Tycoon demos gesture-controlled software
for designing 3D-printed rocket parts


Elon Musk demos virtual reality software for designing 3D-printed rocket parts

News: billionaire technology tycoon Elon Musk has unveiled his vision for the future of design, with modelling software controlled by hand gestures linked to 3D printers.

In a movie published this week, Musk demonstrates a variety of motion capture, virtual reality and 3D printing technologies that his space transport firm SpaceX has been combining to improve their design and production methods for making rocket components.

"I believe we're on the verge of a major breakthrough in design and manufacturing in being able to take the concept of something from your mind, translate that into a 3D object really intuitively on the computer and then take that virtual 3D object and make it real just by printing it," Musk says in the movie.

SpaceX design rockets using hand gestures and 3D printers
Wireframe model edited using Leap Motion

The entrepreneur says that present methods of interacting with computers feel uncomfortable: "We try to create 3D objects using 2D tools, which just don't feel natural."

He explains that SpaceX has integrated sensor and visualisation technologies to develop a more natural and efficient method for designers to view and modify designs using gestures.

SpaceX design rockets using hand gestures and 3D printers
CAD model edited using hand-gestures

"If you can just go in there and do what you need to do - just understanding the fundamentals of how the thing should work, as opposed to figure out  how to make the computer make it work - then you can achieve a lot more in a lot shorter period of time," he says.

In the film Musk demonstrates an interactive technology called Leap Motion that allows users to control visuals on a computer screen. He grabs, rotates and spins a wireframe model of a rocket engine by making simple hand movements in mid-air such as pinching and swiping.

SpaceX design rockets using hand gestures and 3D printers
3D projection on glass

He also shows the 3D wireframe technology projected onto glass, like the technology seen in sci-fi movie Iron Man. In a final demonstration, Musk shows how SpaceX has used Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets to edit a digital model of an engine in virtual space.

3D engine model edited using hand-gestures
3D engine model edited using hand-gestures

Elon Musk is also founder of Paypal and electric-car firm Tesla Motors. Last month he revealed designs for a supersonic Jetsons-style transportation system to link Los Angeles and San Francisco in just 30 minutes.

  • C4Design

    As a product designer and 3D CAD user, I just have to say, I love this man!

  • Jordan

    Elon Musk has his ‘hand’ in everything.

  • izido

    It will be nice when it works. It doesn’t. Yet. The demonstration is nothing about building the model, they are just turning it around and I am really surprised how inserting a little billionaire in the demo makes everybody loose their scrutiny and hailing this like it came from the sky. I am sure one day we’ll be creating 3D objects using gestures and glass in VR environment. Its just not that day yet. Sorry.

  • robinjamesmack

    I really don’t see why rocket design needs to be ‘intuitive’.

  • Alain

    I like Musk, but that is just ridiculous, and it proves that people sometimes should study history before starting to say whatever in the media. This technology was already out there since long time ago, with the invention of Data Glove and Virtual Reality. And maybe just give some respect to pioneers like Jaron Lanier. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaron_Lanier