Process Blog #7 — Device Prototyping

The Process

This week, in our final sprint, the focus was on creating prototypes using a system called littleBits, which allows users to create small machines with easy-to-connect pieces. Since my partner and I had never used or even heard of littleBits before stepping into studio this week, we spent some time exploring the various systems, eventually coming to the conclusion that blue pieces were power sources, pink pieces were inputs, green were outputs, and orange were wires to split our output. Then, we managed to play some music using the MP3 player and speaker we found in the kit. Eventually, we moved on to our real assignment: prototyping a device to help preschool teachers get their students on track between activities. Due to our earlier adventures with the MP3 player, we tried to think up the best solution that utilized audio, and eventually chose to prototype a system that plays an audio file (presumably the teacher saying “Two minutes left for this activity” or something similar) and flashes the lights on and off when the teacher presses a button.

Our prototype and sketch — includes a power source, button input, audio output, and LED lights.
Our prototype in action — when the button is pressed, the simulated ceiling lights go out and audio plays

Our final prototype included a battery power source, input button, MP3 player, and LED lights, the latter of which we used to simulate the lights of a classroom, which is why they are held above the rest of the prototype in the above images.

(video link is here: https://youtu.be/gftdMKRRvWU)

So What?

One of the major problems I ran into when developing my prototype was that my output wasn’t consistent. Sometimes, I’d press the button and only the audio would play, sometimes only the lights flashed, and sometimes you had to hold the button to get the lights to flash. Overall, our desired output, of the lights flashing and the audio playing simultaneously, happened rather infrequently. In the future, I think I’d address this problem by giving more thought to the sequence of events the device goes through to produce the output, and perhaps restructure it so that the prototype worked more effectively. Other than that, I very much enjoyed examining the process of device prototyping, and found it incredibly enriching and interesting to try to make very simple versions of products I interact with frequently (MP3 players, light switches, motion sensors, etc).

Now What?

Device prototyping is a technique I could absolutely see myself applying in the near future. In game design, for example, the “device” is the game, and prototyping it — iterating on various concepts for story elements or sketching out the way a certain mechanic should work — seems like it’d be incredibly useful to make the game a better product in the long run. In a more casual sense, this adventure with device prototyping has encouraged me to finally open and play around with the Raspberry Pi I got as a gift a year or two ago, to see what kind of cool devices I can make. For example, one of my friends has made a game emulator with a Raspberry Pi so that he can play older video games on his computer, and I think side projects like that would be valuable to extend and enrich my learning.

Amateur writer, mostly about football and the NFL draft. UW psychology grad. Asian-American.

Amateur writer, mostly about football and the NFL draft. UW psychology grad. Asian-American.