Hardware Without Hardware: Making as little as possible while rapidly exploring novel digital product ideas (Tutorial)



Fort Mason Center 2015-06-23


Mike Kuniavsky

Hardware Without Hardware: Making as little as possible while rapidly exploring novel digital product ideas (Tutorial)

One of the biggest challenges in designing novel connected hardware is knowing whether the final experience will be successful, and minimizing the investment in developing the wrong product. Building fully-functional hardware to evaluate an idea is a significant investment, and slow. This leads companies either to work incrementally, managing the risk of a bad investment by making only small changes to an existing product type; or throwing resources behind a potentially transformative idea based on a hunch. The first approach leads to conservative products, the second is very risky and successes are difficult to repeat.

We believe it’s possible to manage risk and still explore big, potentially transformative, ideas for products and services. Our approach looks at novel digital product systems (broadly in the Internet of Things, but not exclusively) with the explicit goal of building the minimum amount of technology as is necessary to answer questions about the value and impact of a new product or service.

Ideally we do no new hardware, service, or software development at all before changing or discarding a product idea. Our approach mixes Lean Startup approaches with several decades of ubiquitous computing UX design, to define a multi-stage process that aims to match the fidelity of a device with the breadth of questions the device is supposed to answer. As core assumptions are challenged and validated, more technology is developed and fidelity increases.

The talk will cover:

  • How to make an Alan Kay time machine
  • An Arduino on a breadboard is not a prototype
  • Proofs-of-concept prove nothing as far as the product is concerned; OK, almost nothing
  • A 4-year-old challenges more assumptions in ten minutes than product teams do in six months

Additional information

Focus Areas

Our work is centered around a series of Focus Areas that we believe are the future of science and technology.

Licensing & Commercialization Opportunities

We’re continually developing new technologies, many of which are available for Commercialization.


Our scientists and staffers are active members and contributors to the science and technology communities.