Prototyping · Hardware

How to prototype physical devices?

Leonardo Apolonio Research Engineer at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

June 13th, 2013

I want to know how the following product was prototyped:

I know they had to use some sort of CAD program for the shell and there are tools like eagle to prototype the circuit, but how was it put together. I would like insight into the design and prototyping process for physical devices. 

Aswan Morgan Mobile Entrepreneur; eCommerce Personalization, Optimization & Conversion Expert

May 18th, 2014

I spent some time with California Academy of Arts Industrial Design students this weekend, and I would suggest reaching out to them for affordable prototyping. They have CAD expertise, access to 3D printing and are eager to build their portfolios. Example: If you want an intro, let me know.

Jerry P NewCo

June 13th, 2013

Typically through an iterative process. First get it to work with arduinos, development kits and similar. Then look for the minimal electrical solution based on the specs of the product (size of battery, electronics, pcb etc) then make an artistic rendering of the case, with pencil and paper then create a cad drawing of the case that will wrap around the electronics. A slightly different approach would design the case first then you would fit the electronics to whatever camel shaped thing the industrial designer came up with. If you can't fit it something has to be changed and you go back for another iteration. The tighter the fit and the more aggressive the size shrink the more the risk you will need 2nd 3rd and many more iterations.

Sam Feller Mechanical Engineer at Foliage

June 13th, 2013

That's about right... they're using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices.  They probably started with some sort of development kit board, (big, ugly, non-consumer friendly) and got a "work's like" prototype version. They probably had a "looks like" prototype in parallel, and at some point they iterate and become the same thing.

I have a few blog posts about it...

Leonardo Apolonio Research Engineer at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

June 13th, 2013

Hey thanks for the responses. 

Sam : If I didn't have a 3d printer would i have to send my CAD design to a metal tooling shop? Do they do one off prototypes? Do you have any suggestions for one off and mass production companies?

Sam Feller Mechanical Engineer at Foliage

June 13th, 2013

low end hobby 3d printers are pretty cheap, less than $1500, and some are as cheap as $500. (I think there's one on kickstarter now for under $400)

you can get a print made at, or any other number of prototyping houses, or you can carve stuff up in pink insulation foam, or work with cardboard first.

keep in mind that for highly rapid ideation, you really should be working in pen and paper and cardboard. When you have a better idea of where you want to go, and start caring more about ergonomics and other things, then you can spend the time to CAD model and print.

Ofer Braun Co Founder at MOBY Awareness Systems Ltd.

June 13th, 2013

I think the most important thing here is to write a set of requirements for the device before you try to do anything. proto-typing is mainly about perfecting the functionality of the product in the first phase and then reduce the size and make it resilient to the environmental conditions the product supposed to withstand. The end phase of prototyping would be qualification tests to proof the design, functionality productivity and withstanding environmental conditions. 

Laura Kassovic Hardware Whisperer

February 11th, 2014

Hey Leonardo, I can take you through how the button tracker was made if you are still wondering. I work at an embedded design firm and I have made a few of these types of devices myself from prototypes all the way to a manufacturable sample. To build BLE devices, you just need the right tools and a little hardware knowledge! 

Erik Moon Co-founder at Hinted / Co-founder at / Stanford GSB Sloan Fellow

February 16th, 2014

If you're paying someone else to do the design / prototyping, iteration becomes wildly expensive. Even if you areusing 3D printing, you'll quickly realize that the designer needs time to assimilate your suggestions, present you with options, finalize a design, optimize one or two for printing, send to the printer (or a shop like Shapeways) and wait for it to be printed (which is surprisingly slow to first-timers).

So, much like a few people have already mentioned, spend a lot of time working with pink foam / cardboard or balsa wood. You and mock up a nice looking and functional prototype with razor blades and some glue. Only after you think you have your final design, then work with a designer to further improve the design (aesthetically pm structurally and/or for manufacturability).

Alternatively, much like people are telling founders to learn how to code, if you're in the hardware business, learn how to CAD / prototype...