Definition of Prototype Development

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Prototype aircraft being developed
Prototype aircraft being developed (Image: Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images)

A prototype is a physical representation used to illustrate and verify aspects of a conceptual design as part of the development process for a new product or technology. Essentially, it brings an idea into being. A prototype can be anything from a simple, hand-made model used to help explain a new notion to colleagues or investors, to a highly detailed, fully operational representation of how an intricate design concept will look, feel and work in the real world.

Types of Prototypes

The simplest form of prototype is a mock-up, which is a basic model created early in the design process to provide physical visualization and a starting point from which to make design modifications. Fabricated prototypes are somewhat more complex in that they serve as functional versions of the design idea. While a fabricated prototype does not necessarily look exactly like the proposed design, it enables the development team to evaluate how various components of the design actually work. Virtual prototyping uses computerized technologies to create an exacting 3-D digital image of a projected design. The data can be run through specialized software programs to assess design attributes under specific conditions and uploaded to automated modeling machines to create an accurate physical prototype.

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