Quick Prototyping Tools for Emerging Technologies

Oct 23, 2017 · 7 min read

Just 25 of our go-to tools for learning about the potential of new technologies

Here at IDEO CoLab, to say that we’re fans of prototyping is an understatement.

We’re constantly prototyping. In 2017, we’ve already built over 93 prototypes — and the year’s not over yet. We believe that prototyping helps us get closer to the future. Only by building a fleshed out prototype can we get a sense of its challenges and possibilities, revealing insights that give us a glimpse of where emerging technologies like blockchain, AI, IoT, and XR can take us.

Needless to say, we’ve gotten very familiar with different build tools and we’d love to share them with you. Below is a (very non-exhaustive, non-conclusive) list of some of our favorite tools we return to time and time again. We’ve sourced our most-used tools across four categories: Blockchain, IoT, AR/VR, and AI. We hope you’ll enjoy using these and possibly even learn about a new tool or two that will change your build sprints for the better.

Happy building. 😄

Blockchain Tools

Blockchains are good for more than just cryptocurrency — we believe they’ll power many of tomorrow’s decentralized applications, but only if we prototype to get them right. Blockchains are powerful tools that take time to master, but the effort is well worth it. Use a blockchain when what you’re building requires a decentralized system for managing smart contracts, verifying data, protecting user security, or dealing with financial assets.

A 2017 prototype called BlokMotiv, which uses the Tierion blockchain API to track auto parts, preventing the installation and use of counterfeit parts.
  • Truffle: The most popular development framework for building on Ethereum, which is itself the most popular platform for distributed applications (dapps) and smart contracts.

IoT Tools

It’s not really a prototype until there’s something a user can hold, touch, see, hear, taste, or just generally interact with. And that’s where a lot of IoT tools come in — they provide the real-time responses between connected devices that make a prototype experience feel real. These are some of our favorite tools for bringing a project to life.

An early version of Myko, a digital “fungal” network that connects businesses through IPFS and a variety of IoT physical sensors. Learn more here.
  • Pubnub: The only software tool we use regularly that’s for IoT prototypes. Pubnub is useful set of APIs and infrastructure that allows you to manage the flow of data between IoT devices. It also provides real-time device data and reporting, among other things.

XR Tools

XR includes a spectrum of technologies from Augmented Reality (AR) to Virtual Reality (VR). These are powerful tools for showing what a prototype can do, since they immerse a user directly in the experience. There are a wide range of tools, from hardware to software platforms, you can use to build XR experiences, depending on your budget and time constraints. Here are a few that we return to again and again.

Prototype Marelai uses Microsoft Hololens to help doctors see a patient’s comprehensive stats, at just a glance — promoting greater empathy and quality of care.
  • Google Cardboard: It looks like a prototype but it’s a fully fleshed-out product. Google Cardboard is great for starting out, especially if it’s your first foray into VR, due to the wide selection of APIs that extend the platform to iOS developers and Unity developers, and more.

Artificial Intelligence Tools

AI is a powerful tool but often requires a big time investment for proper training, but it’s well worth it. These are our favorite tools for getting up and running quickly, so that we can test the viability of a prototype before investing too much time going down any one path.

Disaster Bot coordinates emergency response efforts using bots and machine learning algorithms to inform relevant teams and reschedule staff.
  • Watson: Watson is IBM’s robust AI engine with a bevy of useful tools, including natural language processing (NLP), conversation abilities, image recognition, and more.

Interested in building with us?

We offer two fellowship sprints a year, and we’re looking for multi-disciplinary engineers, designers and business-minded folks who want to help build new prototypes with emerging technology.

Learn more about past fellowship classes here, and sign for our mailing list or follow us on Twitter for the latest updates.


A collaborative network focused on accelerating the research and development of emerging technologies. ideocolab.com

Thanks to Gian Pangaro


Written by

IDEO’s platform for collaborative impact. We connect organizations to shape technology’s impact on the world. www.ideocolab.com


A collaborative network focused on accelerating the research and development of emerging technologies. ideocolab.com

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