SpaceX design rockets using hand gestures and 3D printers

Tycoon demos gesture-controlled 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
SpaceX design rockets using hand gestures and 3D printers

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
SpaceX design rockets using hand gestures and 3D printers

"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
SpaceX design rockets using hand gestures and 3D printers

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
SpaceX design rockets using hand gestures and 3D printers

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.