Thursday, November 02, 2006

I Will Try Not To Get Too Excited About This, But:

Just watch this video of designers who have combined live sketch recognition and rapid prototyping to create sketched plastic furniture, and see how it makes you feel.



xenmate said...

This is really good. Thanks.

Joshua said...

That's a fascinating video. It's almost impossible to see the process without imagining all the art that could arise from such a medium. Even this documentary video has the look of art about it, maybe because the content is so surprising and the imagination so stirred. As a tool for design, on the other hand, it appears to me to be more useful for developing prototypes than a creating a finished product. While the resulting model might have some interesting formal qualities, the blobbiness of the finished process is a look I wouldn't necessarily want in my living room. That said, after the trend takes off and we see a decade of people living with furniture that looks like melting butter, maybe someone will refine the program by decreasing the tolerance of pen movement, somehow recognizing geometric forms in the movements. Some of this editing is already being done in the process shown on the video: a "brush thickness" was selected that was big enough that the final product was solid, rather than a disorganized lacework of thin lines. The last thing I noticed is that potentially, this technology can lead to a lot more environmental destruction. Often such "customizeable" systems are a response to our consumer driven culture, where a company gains an edge by responding to trends faster. And the more quickly an object goes from fashionable to unfashionable, the more money is spent. It seems that resources could be saved at two levels - at the level of the design prototype itself, and at the level of the consumer product as well. Both prototype and product could be designed for reclamation, as are many carpets today (as required by law). At least some of these cutomization technologies are based in paper and not in plastic, although currently the paper-based products look a little more pixelated (like an architectural site model, where hills are built up of recognizeably separate layers, like contour lines). Paper can be 100% recycled and recyclable, without any loss in quality. My last office used to use a 100% recycled paper by HP which was indiscernable from non-recycled - which was dropped by our source due to lack of demand. Anyway, my ability to get excited about this technology would be dependent on the manufacturers listening to their conscience and developing the technology in a way that can reclaim and reuse, over and over again, the "soup" out of which the sketch model emerges. The designer could create hundreds of models for a prototype, save them physically until the product goes into mass production, backup the models in a 3D cad program for possible regeneration later as needed, and dissolve them back into the "soup" again for use in other projects. At the macro scale, companies using this technology could be legislated to have reclamation centers, where the reclamation costs are rolled into the price of the product, and are refunded upon receipt of the original product, when the consumer decides to "upgrade" to the next model.

Jeremiah McNichols said...

Beyond prototyping is the ability for consumers to create their own products. You may not want a "sketched" chair, but would your child? Or turn it around - this could be the 21st-century equivalent of a third-grader's Christmas craft.

There are also a lot of thinsg you might like having a "sketched" style for rather than furniture - practical objects, custom-designed elements for indoors or out. Would you design your own plant trellis, birdcage, or mic stand?

Personal fabrication is where I think things get really exciting. It's sort of at the other end of the spectrum from prototyping: creating things for which there is little or no demand beyond your own particular need, but which you can create rapidly and intuitively. And this is a much broader development the particular sketch technology showcased above - you have noted a few changes that would be of use for certain applications, and there are a lot of different interfaces that could rise out of this, all geared towards the same purpose: Allowing consumers to "print" their own goods, whether they be in plastic, wood, fabric, metal, etc. Fortune has a great article out now about MIT physicist Neil Gershenfeld here.