In this series of posts, we explore how wearable technology is created. Through tried and tested prototyping iterations, we look at how to deliver game-changing wearable technology products from idea to mass production.
Every product is different, but the processes for creating them share many similarities. Choosing appropriate prototyping for a given stage of development is key. Coupling this with deploying a wide range of available prototyping technologies and techniques will rapidly deliver impact, reducing risk in a controlled way and stress-testing the product proposition at each stage.
In this post, we take a wide view of the 5 key stages of prototyping we have identified through working on many wearable devices across a myriad of products over the last decade. Wisely targeting budget and rapidly delivering evidence to users, investors and other stakeholders is critical to success.
In the following series of posts, we will consider these stages in turn and dig deeper into the detail of what each prototype achieves and therefore which might be appropriate for your product.
5 key stages in wearable technology prototyping
What is important when working with physical technologies is to be mindful of using time and financial resources wisely. Prototyping does not in itself provide a finished product, so careful consideration of the goal and objectives of the prototype is a really important first step. Adding into the mix the need for digital components and also data processing, means that each development iteration needs to focus on answering specific questions about the product proposition relevant to making progress on the wider journey to market. Maintaining sharp focus is a challenge, but ultimately allows us to find answers to key questions in a time and budget sensitive way.
When we consider rolling up our sleeves and making physical prototypes, we should have already done a lot of research into the product proposition. In doing so, a lot of questions about the value proposition, the users and the key features and functions will have already been asked and hopefully many will have been answered, creating a solid foundation for physical development and testing to commence.
“Prototyping does not in itself provide a finished product, so careful consideration of the goal and objectives of the prototype is a really important first step.”
There will almost always be very specific technical uncertainties remaining with the product proposition and it is these unknowns which form the focus of work on a Feasibility Prototype, which will be expanded on in the next post in this series. This prototype is very specific, in that it is not a product prototype, but is aimed at understanding a specific key technology. For example embedding a specific sensor in a fabric could represent the single biggest risk to a product proposition and so at this stage we can ignore all other factors, develop this element in isolation and test it carefully.
In part 3 the Form Factor Prototype is considered in detail. This is sometimes also described as a ‘looks like’ prototype for obvious reasons. Ignoring all functional elements, such as the electronics and battery, physical rendering of the product proposition allows a range of benefits, such as stakeholder and investor engagement, some user testing experiments (such as testing ergonomic aspects) and other key risk-reducing factors early on in the development journey.
With basic feasibility and a physical vision of the future product under our belts, part 4 looks at focusing on the functional parts of the system. This is basically the opposite of the Form Factor Prototype, being described as a System Prototype it acts as a platform to develop all elements of the electronics, including sensors, processors, wireless communication technologies and the firmware code which acts to run the system. It does not physically look anything like the finished product, but allows critical early development of the sensor and digital systems, without the time and cost of cramming it all into a tiny form factor.
With these building blocks, basic user testing and a deep and well-founded technology research backdrop, we bring it all together in part 5 with the Concept Prototype. A physical rendering of the eventual product based on the Form Factor Prototype, complete with a consolidated set of electronic and digital elements, derived from the System Prototype. This ‘first working version’ allows for the device to be tested with users in a holistic way. It’s not the final product, but it’s clear what it will look like and how it will work. The user feedback from this stage will be priceless and will drive subtle and more serious changes to the form and function, completing the basic prototype.
The final part of this series will explore the later stages of prototyping. These Production Prototypes (including Engineering Validation, Design Validation and Production Validation) are all about making the product a reality. Detailed design refinements, exhaustive testing and production tooling result in large numbers of units being delivered with low failure rates and low unit cost. Along the way, users increasingly get a full experience of the product in all its glory.
We will go into much more detail over the next few months, exploring the value and benefits of each of these distinct prototypes. We spend our time putting this process to the test through creating products. Some nice examples of this are available on the WORK page of our website. If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch, or email us here.
Article by Dr Jacob Skinner, CEO, Thrive Wearables
Thrive are a team of designers, developers and engineers with a mission to solve global health challenges with the power of technology innovation, connected devices and data processing. We are the leading wearable technology design and development consultancy and we work with global companies, academic partners, charities and individuals to turn great ideas into world changing wearables. Read more about Thrive.