A new twist on Inquiry Based learning
Rather than imagining a final project that "might" be doable, or contriving a scenario that seems "almost" like the real thing, why not put all the energy, research and collaboration into helping students solve a real-world problem.
"Challenge Based Learning is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages learners to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems. Challenge Based Learning is collaborative and hands-on, asking students to work with peers, teachers, and experts in their communities and around the world to ask good questions, develop deep subject area knowledge, identify and solve challenges, take action, and share their experience."
You'll find a number of tools on the site, as well as examples of challenges other students are tackling and solutions they have developed.