Personal fabrication machines, such as 3-D printers and laser cutters, are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. But designing objects for fabrication still requires 3-D modelling skills, making them inaccessible without specialist training. The MixFab environment enables users to design objects in an immersive augmented reality environment, interact with virtual objects in a direct gestural manner, and introduce existing physical objects effortlessly into their designs.
This research, conducted by Lancaster University and Microsoft, has won an award for Best Paper after being judged in the top one percent of entries worldwide at the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, which takes place in Toronto in April 2014. “MixFab: A mixed-reality environment for personal fabrication” creates a way for non-specialists to make their own 3-D models and print them out.
The authors are Christian Weichel, Dr Manfred Lau, and Professor Hans Gellersen from the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University and Microsoft’s David Kim and Nicolas Villar (who completed a PhD at Lancaster before joining Microsoft in Cambridge).
“This marks the research as one of the most significant contributions to the field made over the last year,” Professor Gellersen said.
Christian Weichel added that “MixFab is designed to lower the barrier for users to create content for 3-D printing. By using augmented reality, users can create virtual 3-D models of objects and see them projected into their working environment. They can shape the 3-D models with intuitive hand gestures, and even use physical objects, for example to make the model fit to the shape of an existing object. Once they are done, the 3-D model is printed out and immediately usable as a new physical object.”
Weichel said a problem which novices have is 3-D manipulation and navigation in “flat” 3-D design environments.
“However, we all know how to interact with 3-D objects in the real world. MixFab transfers this knowledge into the design world by situating the design environment in the physical space and making the virtual objects handleable as if they were physical entities.”