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What's a Research Spike?

By Ned Vaught
20th Apr 2023
4 min read
Illustration of a clipboard, pencils and charts showing the value of research spikes

What’s more exciting than working with the most recent technological innovations? 

Creating new technological innovations that no one has ever tried before.

We have a proud history of experimentation that stretches right back to the origins of the company, and our developers are regularly finding new and innovative ways to deploy the latest tech. 

Some projects our clients propose are so innovative, however, that we can’t know whether or not they are even possible. When this happens, the next step is something known as a “research spike.”

What is a “research spike?”

To de-risk software development, new digital products are created in stages. The most well known stages are the prototype or the minimum viable product, or MVP

When a product needs a technology which may not even be possible, however, it’s best to conduct a research spike before any other work is done. A “research spike” is a time-limited research or exploration project designed to answer a specific question or solve a particular problem. Research spikes are regularly used to gather more information or knowledge before starting a new task, and hopefully will lead to more accurate estimations for how long a project will take.

Because research spikes are usually focused on experimental ideas that aren’t ready for public discussion, it can be difficult to talk about specific projects in a public blog post. Luckily, at Rocketmakers we have a relatively recent research spike conducted for an internal project we can tell you all about.  

Bringing two incompatible technologies together

We're delighted to be the official creative partner for Leukaemia Care’s 2023 Unicornfest. The project includes a website with a fantastic and fun design, connected to an app with augmented reality features. 

Most apps have a User Interface (UI) built using a modern native or web framework. These are very fast and easy for developers to work with, and provide an incredible amount of flexibility. Unfortunately, web technologies and 3D engines are generally incompatible. For an application that uses both, the standard solution would normally be to build the entire project using a 3D engine. 

Building things the standard way would have two big downsides. Using a 3D engine to build a UI is more time consuming and can result in a poorer outcome, as the features of 3D engines like Unity are focused on game design. It would also tie up the time of Unity-developers who are needed for other projects.

Our Chief Innovation Officer, Adam Walker, decided we needed to create a tool that would allow us to use both 3D engines and web technology together. Adam faced an immediate problem, however. As far as anyone at Rocketmakers knew, this had never been done before in a robust and reproducible way. Was it even possible to bring these technologies together in a single digital product and still produce a final product that performed well and was enjoyable to use?

Before any work designing such a system began, Adam engaged in a research spike to determine whether or not his idea was even possible. He had no complete documentation to work from, so he had to simply experiment until he found a way to do it.

Adam’s research spike was successful, and in the past year combining 3D engines and web technology has become standard practice at Rocketmakers for immersive applications (vastly accelerating and improving several projects for our clients). 

Other research spikes

Most of our research spikes are done to create new technologies for our clients, not for internal use, which makes it harder to talk about them in any detail. We can tell you that two of our recent research spikes have included finding a way to transmit data with a mobile device that has no access to WiFi or a mobile signal, and testing the limits of machine learning to evaluate the effectiveness of advertising. 

Most projects, even most projects we work on, don’t require a research spike. It’s only really necessary when a digital product will use a relatively new technology in ways that were not originally intended, and have never been done before.

If you have an idea for a digital product that you think might not be possible, we would love to hear your idea and discuss whether a research spike is a good fit for your project.

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