In the last several blog posts, we been looking at how Reality Computing integrates the digital and physical worlds, bringing together many products and technologies to:
- Capture -- digitally capture existing conditions,
- Compute -- use that information to digitally create simulations, designs, and so on,
- Create -- then realize the results back in the physical world.
Today’s post focuses on how digital information is delivered back into the physical world.
“Turning data into things” (aka create)
The last leg of Reality Computing is the presentation of captured and modified reality data back in the physical world. This can be accomplished digitally (using project visualizations or augmented reality) or physically (using 3D printing, machine-controlled earthworks, and other digital fabrication techniques).
The ability to produce and present high quality images or animations of a new building or a consumer product can sometimes serve as a replacement for product prototypes or scaled-down physical project models. Project visualizations can be particularly important on large projects where sheer size and complexity make it difficult to fully convey designs using traditional engineering drawings. Model-based project visualizations that include reality data help project teams depict the project in the context of actual surroundings, making it easier for clients, project stakeholders, and the public to understand the project.
Model-based project visualizations help project teams depict their projects in the context of actual surroundings, such as this rendering of the Shanghai Tower. Image courtesy of Shanghai Tower Construction and Development Co., Ltd. Rendering by Gensler.
Sure to follow will be an explosion of commercial augmented reality technology. Shop floor supervisors and facility maintenance managers can already point their tablet at the QR code on a piece of equipment to access manuals, warranties, preventive maintenance schedules, and work histories. Construction workers already use automated laser surveying instruments to map coordinates from digital models directly onto construction in progress to ensure that steel anchor bolts were installed according to the design and within tolerance.
For decades, the manufacturing industry has used digital design models and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) techniques to support digital manufacturing—generating digital information to control robotic assembly, CNC (computer numerical control) milling, laser cutting machines, and so forth. More recently, AEC firms are physically realizing digital designs at the civil infrastructure scale by robotically sculpting landforms through machine-controlled grading and using GPS-guided paving machines.
A more recent development for physically materializing digital objects is additive or 3D printing, a technology currently experiencing substantial price reductions. Similar to the improvement of 2D printers (from dot matrix and ink jet printers to color laser printers), the speed, quality, and versatility of 3D printers is increasing while costs are decreasing.
In the commercial world, 3D printing is a well-established technology used by manufacturers for cost-effective prototyping, mold-making, and small-scale production. Car companies are 3D printing full-size prototypes of a car body for aerodynamic testing. Manufacturers of military parts use 3D printing to quickly and remotely produce customized replacement parts for military equipment. Industrial designers developing consumer products use 3D-printed prototypes to examine the aesthetic and functional appeal of their product designs.
Consumer applications for 3D printing are still the domain of hobbyists and makers, but already enthusiasts can buy action figures with their own likeness. Imagine a household that designs, downloads, and prints their own products; from custom toys, jewelry or iPod cases, to foods like pasta and chocolates.
In our next post, we’ll explore the value Reality Computing brings to businesses and organizations.