Success Factors

Prototyping – Continued Development through Testing

At the Consumer Technology Association’s CES 2019 show, the audience got to see the unveiling of Bell Air Taxi cabin - a four-passenger drone taxi. - The future of urban air taxi, as stated by Mitch Snyder, Bell Helicopter’s president and CEO.

The drone shown, the Bell Nexus, was at a prototype stage - a mock-up not being able to fly. One might ask: -Why present a mock-up? Why not wait until a proper prototype is ready? What’s the rush? What the prototype did, however, was to show off the collaborative ideas that may make the intention of urban air transport realistic. It also met an audience of possible commuters. In 2020, the helicopter manufacturer returned to unveil a full-scale redesign of the Bell Nexus – now fully electrically powered, with four (instead of six) rotor ducts, and with a softer, friendlier design. This new version had been developed after having presented the prototype and listened to the technically savvy attendees at CES 2019.

The future is fast, so much faster than imagined. The acceleration and convergence of exponential technologies and new expectations from customers and users calls for continuous development to stay relevant. New technologies like Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing, 5G, nano technology, quantum computing and blockchain, just to mention a few, are reshaping the future. They affect everything from how we live our daily lives, to how cities are governed and how we care for (or do not care for!) our planet. The linear development process often used in the industrial production society is not relevant any longer. Today we live in a digitalized society where technology advances at an accelerating pace and consumer behavior adapts almost as rapidly. To keep up with this development, organizations need to implement an iterative way of building the new. They need a prototyping process that is far more complicated than the linear. It is a more chaotic process, without obvious beginning or end, more stakeholders involved, continuous development through testing, and collaboration with partners and end consumers.

"Think big, start small, scale up and fail fast."

In some interviews the respondents state that the benefits of prototyping are reduced time and costs as well as improved and increased user involvement. Instead of presenting a full-scale product, it is faster and cheaper to produce a prototype and try it on the market. Also, you get to test end consumers’ willingness to buy the product. But you get the creative input from an audience you choose. On the other hand, due to a fast-iterative process, exchange of team members, and potential use of the results in other areas, knowledge preservation can become a challenge. Prototyping gives you the opportunity to scale up or fail fast.

Quotes from respondents:

"We have 100 beta testers, every time we have new ideas, we test them right away. I have read a lot of research papers. I learned all things much faster when implementing and testing and getting feedback. Developing tiny features and getting feedback – they (the users) are using it every day so they can tell quickly if something works good or bad."
Illka Pirttimaa, MIPsoft, Finland (BlindSquare)

"We started this project two years ago. The idea is to build scalable models to test the technology. In September 2019 the annual contest started - 800 teams from around the world participated. The top twenty teams will have the opportunity to go to California to compete there. Our goal is to be invited to California."
Adam Lidström, KTH The Royal institute of Technology, Sweden (Hyperloop)

"I go to many fairs and look at completely unrelated processes and machines and see if they can add something. Then me and my colleagues build our own prototypes. This is how we stay ahead."
Sverker Lindbo, Ocado Group, Sweden (SoMa and SecondHands)

"Think big, start small, scale up and fail fast."
Micco Grönholm, City of Helsingborg, Sweden (H22 and the making of a smarter city)

"One thing that is important to us is knowledge preservation. How it is done in the best possible way."
Adam Lidström, KTH - The Royal institute of Technology, Sweden (Hyperloop)

Top learnings from interviews – How to work with a prototyping process

  • Prototyping often means new working processes, dare to let go of old, outdated ones! Eliminate all fear of doing wrong during prototyping.
  • Dare to demonstrate. Visualization is key. Create a lab environment where you can demonstrate and keep meetings. Create pedagogical tools to visualize also to people not well versed.
  • Get your inspiration from other companies and their prototypes. Visit fairs and expos, where you get to experience untested processes, technology and machines. You might find elements to try out in prototypes and identify potential future business partners.
  • Identify tested technology and try them in new verticals in new businesses. If possible, create (or find available) testbeds for combined new tech.
  • Think user-centric design when testing prototypes. Invite test pilots to an open (digital or physical) innovation platform. Identify the right problems to solve by inviting end users during test periods.
  • Be accurate when collecting test data during prototyping. If prototyping with sensors, start them collecting data as early in the project as possible.
  • Identify and collect stories during trials, they will become communicational tools in the continued work to motivate employees, partners and customers.
  • Resources: As technology advances people change behavior. To meet new demands, you need business intelligence to identify new trends and technologies, and to identify their effect on society and your business.
  • Piloting requires a lab or testbed environment, where you can try out new products and services before they meet a market. Several respondents refer to mechatronic prototyping labs (combining electrical and mechanical systems) as an asset when prototyping physical products.

If you are interested in reading more about innovative ecosystems, we recommend the following cases: Digital twin city and AI.MEE, Blindsquare, Hyperloop, SoMa and SecondHands - Ocado, and iWater - digital monitoring of water quality.