Bringing the Unicorn Labs spirit to the industry [Part 1]

Bomatec – 25 years industry experience needed a partner to rethink one of their products. Time for Unicorn Labs to bring the startup spirit to the industry

Our first corporate client has been a supplier for the automotive industry of resolvers (electro-magnetic rotation angle sensors). Resolvers haven’t had a major innovation in over 30 years. They are quite expensive to manufacture due to the many delicate and precise windings involved, that must be confined inside a small cylinder. Our client has been trying to develop for years an alternative product but didn’t have a breakthrough. This is where Unicorn Labs comes in: without fear of the unknown, bringing an outside perspective on the matter, we had the challenge of re-inventing the resolver, to give our client the necessary push of technical innovation.

Following iterative development cycles
Unicorn Labs works in “Breedings”: a weekend Hackathon, in which the time is extremely limited. We believe this pushes the maximum results of a project. But, we have to remain realistic. Our industrial client challenge is technically super complex and is very hardware intensive. As the saying goes, “hardware is hard”.
Therefore, we proposed to split up the challenge in two separate, independent breedings:
1) Zoom Out breeding
The outcome of this breeding should be an advice in which tech and development direction the new resolver should go. Combined of course with a rough MVP in order to get feedback.
2) MVP breeding
The outcome of this breeding should be an MVP of one of the selected key areas which came out of the first breeding. It’s basically another iteration based on the first results.

 

Zoom Out Breeding

  • 4 Breeders (3 from Unicorn Labs, 1 engineer from our client)

Objectives:

  1. Understand the challenge (contrary to popular belief, we are not all-knowing Gods)
  2. Generate many ideas in the area of resolvers
  3. Filter promising ideas for further investigation and prototyping.

Approach
Our client made a quick presentation about their problem and challenge, and handed us internal documents about resolvers.
Without looking at the documents, we started with our classic innovation workshop, together with our client; not being biased by the client’s documents, lets us stay creative and come with ideas that may sound bad for the client, but, with enough refinement, the idea could still have potential and being directly eliminated.
During the innovation workshop (2h) we came up with many ideas, of system, subsystem, and different categories.
We could identify, together, 4 promising technologies / ideas that we wanted to pursue during the rest of the breeding (Saturday and Sunday).
Then we went to a nice restaurant, had some beers, and went to our hotel rooms.

During the next 2 days, we pursued the 4 ideas.
3 were conceptual, and required some research and further thinking, including some spreadsheet math.
The other idea, was so innovative, that we directly started prototyping it, to learn the underlying physics and get a rough estimate of how difficult it would be to make it. Luckily, our client had very good lab infrastructure, with lots of electronics, machines and materials which we could use. Two comparison experiments, with rough plots were made, to show the viability of the tech.

 

Results
Pursuing the 4 ideas, allowed us to understand holistically the challenge. We had to discard one idea, as it was to feasible. The other three were presented to our client with clear pros and cons, the involved challenges and next-steps recommendations.

We recommended the following:
For idea 1: the in-house engineers could develop it; the innovation, concept and feasibility was given by us, and therefore not a challenge anymore.
For idea 2, we recommended the client to work with his industry partners, as it was a matter of adapting expensive machines, but the adaption itself is a technology already used elsewhere.
The idea 3, was the one that required most innovation: we firmly believed it had the biggest potential, but it was not completely developed; there were extremely high uncertainties even though the core tech was proven with the experiments we made. However, we could convince our client to further pursue this idea in the “MVP breeding”, in which we would dive into the matter more deeply and solve / prove to our client that this was not only feasible, but possible, and cheap – a must-have requirement in the industry resolver world.

Read about the MVP Breeding [soon] .