the deliverable would not be possible to complete otherwise. For the sprint, everyone was introduced to the electronic building blocks known as “LittleBits.” It did not take long for each group of two to become familiarized with the kits, for in addition to the tutorial everyone was to complete, the parts are color coded, and clearly labeled. Following the tutorial, the studio was told to pick one of three user groups to design for. My partner and I decided to design something to help children that are learning how to cook know when to turn off the stove.

My partner and I during the initial brainstorming phase.

As we messed around with the various “little bits,” we slowly realized what would work as a prototype and what would not. Some designs that we created were too simplistic, while others were far too cumbersome. Due to the interchangeable design of the LittleBits kits themselves, it was rather easy to shuffle through ideas as to how the final prototype would actually function. This, however, also brought about its own issues. Since LittleBits are simplified and easy to use, it makes it somewhat difficult to apply the function of the prototype to a “larger picture.” After struggling for a time to create something we would be satisfied with, a major amount of ground was covered when we created a design prototype to carry on with during the sprint. The final prototype functioned through a sequence of “if then” statements by first measuring the temperature and whether or not it passes a threshold, then checking if there is an obstruction blocking light, and finally triggering the buzzer if there is such an obstruction. Since the process itself could have been smoother, reaching the final product was all the more satisfying.

The final design of the prototype along with an illustration of where it would be applied.
A video explaining the process of devising our device prototype.

Looking at the Experience

Using LittleBits was quite entertaining, besides the fact that someone’s buzzer went off every couple of seconds. I have previous experience using such technology, but it was mostly focused on programming rather than creating physical prototypes. However, I imagine that looking at how each “bit” is programmed would show that they are quite similar to the board that I have worked with previously. The major issue that I encountered during my time in studio was trying to create a prototype that myself and my partner would be satisfied with. For example, we created something completely functional for the user group within about two minutes, but it felt cheap and effortless. For my next encounter with LittleBits, I will most definitely approach the project with a clearer understanding as to how the kits may be used. Also, I hope to have access to examples of user groups that require me to use the low-fidelity kits in a much more creative way. This could be a group that may have conflicting desires with another, or perhaps one that is niche part of society.

Further Inquiry: “Are device prototypes harmful to crowdfunding websites?”

Relatively recently, crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter have been utilized more than ever before. On the websites themselves, people write descriptions and complete pages essentially pitching their designs and concepts to the entire internet. This is quite an interesting concept, but it may yield mixed results when put into practice. Not all good “campaigns” become successful, rather those that are clever do. For example, there was once a campaign for a “laser razor” that had a “working prototype” and a flashy page. This was quickly funded due to how novel the concept itself was. However, even after raising over four million dollars, the campaign was shut down. This was not due to any malice on Kickstarter’s part, but rather the fact that the campaigners failed to provide Kickstarter with an actual prototype to review. Imagine the negative impact if Kickstarter had not already taken such precautions to avoid the funding of fraudulent campaigns. To answer the aforementioned question, I would say yes and no. Yes, in that deception is not a good business practice, but people still may be deceived as to if a device prototype is even functional or not. No, in that device prototypes, when handled appropriately, provide potential customers and investors with something that may very well be a proof of concept. In short, device prototypes are useful in getting a concept’s development approved, but if one exists as a facade, people may easily be exploited.

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