Product Design

Elon Musk on the future of design tools - Or Media Hype?

September 6, 2013

You will likely have heard of Elon Musk? Techcrunch referred to him as the worlds busiest rich dude / Mad scientist. In fact the video post taps into the concept of Elon as inspiring the directors of  the movie Iron Man for his formula of High Rolling tech interests. We have a lot of respect for his achievements, he has certainly been productive in the technology sphere, in ways Branson and the like could dream of...

His recent endeavors include Tesla Motors which get our vote and SpaceX commercial space vehicles, well what can you say, they make real Spaceships, not the Virgin type of high altitude capsule! The video itself shows how media savvy Elon is and just how positively the media engage with his message, he has the worlds ear it has to be said. In the video you can see Elon use his hands to manipulate a CAD model using gestures. Spin Rotate, Translate, Zoom & Twist. He goes on to demonstrate how you can get immersive with your design tools, using Oculus Rift .  ( A cool piece of kit, were still waiting to Play Battlefield on Xbox using a pair of these! )  After rolling the model around a bit , he shows how its possible to 3D print in metals like Titanium.

Truth is, as exciting as this would appear, the hand gesture control thing, might look pretty cool if your doing a presentation, even a technical presentation. But when it comes to design we have been doing all those hand model manipulations for a decade, using a 3D controller. Using the 3D Connexion Space Pilot for example, you have full control, because designers need accuracy as well as immersion. If you discovered the man hours that went into that rocket motor ( thousands ), imagine holding our hands out in-front of you for that long!  There is no doubt we need to get immersed in the model, we agree, you want the most efficient way to create without the tools getting in the way. Holographic systems like this have been on the table at places like Renault for 10 years or more. We can see Oculus Rift being used in design, I guess that's one to try, it makes you wonder how depth perception etc might effect accuracy. It has to be a common CAD workflow to flick in and out of perspective to orthographic all the time. This allows you to work to high tolerances, if you did this in 3D perspective, you have parallax of vision and all sorts, after all it is virtually real, only an interpretation. We just could not design to the same standards without this transition, to orthographic, let alone working all the time in VR. Where Elon highlights 3D printing in metals, you likely know already, laser sintering in metals is something that F1 Teams have been doing for years. Undoubtedly a useful tool, as the rocket motor part could only have been made by investment casting, prior to this printing technique, however its not a new process.

Elon mentions these technologies as if they are over the horizon and brand new, here at FPD, we can only envy the resources Elon works with, but here we do exactly the same things highlighted in the video day in day out, ok no Iron Man impressions or rocket motors. So we cant help thinking, Its not the future of design - its how we have been designing for a while now. I think we will save the Oculus for the Xbox. Our take away from this news item; we have to hand it to Elon his achievements speak for themselves, he is an exciting entrepreneur who wants to push the envelope, however this news item doing the rounds feels more PR stunt than prophetic.

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