Facebook's EdMod Labs

How Facebook’s EdMod Labs applies agile principles to hardware prototyping with Fictiv

Industry: Education/VR
Product: DIY VR viewers for students
Location: Menlo Park. CA

Facebook’s EdMod team focuses on providing students from under-resourced backgrounds exposure to opportunities in technology and computer science. As part of this mission, the team seeks to help students become creators of VR experiences.

With supporting evidence from the growing Maker Movement and DIY trends, the team hypothesized that students would discover a sense of ownership over VR experiences and technologies by assembling and customizing VR viewers themselves.

To test this hypothesis, EdMod Labs, an engineering sub-team of EdMod, took on the challenge of prototyping these DIY VR viewers and then getting them into the hands of students.

3D printed prototypes of DIY VR Viewers from EdMod Labs

The Challenge of Lean Hardware Development

Although this is a hardware project, EdMod Labs is not specifically a hardware team. EdMod Labs Team Lead Hassan Karaouni is actually a software engineer by trade, and as such he is intimately familiar with agile prototyping methods for software development.

Hardware prototyping, on the other hand, presents a whole new array of challenges.

Hassan Karaouni, EdMod Labs Team Lead

“As this project became hardware-specific, I knew we were running into new territory,” recalls Hassan. “It’s very easy to prototype quickly with software and much more difficult with hardware.”

Hassan’s team ultimately converged on 3D printing as a fabrication solution to help them create simple prototypes quickly. However, they realized it would be a challenge to get hundreds of VR viewers in the hands of students quickly enough.

Partnering with Fictiv for Quick Turnaround at High Volumes

“I’ve always loved software because of how quickly you can build or changes things. In hardware, on the other hand, it’s much more difficult to iterate quickly,” remarks Hassan. “So I was impressed when I found out about Fictiv and saw how quickly things could be done.”

In leveraging Fictiv’s platform, Hassan’s team was able to get 100 viewers made in less than two weeks.

"I was impressed when I found out about Fictiv and saw how quickly things could be done."

“It was awesome how quickly Fictiv enabled us to learn and get more prototypes to more students,” adds Hassan.

Scaling Production with Confidence

One of the greatest barriers the EdMod Labs team encountered was the challenge of scaling production from a few viewers, to hundreds, to potentially tens of thousands.

Hassan with a series of the DIY VR viewer prototypes

“It’s one thing to make one or ten physical prototypes, but an entirely different challenge to scale into the hundreds and beyond,” reflects Hassan. “This is where input from the Fictiv team was incredibly valuable. They helped us to understand how we could scale development efficiently.”

Hassan was able to leverage Fictiv’s manufacturing expertise to scale development of their viewers quickly and with confidence.

“The support from the Fictiv team was awesome,” says Hassan. “I felt like I could ask anything about any process and become very informed. Fictiv was very forthcoming about what was best for our project needs.”

"The support from the Fictiv team was awesome... Fictiv was very forthcoming about what was best for our project needs."

Taking it to the Next Level

The EdMod team recognizes the importance of moving quickly.

“Speed is very important,” notes Hassan. “You want to try things out as quickly as possible in order to acquire rapid learnings. We wouldn’t have been able to learn as quickly without Fictiv.”

When asked what he might do differently next time, Hassan considers what his team could do to move even faster.

“If we do another hardware project, it feels great to know that I can work with the Fictiv team to figure out--even before 3D printing--how we can prototype hardware even faster.”