Rapid Prototyping for the Masses?

One critical tool for innovation is the ability to do rapid innovation and testing, or as they say in open-source "release early and often." How can rapid prototyping be handled by aspiring designers living in the BOP?At BRINQ, we promote the innovation and design capabilities of people in the Base of the Pyramid (BOP), with a particular focus on toy design in Latin America. One subject that comes up continuously in our discussions with top of the pyramid (TOP) designers is the importance of rapid prototyping, a need which is met here in the TOP by computers, CAD software, plastics, and well-stocked machine shops.

This brings up the question, how can rapid prototyping be handled by aspiring designers living in the BOP?

There are promises of future technologies for the masses, such as 3D Printing or Personal Fabbing but these are still experimental and expensive.

There are examples of current businesses which seek to lower the cost of prototyping for designers, such as eMachineShop, which will machine the object you designed (in plastic or metal). Read on USA Today for more. Other examples include MFGquote.com, a bidding site for custom fab jobs, and QuickParts.com. All of these businesses are centralized though and rely on a well-developed infrastructure to get parts to designers. Instead, the less developed infrastructure in the BOP may require functionality closer to the point of service, as the Multifunction Platform in Africa provides.

“ The multifunctional platform is built around a simple diesel engine, than can power various tools, such as a cereal mill, husker, alternator, battery charger, pump, welding and carpentry equipment, etc. It can also generate electricity and be used to distribute water.”

In the end, perhaps the most useful course is to teach design and prototyping methodologies as called for by Indian professor Sanjay Dhande in his paper “Designing for Handicrafts - A Socio-technological Perspective”. These skills could be offered with community level computing services to allow for a greater level of rapid prototyping.

Reference sites:
WorldChanging - A new world is here
ThinkCycle - Open collaborative design