Following the news of a low cost, multi-material 3D printer straight from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, researchers at the university have developed a new system that automatically turns CAD files into visual models that users can modify in real time.
The system, dubbed “Fab Forms” and designed in collaboration with the Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya in Israel, aims to simplify the design and simulation process with a simple virtual slider system that allows users to go from design to 3D printer in a few steps.
Masha Shugrina, an MIT graduate student in computer science and engineering, her thesis advisor, Wojciech Matusik, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, and Ariel Shamir of IDC Herzliya are trying to turn visual design into something novices can do in real time.
Fab Forms begins with a design created by a CAD user and then sweeps through a range of values for the design’s parameters to calculate geometries which are then stored. Those geometries are tested according to tests specified by the designer.
The team experimented with eight designs including a high-heeled shoe, chess set, toy car and a coffee mug. The system can then offer a good estimation of all the available objects based upon the design parameter samples. The researchers also developed some clever techniques to exploit similarities in design variations to compress the data, but the largest data set still took up 17 gigabytes of memory.
The system then generates a user interface where the model is displayed with a set of sliders that can vary the parameters of the design. This saves hours when compared to calculating the same geometries in a CAD program.
“Autodesk has simplified versions of this project,” Ryan Schmidt, senior principal research scientist and head of the Design and Fabrication Group at Autodesk Research, commented on the project. “We have a thing called Project Shapeshifter that is very similar to what a lot of other people are doing right now, which is making these geometry generators that have a parametric model you can explore. But they all have this common problem: that you can very easily make something that won’t work on your printer. What I thought was super-exciting about this work is that it can prevent you from designing something that isn’t going to print or that isn’t going to be strong enough once you’ve printed it.”