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August 2014

I don't know who designed this chair but they didn't use Project Dreamcatcher

OK, as a follow-up post to the reddit thread on uncomfortable chair design this title is not quite fair. Project Dreamcatcher is not yet ready for general use and testing but if it was we would see some interesting chairs and other designs.

What is Project Dreamcatcher?

Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher

Project Dreamcatcher is a shared research initiative between our Design Research and Computational Science Research groups to make the computer aware of your design considerations, constraints and goals. In this new envisioning of Computer Aided Design (CAD), the computer would crunch through your instructions and give you a whole bunch of possibilities that meet your criteria; the computer aids you by doing actual design work.

Let's look at the exciting possibilities this offers with designing a bike frame. A typical bikeframe is usually made of some kind of metal tubing. Our designers created this cool looking bicycle concept with Alias

Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher Bicycle Frame
A bicycle designed with Alias

They then wanted to explore a number of design ideas relative to the more familiar tube-style design:

  • Could the frame be made in a different style?
  • How light-weight could the frame be without sacrificing strength?
  • Could this frame be 3D printed to use less raw material?

Using these questions in conjunction with Project Dreamcatcher, the following, very unique frame was developed.

Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher Bicycle Frame Concept
A bicycle frame designed with Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher

Taking advantage of the power of scaleable computing, Project Dreamcatcher was able to address all of the design parameters and test all of the solutions. In meeting the wishes to use less material and not sacrifice strength, this web-like 3D grid was created to fill the shape of the originally designed frame. Our designers could then review the possible solutions, knowing all solutions met their goals, and choose a frame to do additional work on if necessary, for example:

  • exploring material colour and decorations
  • looking at a clear coating to prevent things from getting stuck in the frame
  • thinking about equipment that may be attached to the frame and how that would work

Fast Company took a look at some of the possibilites with Project Dreamcatcher and talked to Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski who says:

"In the past couple of years, we have experienced such an explosion of computing power that we can completely change the design equation"

Coincidentally, Jeff also talks about chairs and how this might apply to their design. In our previous post on chair design, Mark Gorecki, a design engineer, asks some good questions about design considerations for furniture that will be used in a public space:

  • Leather upholstery and thick padding would be nice to sit on while waiting for your train, but how long before it's ripped to shreds?
  • Using an aesthetic material as the "shell" for your item, can that material be coated so that markers, spray paint, etc. can be removed easily?

These could be applied to the design of the chair, along with other important factors, and then the designer could review the possibilities.

Imagine being presented with something like this for some design criteria that specified strength, material type, number of legs and height of the seat:

Autodesk Research Project Dreamcatcher Possible Chair Designs
A selection of chairs based on design criteria including height and material

As a designer you now have potentially thousands of concepts to explore and you know that your main criteria of strength and material are met. You could now move into exploring things like a decorative curve across the back of the chair, cushions, fabric and possible companion pieces like a table.

Thinking about designing the chair at the train station, what if you were not skilled in ergonomics? What if Project Dreamcatcher was connected with the Parametric Human Project and you could treat the human factors as some of the design parameters? You could have a base of chairs to choose from that were ergonomically correct and you could focus on other design considerations. 

What would you do if you had an assistant designer that was happy to take on the grunt work for you? What kinds of things would you like to apply Project Dreamcatcher to?

I don't know who designed this chair but they didn't consider ergonomics

A recent thread on Reddit proclaimed:

I don't know who designed this chair but they are the devil. I'd like to sit and wait for the train without developing scoliosis.

The discussion in the thread seems to settle on a number of things about the design:

  • the chair is not aesthetically pleasing
  • the designer wanted to make a chair that people would only sit on if they really had to, an elderly person who was tired for example, and
  • the chair would not be comfortable to sleep on so that people would not loiter in the train station
  • it may be part of a public art installation
Chairs are often designed with poor ergonomics to make sleeping in public places uncomfortable
These chairs are not meant for sleeping on - Image by Alan Light and shared under the Creative Commons 2.0 License

As a designer, it's good to create things that generate discussion. It's preferable that the dicsussion is positive and that what you have created is a deemed as useful and beneficial to the target audience.

The Autodesk Research Ergonomics Group wants to help you make things that are well received for their human factors. The Ergonomics Group aims to put the human at the centre of the design process. Whether you are creating something as large as a community, an office, house or factory, a vehicle, a handheld tool, a shoe or as small as a medical device that might correct a fractured bone, torn muscle or blocked artery, designing these things with human ergonomics in your toolset will help.

Considering the variety of scales that humans operate at, from very small with blocked arteries all the way up to very large when placed in a community, the Ergonomics Group is researching the navigation and visualization of multiscale datasets. In thinking about this scale, one example of the kind of things the group is looking at is called Splash. Splash helps to keep some representation of the dataset available and running in real-time so that you can always work in context.

Autodesk Research Splash Framework for Real-Time Navigation and Visualization of Complex Datasets
The data used in the Splash example may not look exactly like a human. If you combine this framework with the model being pursued by the Parametric Human Project it may make more sense.

The Parametric Human Project brings together industry and academic experts to create a fully functional, data-driven, digital human model. Working from the inside outwards, project members have captured high resolution scans of bones and the tissues that cover and connect them.

Scanned Arm Muscles from the Parametric Human Project
Scanned Arm Muscles from the Parametric Human Project
Over time, this project aims to add the human biomechanics, so an arm moves like a human arm, and parametric controls so that you could tune your digital human model, intelligently interpolating between physically correct models to represent a variety of things like age or physical impairments. A doctor may use this to compare injuries of their patients to known datasets to choose the best course of recovery.
Taking this back to our chair example, as a designer, this research may help you to answer:

Is this digitally designed chair comfortable? 

Autodesk Research Ergonomics Group Wants to Know if this Digital Chair is Comfortable

Comfortable is somewhat subjective but for a chair could include things like:

  • Does it prevent fatigue and support good posture?
  • Is it free of awkard pain points?
  • Are the arm rests positioned well or sufficiently adjustable?
  • Is it easy to get in and out of?
  • Could you write an exam to join a secret organization that supervises extraterrestrial lifeforms while sitting in this chair? 

One of the best ways to determine that today is to build or print a physical prototype. As good as a solution as that it, it can be both time consuming and costly. Prototypes are often designed to test certain product qualities like so you may need multiple prototypes to test things like:

  • Is the chair strong enough to support an average adult?
  • Is this combination of foam and fabric aesthetically pleasing and comfortable?
As this works develops, we can imagine a future state where you could use your digital human to design the intial proportions of your chair and then place the digital human in the chair to test it against your comfortability measures.

The Parametric Human Project is welcoming new contributors who may help in a variety of ways - from doing research to providing equipment and funding - please join in if you can.

The Parametric Human Project

3D Printing Trophies for SIGGRAPH Real-Time Live!

We've done a bunch of work with 3D printing. Some of the most notable work has been the work with Meshmixer, geometry preparation and creating branching support structures so that your objects come out faster, with less waste and no drooping. In the image below, our example support structure uses 75% less plastic than the manufacturer-provided supports, which also reduces print time by one hour.

Optimizing 3D Printing Support Structures

There's another nice benefit to these branching support structures - they break off your print really easily for fast finishing and clean-up. If you haven't worked with them, you should get a copy of the latest Meshmixer and try them out.  While you're at it, you can also play with some interesting tools to subtract components of your model for a more interesting statue, like we used in our example above.

Beyond researching 3D printing things, it's important to play and explore what is possible with 3D printing.

Part of the fun in 3D printing is creating something unique. Autodesk Research was fortunate to be involved in providing 3D printed awards for the Real Time Live! event at SIGGRAPH 2014. Real-Time Live! is:

An interactive extravaganza that celebrates the real-time achievements of evil geniuses, mad scientists, and creative computer gods! Real-Time Live! shows off the latest trends and techniques for pushing the boundaries of interactive visuals.

The Real-Time Live! logo looks like this:

The 2D artwork was taken into Autodesk Maya and turned into a printable 3D model.

Here are a couple photos of the awards as they came out of our Objet printer and then drying off after being cleaned with the water jet.

Photo 1

Photo 2

The finished awards look quite nice and are a goood compliment to the cool things that the Real-Time Live! participants showed this year, from video game technology, to film production to flying and helping vision impaired people see better. Like all of SIGGRAPH, it was very inspiring. Congratulations to everyone involved!

Come try Project Draco - our drawing/animation/effects innovation mash-up - at the SIGGRAPH 2014 Studio

We'll be showing Project Draco at the SIGGRAPH 2014 Studio in Vancouver and you can get your hands on it! 

SIGGRAPH 2014 Studio 

Here's how SIGGRAPH describes the SIGGRAPH 2014 Studio:

The SIGGRAPH 2014 Studio is a collaborative working environment where the latest technologies and brightest minds come together to learn, experiment, and create. Attendees of the SIGGRAPH Studio explore wide range of new techniques and media with help from experienced hands. Attendees experience the latest in 3D printing, modeling, and animation software. The SIGGRAPH Studio is made for anyone interested in cutting-edge DIY gadgets, quasi-objects, Rube Goldberg machines, user-generated content projects, software, hardware, processes, workflows, technologies, etc.

Like any good SIGGRAPH experience there are moving pixels to describe the space and event. We're very happy to see Project Draco as the lead piece in this movie!

We'll be in the Studio Sunday through Thursday and have put our offer to you in the form of a short poem:

please stop by

give Draco a try

help us clarify

how we may supply

this technology

to girl and guy

In other words, we are looking for feedback on the technology and seeking input and ideas from people on what to do next. Letting you get your hands on it should help with that.

Project Draco

Project Draco comes from the User Interface Group here at Autodesk Research. Draco mashes up illustration, animation and effects in an easy to use interface. Fast Company says "Autodesk's Draco Lets You Animate An Illustration In Seconds". Take a look at the following illustration. There are a lot of simple elements in a picture that can be made to move and create an even richer experience for the viewer.

Autodesk Research Project Draco Animated Elements

Autodesk is well known for tools like Maya, 3ds Max and Flame that let people create similar things. Project Draco takes some of these concepts and makes them available to just about anyone. The learning curve is very flat and the immediate feedback is incredibly gratifying. Have a look at the intuitive sketch-based workflow:

Autodesk Research Project Draco Workflow Diagram

 More examples of the workflows and things you can create are available in this short movie:

We hope to see you at SIGGRAPH. If you can't be there in person, take a couple moments to let us know if you're interested in testing Draco in the future.

Autodesk Screencast: From Idea to UI Research to Project Chronicle to You

ScreencastLogoHopefully you've heard that Autodesk Screencast is a new tool that lets you capture your workflows, to easily create powerful and engaging learning materials. What you may not know is the history of how this tool came to be. 

Way back in 2010, Tovi Grossman, Justin Matejka and George Fitzmaurice from the Autodesk Research User Interface Group published a paper entitled Chronicle: Capture, Exploration, and Playback of Document Workflow Histories

Chronicle started with the idea that the majority of tools today support undo functionality. The undo queue has a list of the commands that have been executed by the users and is therefore something that could be utilized to playback what the user did for others to learn from.

From that idea, there was exploration around how to improve the video playback experience. As video is a visual experience, it was important to give the user more insight into various parts of the video, as you can see below in the Chronicle prototype built into Paint.NET, with images showing what happens at various stages and a rich timeline referencing different events. Having a such a prototype allowed the group to test the concepts with users, measure the success of the tools and refine the workflows.

Autodesk Research Publication Project Chronicle User Interface

In reviewing the Chronicle functionality with the test users, the feedback was very positive and suggested for:

  • Team Support: review how a colleague carried out tasks to understand the current state of a document (e.g. for trouble-shooting)
  • Implicit Learning Aid: when working with publically shared documents, the user could review the associated tools and workflows (e.g. comparing software versions) 
  • New Tutorial Format: this is a much easier way to create tutorials
  • Self-Retrospect: help a user to remember how they did something or what their tool settings were 

With this in mind, the Autodesk Research Transfer group was engaged to help bring Chronicle to a wider audience. Project Chronicle was released to Autodesk Labs, our place to share innovative new technolgies in a way that we can collaborate with our users, for more people to try in the context of AutoCAD, Inventor and Revit.

Autodesk Research Project Chronicle Banner from Autodesk Labs

During this time, the toolset and interface went through some refinements (you can see a little of that in the above image). The user feedback continued to be positive and the Autodesk Knowledge Network stepped forward to make Project Chonicle into an official tool and rebranded it as Autodesk Screencast. Here is a nice overview:

The journey from the initial spark of an idea to finished tool can take patience and many hands. With Autodesk Screencast, we hope you'll agree that it's worth it. Download Screencast now for Windows or Mac and give it a try!