This is part II (see part I here) of a series that will give an inside look at how my friends and I are attempting to turn an idea into a real product. It is my goal to make this an accurate representation of what it’s like to create a product completely from scratch, without any unusual prior resources or advantages (like money or equipment). My hope is that it will inspire some of you to finally make the leap to take that idea that has been knocking around inside your head for the past few years and grow it into something real!
Quick note: I screwed up last week. I wrote and posted the article in a frenzy of excitement and caffeine, and in the process, completely forgot to mention that all of this work is being done with my good friend, Kevin (who also happened to come up with the concept in the first place)! So, while I might be the one documenting the work, both Kevin and I are working on the project together.
Just needed to get that out, but what I’m here to talk about today is the fun stuff: prototypes! Since we had a good bead on the vision, the next step was to start making some prototypes. We had to know if this could even work. Because paper is such an easy material to work with, and it’s what we ultimately want to use in our final product, it was the natural choice in material for our prototypes. To start, we began designing our first renditions with nothing more than a ruler and a pencil:
Unsophisticated and Incremental
Our initial designs were far from sophisticated, but they didn’t need to be. One of the trickiest things I’ve encountered when developing products is separating the final vision from the messiness of the process of getting there. I often tend to get swept into the mindset that every step along the way should be polished and able to stand up as a finished product. In the past, this would often kill a bunch of my ideas since I would get overwhelmed by the scope of what I “had” to do as a first step. But after some experience, I’ve learned that prototypes can be horrifyingly ugly and still uncover valuable insights. It’s better (for me, anyway) to churn out a ton of incremental and unsophisticated prototypes, as opposed to planning every last detail into the first prototype.
The first problems to solve present themselves:
Our initial hand-designed models showed us how to make our quadcopter strong enough to withstand some abuse; however, they weren’t equipped to fly. Here’s where some real engineering questions began to arise: How do we attach the motors? How do we mount the electronics? We wanted to design these so that the electronics could be easily attached and removed so users can quickly swap between different configurations. How cool would it be to buy one quadcopter and be able to change its appearance in a matter of minutes?
The main design challenge arose with mounting the motors. On the plastic Hubsan, the motors fit into precise holes and are held in place with friction. I quickly discovered that replicating this would be difficult with paper. Instead, I opted to create a channel for the motor to sit in and hold it in the channel with scotch tape. Easily removable, and quite secure! Definitely enough to move forward with. I designed a simple airframe that incorporated this feature and set to work making it.
To do so, I began experimenting with a program that I’m sure many of you are familiar with: Pepakura Designer 3. It takes 3D digital files and unfolds them into flat templates that can be printed on a standard printer. From there, you can cut out the templates and fold them up into the original 3D shape. I printed the first version and it came together beautifully!
Mounting the electronics
Because we just wanted to get this thing off the ground (pun intended), we simply taped the electronics onto the underbelly of the airframe. Ugly? Yes. But it served!
Eventually we modified our design with a cutout to better enclose the electronics and protect the battery from shock and down the road we have plans to hide the electronics completely for a super clean look!
And did it work? Check in next week to find out!