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What is a Prototype?

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 at 7:39 am

A prototype is simply a model that is used to demonstrate the qualities of a future part, product, process, or service.  A prototype can be anything that demonstrates how your idea works and what it will look like.  The term prototype itself is used pretty loosely and is applied to ideas under development along the way to becoming a product or service on the market.  At the AMC we break prototypes down into 3 major categories with 4 different types.

Three Categories of Prototypes

  1. “Looks Like” Prototypes
    1. These prototypes are used to demonstrate ideas that need development in color, shape, feel, and size.  Many Rapid Prototype or 3D Printed parts fall under this category.
  2. “Works Like” Prototypes
    1. Often referred to as “Proof of concepts”, these are examples that prove the working concepts of an idea. They may not be very pretty, but they will prove that an idea works.  Proof of concepts may have several issues to be sorted out, but they will verify the primary concepts.
  3. “Looks Like and Works Like” Prototypes
    1. These “Late Stage” Prototypes are a refined iteration of an idea. They are well investigated, often attractive, and have very few kinks to sort out. They may even be a reasonable representation of what an idea looks like before it goes to market.  Late stage prototypes usually are designed after an early stage prototype has been developed and tested.

Four Types of Prototypes

  1. Paper – Paper prototypes are very common.  Most people don’t even know that when they define their ideas on paper, and pencil in “rough numbers,” they have in effect created a prototype.  Paper prototypes are most often used to define Service Ideas.  They are also common to engineering and other technical concepts where mathematical models are very important to early stage development.  There are two basic kinds of paper prototypes.  Often they are combined to form an entire concept.
    1. WORD prototypes explain exactly how an idea works and defines all of the ideas and parts.  they define the Who, What, When, Where, and Why’s that are necessary for your idea to work.
    2. MATH prototypes define with numbers how your idea works.  The math includes financial models, technical models, spatial models, and anything that involves numbers in your idea.
  2. Part – Part prototypes are an individual item that demonstrates the important functional qualities of your idea.  A part prototype could be a component that improved performance on a thing that already exists by reducing weight or making operation easier or safer.  it could also be a completely new and novel kind of hand tool.  A part prototype is always a physical object.
  3. Assembly – Assembly prototypes are a combination of parts that work together to realize an idea.  Assembly prototypes can be very simple, with just two parts fastened together, or very complex with hundreds of thousands of components and sub-assemblies, many of which might even move.
  4. Process – Process prototypes physically demonstrate the actions required to accomplish an end result.  A process prototype might be a new business model or sales model.  It might also be a cutting edge approach to create new kinds of fuels that reduce emissions or take advantage of biomass.

Prototypes are defined by what category and type they fall under.  For example you can have a “Looks like” assembly prototype that is a scaled down 3D printed object that will help you visualize a future product.  A “works like” paper prototype could be a math model of the physics of a new type of engine.

 Check out a prototype developed at the AMC

NeuroCheck - O’Brien Medical partnered with The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) and the AMC to develop a modern testing device for diabetic peripheral neuropathy, or damaged or deteriorating nerves in the feet of diabetics.  The condition all too often can lead to foot ulcers and eventual foot amputation.  The current practice of using tuning forks is subjective leaves too much room for human error.  This device will eliminate the guesswork, and produce consistent results from user to user.

  

Working with the AMC, O’Brien medical was able to develop a completely customized solution that met their vision for the product.  the AMC developed, designed, and manufactured custom electronics, actuators, and stainless housing for this medical instrument.  O’Brien Medical was able to conduct clinical trials to further develop the idea.

The AMC team has years of experience in all manner of Prototype development.  We help inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and businesses transform their thoughts into real data, parts, and systems they can use to advance. Email us at amc@maine.edu for advice related to this article or if you have questions that you’d like to see answered in our next blog post.

Is your idea GOOD?

Friday, August 2nd, 2013 at 9:23 am

Is Your Idea Good?

It can be hard to know if an idea is good enough to invest in.  There are many steps along the way from a Eureka! moment to a product on the shelves or a service ready for hire.  You may not know if you should even pursue the idea, let alone start spending time and money on it.  There are some things you can do up front to learn.  These steps can be done with little to no money.  They will take time, but what you learn by taking them will help you learn about the value of your ideas.

  • Do an internet search for similar ideas.  Find out if your idea is already out there.  See if other people or companies are already offering something similar.

  • Quantify with numbers what makes your idea better than any competition.  Qualify with words what features of your idea make it better.

  • Talk to friends, coworkers, and family.  See if they have a need for your idea.  Find out how much they would be willing to pay for it as a product or service.

  • Ask about it on an internet forum.  People on the internet can be brutally honest.  That honesty can help you improve your idea as long as you don’t take it personally.

  • Hit the streets.  Go to places you imagine your idea would be sold.  See what’s on the shelves around it.  Take a chance and ask a stranger if they would buy your idea over other products.

  • Build a Business Plan around your idea.  There are many free business plan templates on the internet such as this one from the Small Business Administarion: http://www.sba.gov/business-plan/1.  Use these to evaluate the finances of your idea; both the up front investment and potential short and long term paybacks.

Write down your ideas, define them.  Give them life on paper.  You may find that as you write about them you learn things about them.  As you write about them they will change.  Your perspective on them may change.  Things to write about are:

  1. What IS your idea?
    1. What is it called?
    2. Describe what is does in one sentence.
  2. What makes your idea special?
    1. Why will other people care?
    2. What convention does it break?
    3. What will it do better than anything else?
  3. Who will want your idea?
    1. Who would buy your product?
    2. Who will pay for your services?
  4. What problem will your idea solve for them?
    1. Does your customer know they have a problem?
    2. Will they be eager for this solution?
  5. How does your idea solve their problem?
    1. What proof do you have that your idea can deliver that solution?
  6. What are the largests risks about your idea?
  7. How do the numbers look?
    1. How much will it cost to develop your idea?
    2. How many will you sell?
    3. How much will it save your customer?
    4. How much will it make you?
    5. What will your customer pay?
  8. Why do you love this idea?
    1. Are you passionate about it?
    2. Why is it important to you?

The things you write become the first real incarnation of your idea, a prototype if you will.  In this state you have nothing invested and you’ll learn a lot about both the things you didn’t know and the things you thought you knew.

Sometimes we learn an idea is simply near and dear to our hearts, and maybe we are the only ones who see value in it.  That’s OK!  Because ideas are free.  If you’re passionate about them then keep thinking.  Keep learning.  Write down more ideas.  The more ideas you write down, define and refine the more likely you are to succeed.  Don’t be discouraged if you have 100 ideas that don’t work on paper.  Save them for a rainy day when something may have changed in your assumptions:  a new technology, a new customer, a new method.  With ideas More is More.

Email us at amc@maine.edu.  We’ll answer your questions via email or in another post so you plan out your next steps.