Shaping ideas with AR/VR prototyping

Before a startup invests a significant amount of money to enter the market with a groundbreaking and hopefully successful concept, it’s crucial to validate whether potential customers truly need an idea and are ready to embrace it. This is where a prototype of a future product can play a pivotal role. However, there are many potential pitfalls.

This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe

First, creating a physical prototype can be costly and time-consuming, especially for startups with tight budgets.

Second, it's nearly impossible to create a perfect prototype on the first try that won't need modification later. Making changes to a physical prototype will also require additional resources.

Third, a startup may face difficulties delivering the prototype to multiple potential customers to get their feedback, because of a limited network of contacts. Few people would care to spend time validating a no-name idea from people they don't know much about.

Eventually, there is always a risk that a startup may spend a lot of time and resources on creating and adjusting a physical prototype that fails to catch on. In fact, only one out of 10 startups survive. That adds up to a lot of wasted resources.

To overcome these challenges and make a prototype more adjustable and cost-effective, a startup can create a virtual version using the capabilities of augmented or virtual reality. 3D prototypes in AR/VR are more interactive than plain 2D versions and open up opportunities for startups to visualise and evaluate their future products.

Live it virtually

AR/VR serves as a gateway to the three-dimensional realm, facilitating rapid prototyping and allowing a startup to explore a product from all angles. Thus, the team can find any design flaws and choose the best product representation. A virtual prototype is easier to adjust than a physical one, allowing for iterative product design.

Product size doesn't seem to be a problem for virtual prototyping either, so a startup can visualise the size and scale of a product in a real-world context. This is particularly useful for products that may vary in size or need to fit into specific environments.

If a product involves an assembly process, whether it’s furniture or complex hardware for a smart home, a startup can create virtual simulations of a product assembly and disassembly. This helps to identify any challenges or inefficiencies in the manufacturing or maintenance processes.

Moreover, virtual prototypes are beneficial for geographically distributed teams, as all team members can equally interact with a prototype, make annotations, and discuss design iterations in real-time.

With an AR/VR prototype, a startup can even conduct initial product testing. By creating potential scenarios for how users will interact with a product in a virtual environment, a startup gains a deeper understanding of the user journey, helping to make the product more intuitive and user-friendly.

Wow and win

Seeing is believing. Investors also rely on this principle when choosing the next product to invest in. So a startup can make a great presentation about a product they want to create and outline the prospects, but may not win the hoped-for funding. Words alone may not be persuasive enough.

However, showing a 3D prototype of a product and enabling investors to interact with it is more likely to draw interest. For example, instead of describing how a future building will look, a startup can demonstrate its AR version – even life-size.

A startup can also create a virtual showroom so as to present a product in an engaging and memorable way. This is particularly effective for industries such as real estate, interior design, or consumer goods.

However, if a business already has a physical prototype, augmented reality can help make its presentation more interactive and informative by virtually adding extra data, animations, or instructions. This will enhance understanding of a physical prototype without the need for an entirely virtual environment.

Opt for the best

Speaking of less obvious opportunities, here's one to consider: AR/VR prototypes can help a startup hire the best talent. Positioning the brand as an innovator attracts like-minded, progressive candidates who are aligned with the company's values.

By interacting with the AR/VR prototype during the interview, potential hires will have a deeper understanding of a product and the technical challenges they will be working on, making the opportunity more appealing.

Moreover, the ability to interact with the prototype remotely facilitates ongoing interactions with candidates worldwide, showcasing the innovative ways in which the company fosters communication and teamwork.

Get value

Trying to make prototyping as cheap as possible, startups may worry that implementing AR/VR technologies will add significant costs in terms of hardware, hiring specialists to create models, etc.

However, things are not as bad as they seem. First, there are special platforms that enable users to create AR/VR experiences with no coding effort. So, startups can do it on their own. A platform will probably cost money to access, but startups would also need to pay for a physical prototype, right?

Another concern is hardware. If spending on a VR headset is not in the plans, AR is perfect because it doesn't require any special devices; a smartphone is enough.

After all, investing in AR/VR prototypes is a worthwhile expense, as it helps create an adaptive, immersive, and interactive model for effective idea validation and attracting investment for successful business development.