innovative prototyping

“The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” Edwin H. Land

Innovation is rarely the result of a thunderbolt of inspiration. It builds on the work of other creative thinkers and benefits from incremental prototyping and testing. The projects shown here represent a range of approaches to prototyping, each innovative in its own way.

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Compression Bench
Forces That Shape the Bay, Lawrence Hall of Science

In addition to producing prototypes for user testing and evaluation, we also develop prototypes as a way of generating new ideas and/or investigating basic engineering feasibility. In this example, we were looking for a compelling demonstration that would illuminate the way mountains form over time through the geological process of compression. Components for this outdoor landscape setting also needed to be sufficiently large to feel in scale with the outdoors. Our prototype Compression Bench shows our discovery that, when thick layers of loosely stacked rubber are compressed by applying force to one end, the middle rises up with sufficient leverage to easily lift a person. As suspected, many visitors—especially 8–10 year olds—prefer the challenge of standing on the bench as it raises up.

Sail Table
Forces in Motion, Connecticut Science Center

To investigate our concept for a physics experimentation table exploring the force of lift associated with sailing into the wind, we tried out a variety of RC-controlled sail craft, wind sources and low-friction surfaces over which to travel. For the prototype, we built a 4’x10’ air table and flat-bottom “boats,” with a line of 25 muffin fans providing directional air flow. Our tests with the prototype confirmed that boats could be sent to the far end of the table sailing into the wind, and then, changing the sail angle, sail with the wind back to the starting point. Using our “proof of concept” prototype, we worked with the fabricator on the final version, adding two low-friction air rails and elapsed time displays to provide feedback on efficiency.

Bernoulli Hoops
Forces in Motion, Connecticut Science Center

Single-station Bernoulli blowers have been a science center staple for decades, but we wanted to develop a two-user experience. Our feasibility prototypes demonstrated that blowers could be designed to allow visitors to successfully pass a ball back and forth. This experiment eventually evolved into a game with a shared hoop located between two blowers.

Simple Machines at Work: Crane
In the Works, Stepping Stones Museum for Children

To develop our prototype component, we started with a toy crane and adapted it with a set of kid-friendly controls needed to accomplish a specific task: move a pile of four steel balls over a barrier and into a bin. Controlling an electromagnetic pick-up lets the balls be lifted, then swung over the barrier, lowered into place and released. When all four balls are stacked correctly, they are automatically expelled and the game is re-set and ready to be played again.