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October 2014

What Does Synthetic Biology Mean to Architects?

The Bio/Nano/Programmable Matter group at Autodesk Research is working with biology at the nanoscale level, to programatically define new matter. This is called synthetic biology and they envision this science being applied to designing products, buildings and cities.  

What if you could design a building that would grow itself?

Here's a short portion of a TED Talk from Mitchell Joachim looking at the possibilities.

Mitchell sets an interesting vision here. Maybe a meat house is a little extreme but it is certainly interesting to think that you could program what the R value of the walls of a house are and then you just have to plant it, add water and wait. Doors could work in much the same way as muscles in our bodies. And maybe the facade would heal itself after extreme weather.

Is it scientifically possible that a building could grow itself? How would that work?

To understand the science behind how this could work, the following video is very helpful. Essentially, DNA can be used in much the same way as any other programming language. The field of genetic engineering adds more of what we typically think of from engineering to create synthetic biology. As one could design a computer and a software program, one could also design a chair that would grow itself - the chair has the computer and the software program as part of itself. 

The idea of growing plants on Mars to prepare it for human habitation is interesting. Even more so if the trees were houses. Maybe we send rockets with payloads of seeds. While the plants are growing, we could be finalizing the technology to get people to follow.

As the cost of synthetic biology drops the potential for innovation increases 

This may sound far-fetched but it is possible to order your custom designed DNA over the internet in a similar manner and for a similar price to buying books today. Consider OpenTrons, a Kickstarter project for a biotech liquid handling robot for $2000. The 20th century has been called the century of physics for all of our advancements in things like space travel. The 21st century is being called the century of biology and the dropping prices of this technology will help to fuel that.

A prime example of this comes from Autodesk's own Andrew Hessel who created and "3D printed" a virus in two weeks for $1000. Don't worry - the virus was designed to infect E. coli and is not harmful to humans. 

E. coli is a common and easy bacteria to work with. Cambridge University created E. chromi that changes color based on the presence of an environmental toxin. The University of Texas and UCSF created E. coliroid that responds to red light and acts like a camera.  

What does synthetic biology mean for architects and other designers?

With this vision and base on the science set, we can hear how Andrew Hessel sees this working. This interview was conducted by the popular architecture website Arch Daily. In this video, Andrew speaks to a number of things, including these questions on the future of design:

  • What role do architects play?
  • What could architecture learn from genetic engineering?
  • What is the future of the architect?
  • What is the future of cities?

To quickly answer the questions from above, architects have a role as forward-looking thinkers. Architects design the world we live in and the tools that we need to survive in the world. As the world is changing rapidly through climate change and increasing populations our current way of life needs to evolve.

With these challenges and opportunities, you should now have a good idea of what the Bio/Nano/Programmable Matter group within Autodesk Research is trying to achieve with Project Cyborg. What kind of things would you like to create with this technology?

Autodesk Research Project Cyborg

Kitty Wins a Best Talk Award at UIST 2014

Great news! Autodesk Research was awarded a Best Talk Award at the 2014 User Interface Software and Technology Syposium (UIST) for Kitty, a tool that makes it possible to draw interactive experiences.

The team was very happy to present their research throughout the week, as you can in the photos below:

Baseball Video Lens Demonstration

PipeDream Demonstration

Kitty Demonstration

Here's Rubaiat accepting the award

Congratulations to the Kitty Team!

Afterwards, the team celebrates with an awesome display of their fire dancing skills (as a researcher it is important to have many varied interests and abilities)

Some members of the team enjoy simpler pursuits 

Beyond the awards and activities, there was food. Team members who didn't get to attend UIST were sad to miss the fancy breakfasts this year.

At least one UIST attendee found a new use for Oculus - making food better :-)


Four Cool Talks from Autodesk Research at UIST 2014

The ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) is just around the corner. This year Autodesk Research is a platinum sponsor and has four cool papers to present covering a diverse range of topics from 3D printing interactive objects to a new text entry method for smart watches to big data analytics with baseball and a new paradigm for drawing interactive content.


A Series of Tubes: Adding Interactivity to 3D Prints Using Internal Pipes 
Valkyrie Savage, Ryan Schmidt, Tovi Grossman, George Fitzmaurice, Bjoern Hartmann
10:30am Monday, October 6
Autodesk Research Pipedream
PipeDream can help makers create interactive 3D prints.
Kitty: Sketching Dynamic and Interactive Illustrations 
Rubaiat Habib Kazi, Fanny Chevalier, Tovi Grossman, George Fitzmaurice
12:30pm Tuesday, October 7
Kitty builds on the Kinetic Texturing work seen previously in Draco and allows the author to make it interactive.
Swipeboard: A Text Entry Technique for Ultra-Small Interfaces That Supports Novice to Expert Transitions 
Xiang 'Anthony' Chen, Tovi Grossman, George Fitzmaurice
11:00 Wednesday, October 8
Swipeboard takes inspiration from Morse code to present a new and fast method of gestural input for smart watches.
Video Lens: Rapid Playback and Exploration of Large Video Collections and Associated Metadata 
Justin Matejka, Tovi Grossman, George Fitzmaurice
11:00am Wednesday, October 8

Autodesk Research Baseball Video Lens

Video Lens is a great tool for exploring massive amounts of data and is built around baseball videos to show a practical application. 
Demos of all of these will be available on Monday night so stop by and say hello to the team!


Tubes Can Help You Make Interactive 3D Printed Objects

When you are making, do you 3D print sculptures or 3D print equipment that will need wires and sensors and lights? If it's the latter, you'll want to read about this new work from the Autodesk Research team called PipeDream that helps you easily put tubes into your models and extend the potential of your creations.

Autodesk Research 3D Printing Pipes
A 3D Printed Radio with Tubes for Controls

In the above example, you can see a 3D printed radio with tubes in it for the speaker, volume, power and tuning controls. Below is another example with tubes added into a desktop pen holder. Smaller tubes at the bottom have spaces for sensors to determine which pens are present. This kind of idea could be expanded to a work shop for tracking tools.

Autodesk Research 3D Printing Pipes
A 3D Printed Pen Sensing Container

PipeDream is some new research that has been prototyped within Autodesk Meshmixer.

Autodesk Research Meshmixer Tubes Pipedream
Looking at tubes in Meshmixer

When creating pipes in your models, you are presented with a number of possibilities:

  • Would you like to specify surface points where the tubes should start and end (like in our examples above)?
  • Woud you rather specify a specific path through the object to make neon lights or a marble maze?
  • What is the radius of the tube and does it very over the length?
  • Does your tube connect two points or does it radiate like branches on a tree?
  • Would you like your tubes to be capped so that you have a cavity in your object?

Capped pipes to make a cavity in an object?

Here's an example of a 3D printed bunny. This bunny is printed in a soft, pliable material. The cavity works as an air bladder so that the bunny can breathe with the help of an air pump. The air coming from the bunny could be used as a feedback mechanism in a toy or a teaching tool.

Autodesk Research 3D Printed Pipes Bunny
This bunny is connected to an air pump to simulate breathing

The cavity in a soft printed object could be fitted with other feedback devices like a noisemaker, buttons for lights, haptic buzzers, accelerometers and sensors to determine if an object has been touched.

Another great example is creating pathways for lights and wires. In the example below created for the 2014 UIST (User Interface Software and Technology) Symposium, the letters are connected to make a continuous path. With this continuous path, a neon sign can be created.

Autodesk Research 3D Printing Pipes UIST


Adding tubes to models that will be 3D printed opens up a lot of possibilities. One other interesting thing we tried was to fill the tubes with conductive paint instead of pushing wires through the tubes. This allowed for easily powering LED's in our models.

To see more of this technology, you may watch the video below or refer to the PipeDream research paper on AutodeskResearch.com.

If you are at UIST, please stop by to talk with the team. If you would like to share your thoughts on this technology or have questions about it, feel free to let us know here on the Autodesk Research blog.