Two kinds of prototype

I have several projects going on at NYU at the same time. Some of these are visions for what life might be like in the future. They generally use existing equipment — or sometimes oddball mash-ups of existing equipment — to create demonstrations of what everyday life might be like ten or even twenty years from now.

But other projects aim differently. Rather than look far off into the future, they aim to create a prototype of an alternate present. Instead of asking: “What could we do if we had the technology of the future?” these projects ask: “What could we do right now if we were thinking about things differently?”

It is important for research labs like ours to do both types of prototyping. We need to do the first type because corporations have no strong interest in prototyping products that are still ten or twenty years off. There is simply no profit in it. Yet they support our lab — and other labs like ours — because if our prototypes succeed then those companies are given a glimpse into where things might be going in the long run, which is always useful.

And it is important for research labs to do the second type of prototyping — demonstrations of a parallel vision for uses of today’s technology — because corporations are often constrained to follow well-defined markets. It can be too expensive for those companies, with their large fixed costs and overhead, to start creating prototypes of products that people do not already know they want.

But somebody has to dip their toe in the water and try out those crazy new ideas, and a research lab is a great place for that. Yet another reason to go into University research. :-)

One Response to “Two kinds of prototype”

  1. Dagmar says:

    I was always thinking I will never come up with a crazy new idea, that is why I never went into research… I always thought I would never be good enough. Now I miss the freedom of thought at times and I envy you, Ken.

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