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Prototyping Materials

Let's explore some of the materials used when prototyping physical computing.
Prototyping Materials

A prototype is an early sample or model of a product built to test a concept or process. Prototyping is a process of trying out different ideas and approaches. We do this by often using low fidelity technology like:

  • paper
  • cardboard
  • foam

combine that with: + pens + markers + scissors

The idea is to explore ideas before committing to ‘hard work’. Once we dive into electronics it might get complicated and expensive. We might find out that some of our assumptions are incorrect.

Let’s look at some of the other materials used when prototyping.

Craft Materials

Sometimes is easier to keep it simple! Paper or cardboard models, plastic cups, lollipop sticks, etc. can all be used to create a quick and simple prototype of your idea.

When building a cube of lights, Lorraine needed a physical representation of the lights to work out what order they were numbered in. She used lollipop sticks and a marker to label them.

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3D Printing

3D printing has opened up a whole new world of prototyping to people. Architects can create extremely accurate small-scale models of their designs. Engineers can design parts for their projects and even test them out before creating the real object. 3D printing allows professionals and amateurs alike to create objects in 3D.

3D printing can be used to print small parts of your project, models of your entire device, and cases for it to be stored in. They can be used to print the robot arms that are controlled by the motors.

Lorraine 3d printed these clips to hold wires in place in the workshop: 3d prints3d prints
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Software for creating 3D models has also been simplified. Try out Tinkercad, a drag and drop web program that lets you create 3D models.

Laser Cutting

A laser cutter can cut accurately through a range of materials. They’re great for making bespoke enclosures or chassis for projects. Laser cutters have come down in cost but are still outside the range of amateur makers. More and more maker spaces provide access to laser cutters. Laser cutters can cut a range of materials: wood, acrylic, glass, leather into accurate shapes and sizes.

Here’s a stand Lorraine made for her robot to sit on when testing it, so it wouldn’t fly off the table! She laser-cut the wood and assembled it together.

Laser CutLaser Cut
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Your final product might have a custom-made microcontroller. These are difficult to create and expensive. During testing, prototypes might get damaged, shocked, wet, or stood on! Your first prototype could be a plain breadboard that mimics the microcontroller’s behaviour.

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Or you can use copper tape to connect electronic components together.

Copper TapeCopper Tape
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In our experiments later you will see some of these prototyping materials in action.


What’s your favourite material from this list? Have you worked with any of them? Do you have a prototype you can share with the group?

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Build a Physical Computing Prototype

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