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Elon Musk Shows His Vision of Holographic Design Technology 109

MojoKid writes "Tesla CEO Elon Musk has more on his mind that just cars and 4,000 MPH Hyperloop transportation systems. He also tweeted his intention of developing a hand-manipulated holographic design engine and designing a rocket part with only hand gestures, finally printing the part in titanium." And now Musk has posted the video he promised showing off the design process: "Musk showed a wireframe of the rocket part, and he was able to rotate the 3D object on a screen with one hand, and with a second hand, he zoomed in and out, moved it around the screen, and spun the object around and "caught it"--all in the air. He moved on to manipulating an actual 3D CAD model and interacting with the software; you can see that he used a Leap Motion controller. Next, he shows off a 3D projection, a freestanding glass projection (Ironman style), and interacts with the model using the Oculus Rift. Finally, he prints the part in titanium with a 3D metal printer. Note that we don't actually see him design anything; the models he works with are already made. Still, it's exciting to see new ways of doing things come to life on screen."
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Elon Musk Shows His Vision of Holographic Design Technology

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  • by mill3d ( 1647417 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @01:37PM (#44784423)

    As TFA pointed out, no actual drafting is shown. While it's a nice way to visualize a part, I can't see myself using this to do any actual modeling work with this kind of input (gorilla arm, etc...). We might get there someday, but that'll take a smart input system that doesn't defeat the flexibility of the software in the process.

    Nothing to see here.

    • I did not see anything that isn't a cheap app already available on the leap motion app store website. Seriously, people who do molecular modeling have set ups like that for decades.

      If you don't believe me, go test drive Fold It, the protein folding game. It works with Leap motion and does the same thing. You and use it to engineer molecules by moving the parts around, slicing through them to see 3D crossections, etc...

  • This shows that touch screens are already obsolete...

  • by Guano_Jim ( 157555 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @01:40PM (#44784451)

    This video is some great gee-whiz showmanship, which gets Joe Sixpack excited about technology and maybe sells a few more Tesla cars a couple years down the road.

    But man, I'd hate to try and design anything by holding my hands in the air for six or seven hours a day.

    Might be cool for next-generation Kinect-style gaming though.

    • But man, I'd hate to try and design anything by holding my hands in the air for six or seven hours a day.

      Yeah, it must suck to have to stand once in a while and get some fucking exercise. How's that deskjob working out for you?

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @01:41PM (#44784457) Homepage Journal

    Not from what i see... Getting tired of the term being misused.

  • by MasterOfGoingFaster ( 922862 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @01:47PM (#44784495) Homepage

    In a nutshell, he shows a gesture-operated wireframe or shaded model viewer. All that was shown was zoom, rotation and moving the clipping plane. It must be impressive for the non-CAD crowd, but I didn't see anything new that was practical, and there are far better viewers already available.

    Elon Musk tweeted "Will post video next week of designing a rocket part with hand gestures & then immediately printing it in titanium". But the video says he designed the parts in Unigraphics, so it was NOT designed using hand gestures - unless you count using a mouse as "hand gestures".

    Anyone that has used a solids modeling CAD application with a Space Controller in the last 17 years has been able to do pretty much all of this and more (not counting the use of Ti in the printer). But Space Controller + mouse users keep their arms on the desk, rather than waving their arms in the air (fatiguing). So thanks for thinking of us, be we designers do NOT want to hold our hands in the air. We had enough of that crap with light pens.

    In all fairness, the one nice thing the video suggests is the gesture-operated viewer might make sense for a standing presenter. The Space Controller requires a flat surface to rest upon, so gesture-operation might make sense for this application.

    • I should point out that the term "Space Controller" is a trademark for this product:
      http://www.spacecontrol.us/spacecontrol-3d-mouse-spacecontroller.html [spacecontrol.us]

      But I usually see the Logitech 3DConnexion Space Mouse, which is often (incorrectly) called a space controller:
      http://www.3dconnexion.com/ [3dconnexion.com]

    • Mod parent up (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @02:20PM (#44784671) Homepage

      Mod parent up.

      Look at the video around 1:54, where Musk is saying "go in there and do what you need to do". But all the video actually shows is someone spinning the model around and using a visual cutting plane to display cross sections. At no point in that video is new geometry created. What I was expecting to see was a breakthrough in how to do engineering design in 3D. It's not there.

      Back in the late 1980s, Autodesk built a virtual reality system as an experiment in CAD. They got about as far as Musk, although at lower resolution - you could look at models and manipulate them with a gloves-and-goggles interface, but trying to draw surfaces in free space was really hard. Some people can do it. They can also do clay models freehand. Today, there's Autodesk Mudbox, a 3D sculpting tool which is used by pros who can visualize clearly and in detail in 3D. Watch this video [youtube.com] to see one at work. That's impressive work. Now see something similar done with 3D input devices. [doc-ok.org] It's like trying to sculpt while wearing oven mittens, and the results are awful.

      Somebody will eventually make this work, but the computer, not the human, will be doing most of the design.

      • I used that Autodesk VR rig around 1992. It used a pair of Silicon Graphics workstations - each powered one side of the VR stereoscopic viewfinders. The DataGlove interface was interesting, but not very useful. There was lots of work in stereoscopic displays in the 90's using LCD-shuttered glasses. In fact, it looks a lot like the OP's video.

  • Designing 3D parts is tricky business and involves both engineering and lots of skill. What kind of 3D controller you use is usually the least of anybody's worries. Most designers I know use a big screen (no 3D) and a mouse, a tablet, and maybe another 3D controller.

  • by jonr ( 1130 )

    So... when we will see his exo-skeleton rocket suit?

  • Nothing special (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tinmith ( 414125 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @01:54PM (#44784531)

    This kind of thing has been done for years/decades, and is used a lot in industry already. I know of many companies that are taking their CATIA or NX models, and visualizing them in VR or CAVE systems. You can even buy software which has been written to solve this problem for you ... you just buy the VR hardware, load your model in, and you can manipulate it. For example, here is a video of something that you can go and buy right now ... http://www.worldviz.com/industries/cad ... the sample video uses a stereo projector and a wand, but you could easily use Leap Motion, a full motion capture system, or whatever hardware you have.

    The gestures he shows in the video are also very primitive, and did not appear very intuitive. He spins his hand in one direction, and the model rotates about a different axis. Just spinning a model around is not really designing anything, it is just a preview technique. And in some ways, using a mouse could probably be less fatiguing and more intuitive. The real holy grail is addressing the problem of creating models from scratch. And making them accurately so the designer gets what they want, and typically designers will probably want to use a keyboard so they can enter in exact dimensions. But this is not addressed in the video, but I'm sure everyone will think that is what they actually can do.

    But because Elon Musk is doing this and now you are seeing it in the popular media, he must have invented it, right?

    If you want to see something really cool, check out this system, the Lockheed SAIL, which was done years and years ago ...

  • It's a great proof of concept. I got to play with it with the hand controls and 3d glasses. Visually impressive. Works well for examining something, but doesn't feel terribly useful for design because it's not very precise. Technologically, it's still early -- buggy Windows app that crashed on me after 5 minutes of exploration. tl;dr Great first steps.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @02:00PM (#44784569)

    The hard part is the real science and engineering behind the part. The deep understanding of the material characteristics that are the result of the the metal and the manufacturing process. The lifetime of the part and how it's affected by it's use history. The stress and vibration the part endures. What safety margins you need. And how to get all that in a cost effective way.

    Making a 3D image is not engineering the part. It's just a drawing from the most trivial aspect - the dimensions of the part.

    • I don't think he catering to the knowledge base, but to our grand parents. When issues are reduced down to engineering issues, mechanics issues are next to solve. Then finally, the pay check? (I hope this time.)
  • by JoshWurzel ( 320371 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @02:02PM (#44784581) Homepage

    I'm a fairly regular (though not extremely skilled) user of 3D CAD software. I suspect that this would extend the time to perform simple tasks when compared with a 2D & a 3D (space) mouse.

    The fact that Elon Musk doesn't design a part in his demo is telling. That part is VERY simple to create in today's UIs: a simple revolve of a cross section with a couple of patterned extrusions around the circumference. I see 5 distinct operations, and a more experienced person could probably make it in less. Just a couple minutes for even an amateur like me.

    I think other 3D users will agree with me that this will increase the time for common tasks like selecting edges for radius/chamfer/draft and the critical sketching/dimensioning of cross sections for extrusion. A mouse pointer is so precise. To get the same level of accuracy with this system, you'd have to zoom in several times to make sure the correct feature/surface/edge is selected before you can perform any operation.

    Creating the 2D drawings, which are still required for actual production, will also take much longer with a system like this.

    There are many analogies for non-3D users, such as art programs or scale model/figure painting. I bet this is very similar to a programmer watching Johnny Mnemonic or Swordfish and saying "yeah, hacking doesn't work like that, that's ridiculous".

    I've pre-ordered a Myo Armband and I'm hopeful that I can make it do some cool things with my CAD station. But for now I don't see this as anything more than a way to show your Director or VP the cool work you've been doing or communicate issues/challenges in the mechanical design to non-MechE's.

    • So, how would you do it better?
      • The point of my post is that its already being done better with today's technology and that this proposal is not an improvement. Currently, mechanical designers & engineers are using a combination of a 2D & a 3D mouse. The 3D mouse handles the pan/scan/zoom on a large-screen LCD and the 2D handles the fine control challenges. The 3D mouse is not technically necessary, as the same functionality can also be achieved using modifier keys in combination with the standard mouse, but it does make things

        • Interesting, my thoughts were around the idea of tracking the eyes, as the person describes stuff. Interfaced to Blender3D, with several types of mechanical engineering analysis packages applied to the object to be designed, and something like Siri with the Keyboard?
    • I would imagine new interface would entail new controls. It's obvious that hand waving cannot really operate conventional mouse-centric controls in current CAD systems. But new and innovative 3D on-screen tools specifically made to interact with gestures could make it work (becoming more closer to virtual sculpting). As for hand fatigue, muscles could get used to it. Extra supports could also be provided at elbows for regular operations. The first time touch-typing is also exhausting to fingers and wrists.
  • Don't use the word "holographic" or "holography" when the actual display technology has *NOTHING* to do with Holography.
    Otherwise, it just makes you sound monkey-level-techwiz stupid...

    • by gagol ( 583737 )

      Otherwise, it just makes you sound monkey-level-techwiz stupid...

      We call then journalists or reporters. They care more about what clothes they wear than the actual story. (not all of them, just an overwhelming majority)

  • by simplypeachy ( 706253 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @02:11PM (#44784623)

    ...how will he solve the ice problem?

  • Show it's when you're ready to sell it, or don't show it at all. This is no different from a "concept" mockups that fanboys post in tech forums, that couldn't possibly be manufactured because they ignore economics, usability and sometimes the laws of the nature.

    • From what I've seen of Elon's work, he hasn't invented anything at all; just put multiple pieces of off the shelf technologies together. Now if Elon wants to add some spice to this bowl of chili, then maybe also bring in manufacturing by industrial 3d printers, and energy from renewable sources. I'd watch this roman circus on pay per view.
  • Elon, these story tellers go to extreme lengths to invent characters that are impossible, mostly, to actually duplicate. Now You are going "Iron Man" on Them. These publishers covet their readers, and You are taking the food out of their mouths.
  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Saturday September 07, 2013 @02:28PM (#44784715)

    If you watch the video, it's easy to see why nobody demoed designing an actual part—the latency of a Leap Motion is just horrible. So bad that if you don't move your hands very very slowly, it will completely miss the motion.

    We really really need a new generation of input devices. Not just to deal with things like the Oculus Rift, but because we're trying to do more things in less time. The mouse is great, but people forget that the only reason the mouse is so great is because it has what is effectively dedicated circuit paths right into the CPU and GPU, including GPU circuits created for the sole purpose of displaying its cursor. The first mice weren't nearly so responsive. Their designers eventually came to the conclusion that the system needed hardware support for a mouse pointer, with little or no software stack at all. In consequence, a mouse has 4 milliseconds of latency. Leap Motion (and everything else) has 250 times that latency. Nothing will compete with the mouse until it can match mouse latency, and that's not going to happen without more cooperation from the rest of the system.

    Why do movies like Minority Report and Ironman look so good to us? Because the actor was filmed waving his hands around in empty space, then the computer displays were added in after the fact by special effect artists. And guess which frame the special effect artists painted the reaction in? The exact same frame the motion happened in. So it looks fantastic. Instantly responsive. Unless and until these interfaces actually are that responsive, they will get nowhere.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The mouse is great, but people forget that the only reason the mouse is so great is because it has what is effectively dedicated circuit paths right into the CPU and GPU, including GPU circuits created for the sole purpose of displaying its cursor.

      Your larger point is correct, but the details here are at least 10 years out of date. Mice connect via general-purpose busses such as bluetooth and usb, and today's GPUs provide hardware pointer acceleration the same way they do any other hardware-accelerated sprite work -- in software; it just happens the software runs on the GPU.

    • Why do movies like Minority Report and Ironman look so good to us?

      The minority report interface is actually a really good one for the specialized scenario he was using it, exploring 3D spaces. He wasn't designing or creating anything, it was like a touch screen on a tablet only better.

    • Agreed. I have a Leapmotion. Bleck.
  • While computer screen models and VR goggles can never be holograms, the projection onto glass he shows off is one step away:

    Holography is a technique which enables three-dimensional images to be made. It involves the use of a laser, interference, diffraction, light intensity recording and suitable illumination of the recording. The image changes as the position and orientation of the viewing system changes in exactly the same way as if the object were still present, thus making the image appear three-dim
    • by wjcofkc ( 964165 )
      I hate to reply to myself, but I should have also pointed out that while he made dramatized demonstrations of working with fully developed models those models still have to be created the old-fashioned way with tradition CAD\3d modeling software and I don't see how this could ever change that.
      • by gagol ( 583737 )
        "Computer, design a new engine with whatever particles we just discovered"... computers are not up to the task yet. Thank god for that, humanity needs to do something and be part of something greater. Letting computers do everything, not a great idea. Maybe good looking on an excel sheet, but devastating on the society.
  • I respected Elon a lot more BEFORE I saw this video. Anyone who is involved in the CG industry would laugh at this setup. It's obviously made to either entertain Elon so he thinks his team is 'cutting edge', or it's to wow the world like his Hypertube crock. Either way, I respect him less after watching.

    Any child with an ipad can rotate and scale 3d objects with their fingers. Try actually building something beyond a cookie dough figure in it.
  • What is with the Elon Musk/Ironman comparisons? Last article that I read about the guy, the reporter implied that the Ironman character was BASED on Musk (nevermind that Ironman has probably been around for longer). It almost makes one wonder if he is trying to encourage the comparison, especially with lame videos like the one from TFA. Maybe he's suffering from some grand delusion. Eh, at any rate it's good for an eyeroll or two.

  • Any one else notice that even the billionaire can't figure out a decent place to put his computer speakers? They're jammed in behind his monitor just like mine. I don't know why, but that gave me a lot of enjoyment.

  • So he mapped a Leap Motion controller into NX and made it viewable on an Oculus Rift... or more accurately, the code monkeys who work for him did. I remain unimpressed.

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