Let Your Fingers Do the Walking
While Alias and Pro Engineer are pretty awesome for exacting specification of final design specs, their sketch-abilities are pretty counter-intuitive for designers who grew up using renfoam, Chavant clay, and pink foam to sculpt sketch models. Haptic devices allow physical feedback and input to a digital file, hopefully creating a more "natural" experience for the modeler.
One of the newest concepts for these interfaces is being developed at the University of Buffalo's Virtual Reality Lab. Using force and position sensing on a glove, researchers are able to duplicate the deformation of a real clay lump in an onscreen Virtual Clay lump. This system is the first to use real clay as the force feedback mechanism, which is pretty smart, since the major problem with current systems is figuring out the mechanical system for providing force feedback. Unfortunately, this technology won't be available for a few years (at least, probably more like a million).
If you're keen on checking out a commercially available system, your best bet is the Phantom Haptic Interface from Sensable Technologies. The system includes a 3D force feedback stylus which is motorized to allow users to "touch" "pull" and "squish" models with real resistance, and a special software modeling environment. The gallery shows that the software is best suited to either very complex product sketch models, like shoes, or actual sculpting, like action figures and animatronics skins. But it's amazing if you're working in those areas (I got to use one for a summer to rehabilitate stroke victims, and let me tell you, it's a completely strange trip. The stylus can replicate inertia, and "feel" like it actually has mass and weight!). But you're waiting for the bad news right? This system doesn't come cheap - they don't list prices on the site, but the last time we saw, it was in the few thousands for the stylus and software. They have an $800 Developer kit available for a limited time, but the modeling environment isn't included.
But don't despair. If cost is an issue, then these may be just the ticket. Amorphium, and Amorphium Pro are both real time "squish modeling" software that allow you to work with a virtual ball of clay. Granted, they are pretty low fidelity, and you definitely wouldn't use them for a final model. But, for a quick sketch, or for a preliminary presentation board, they aren't bad, and you can work off the base model in Rhino or Alias when you decide on a final design. It even allows basic painting to be done inside the program, so you can try out color schemes kind of like marker rendering.
In the end, none of these comes even close to the ease of the real thing (How long would it take you to model a convincing cell phone in clay; 2 minutes? What about digitally? Yeah.) The technology is going to keep marching forward, and it's definitely worth keeping an eye on. We can't wait.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team