Drawing in 3D will soon be as "intuitive as sketching with paper"

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers: architects will soon be able to walk around inside 3D sketches of their projects and edit their designs as they go, according to the team behind the revolutionary Gravity Sketch 3D drawing pad.

Gravity Sketch 3D drawing tablet
Visualisation showing how Gravity Sketch can be used to make 3D models from a 2D drawing

"You've done the CAD drawing and you want to make some amendments in the virtual reality that you've just created," said Oluwaseyi Sosanya, one of a team of four Royal College of Art and Imperial College London students who developed the device.

"You can you can just plug in with [virtual reality headset] Oculus Rift and walk around this environment and make amendments."

Gravity Sketch 3D drawing tablet
As the user draws above the clear acrylic sketchpad, radio signals are used to track the movements of the stylus from coordinates on the pad

Sosanya demonstrated Gravity Sketch to Dezeen in Milan earlier this month, explaining that it made drawing in 3D as "intuitive as sketching with paper".

"Gravity Sketch is a tool for creatives to quickly sketch out ideas in 3D space," he said. "It's a bridge between paper and computer. We wanted to make it just as natural and intuitive as sketching with paper."

Gravity Sketch 3D drawing tablet
Oluwaseyi Sosanya using the Gravity Sketch tablet in augmented reality mode

The device consists of a clear acrylic tablet with a joystick and a sliding control on one side. The user sketches on the tablet – called a "landing pad" – in 2D with a stylus held in one hand while manipulating the controls with the other, to create the third dimension of the drawing.

Gravity Sketch 3D drawing tablet
Oluwaseyi Sosanya using the Gravity Sketch with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset

"You sketch in this 2D plane," says Sosanya, while demonstrating the device by drawing the outline of a car on the pad. "With the controls on the pad you can adjust the Z [axis] and move the plane in which you're sketching."

Sosanya then adjusts the Z axis using the controls and draws a second car outline, parallel to the first. He then completes the 3D sketch by rotating the two outlines and drawing perpendicular lines to join them together, creating a 3D sketch of a car. "It's kind of like drawing construction lines of what your volume or your 3d object is going to be in the end," he says.

Gravity Sketch 3D drawing tablet
A view of the Gravity Sketch being used in virtual reality mode with the Oculus Rift headset

The drawing is displayed via a virtual reality headset like Oculus Rift or an augmented reality device like Google Glass.

Gravity Sketch 3D drawing tablet
The acrylic tablet has controls on the side which can be used to change the planes on which pen is sketching

Drawings can be rotated and approached from any angle and other people can view and edit them via their own headset.

Devices like Gravity Sketch also mean that architects will one day be able to walk through 3D models to make changes as they go, says Sosanya. "I think this is good for an architect or interior designer," he says. "You can make adjustments to the elements you want to change in the model." The technology could be also applied to fields such as animation or medical science, he adds.

Gravity Sketch 3D drawing tablet
Gravity Sketch can be used with Oculus Rift by architects and interior designers to navigate and make changes to 3D drawings. Credit: University of Iowa

Despite predictions about computer-based drawing replacing hand drawing, Sosanya believes sketching has a long future, helped by new technologies like augmented and virtual reality. "I don't think we'll ever lose the ability to sketch with a pen," he says. "We are still quite attached to the physicality and the tactility [of hand drawing]."

The Gravity Sketch team are currently in their final year of the joint Innovation Design Engineering MA at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. Sosanya's colleagues are Guillaume Couche, Daniela Paredes Fuentes and Pierre Paslier. The team are currently in talks with a number of investors from the augmented reality community and hope to launch a series of developer kits by the end of summer 2014.

Gravity Sketch Oluwaseyi Sosanya
Oluwaseyi Sosanya in Milan. © Dezeen

The music featured in the movie is a track by Jordan Thomas Mitchell. You can listen to his music on Dezeen Music Project.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers is a year-long collaboration with MINI exploring how design and technology are coming together to shape the future.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers