NASA is famously risk-averse, taking cautious approaches because billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake and each failure receives far more political attention than their many successes. So while moving the final frontier outward requires adopting new ideas, those ideas must first prove themselves through a lengthy process of risk-reduction. Autodesk’s research into generative design algorithms has just taken a significant step on this long journey with a planetary lander concept.
It was built jointly with a research division of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the birthplace of many successful interplanetary space probes. This project got a foot in the door by promising 30% weight savings over conventional design techniques. Large reduction in launch mass is always a good way to get a space engineer’s attention! Mimicking mother nature’s evolutionary process, these algorithms output very organic looking shapes. This is a relatively new approach to design optimization under exploration by multiple engineering software vendors. Not just Autodesk’s “Generative Design” but also “Topology Optimization” in SolidWorks, plus others. Though these shapes appear ideally suited to 3D printing, Autodesk also had to prove their algorithm could work with more traditional fabrication techniques like 5-axis CNC mills.
This is leading-edge research technology though some less specialized, customer-ready versions are starting to trickle out of research labs. Starting with an exclusive circle: People with right tiers of SolidWorks license, the paid (not free) tier of Autodesk Fusion 360, etc. We’ve looked at another recent project with nontraditional organic shapes, and we’ve looked at generative designs used for their form as well as their function. This category of CAD tools hold a lot of promise, and we’re optimistic they’ll soon become widely accessible so we can all put them to good use in our earthbound projects.
Possibly even before they fly to another planet.
On the Starship Enterprise, an engineer can simply tell the computer what he’d like it to do, and it will do the design work. Moments later, the replicator pops out the needed part (we assume to atomic precision). The work [Raf Ramakers] is doing seems like the Model T ford of that technology. Funded by Autodesk, and as part of his work as a PhD Researcher of Human Computer Interaction at Hasselt University it is the way of the future.
The technology is really cool. Let’s say we wanted to control a toaster from our phone. The first step is to take a 3D scan of the object. After that the user tells the computer which areas of the toaster are inputs and what kind of input they are. The user does this by painting a color on the area of the rendering, we think this technique is intuitive and has lots of applications.
The computer then looks in its library of pre-engineered modules for ones that will fit the applications. It automagically generates a casing for the modules, and fits it to the scanned surface of the toaster. It is then up to the user to follow the generated assembly instructions.
Once the case and modules are installed, the work is done! The toaster can now be controlled from an app. It’s as easy as that. It’s this kind of technology that will really bring technologies like 3D printing to mass use. It’s one thing to have a machine that can produce most geometries for practically no cost. It’s another thing to have the skills to generate those geometries. Video of it in action after the break. Continue reading “RetroFab: Machine Designed Control of All the Things”
Generative design is a method of creating something by feeding seed data into an algorithm. It might be hard at first to figure out how someone would build a business around this, but that’s exactly what Nervous System has been doing with great success. The secret is not only in the algorithm, but in how they’re bringing it to life.
Continue reading “Building a Business Around Generative Design and Marvels of 3D Printing”