Oct 31, 2015 | By Benedict

Disney Researchers have unveiled an automated method for the quick design of 3D printable connectors in a research paper titled “AutoConnect: Computational Design of 3D-Printable Connectors". Need to connect your phone to your handlebars? Your speakers to your shelf? A can of Red Bull to your belt? The AutoConnect method allows user to make connectors quickly and easily for virtually any purpose, by specifying the dimensions of the two objects. The models can either be downloaded from the Internet or created using a 3D scanner. Once the dimensions have been specified, AutoConnect provides a range of workable designs which will accurately fit the two objects and join them together.

To make a 3D model of a connector, users position and orient virtual models of the two objects that they want to connect and indicate some auxiliary information such as weight and dimensions. AutoConnect then generates several alternative designs that connect the items securely. The user can then select the one that looks the best or otherwise best meets their needs. Heavier objects will, for example, requires thicker and stronger connectors.

AutoConnect automatically designs a range of connector by creating a holder for each of the two objects, fusing them together in an appropriate way. There are two types of holders which the software is able to produce. The first is for standard object shapes such as pipes and planes—used, for example, to connect a chair leg. To create this kind of holder, AutoConnect  browses a list of parameterised mechanical holders, optimising the holder shape based on grip strength and material consumption. The user also can specify if there are areas of the objects that cannot be covered - such as the face of a smartphone - and if the object can be slipped out of its holder or secured tightly.

The other type of holder is for free-form objects. These holders are procedurally generated shell-gripper designs, made using data from geometric analysis of the object. They write:

For free-form objects, AutoConnect designs a holder by selecting a "seed point," located symmetrically on the object, and then iteratively expands the area of the shell along the object's surface until the number of contact points on the object meets the design criterion for holdability and grip. Alternatively, for an irregularly shaped object such as a coffee mug that is meant to be held loosely, the target shape of the holder can be based on the object's "convex hull," an envelope that would enclose the entire object.


Applications of AutoConnect. (a)–(g): Researchers connect a structured object and a free-form object.

Applications of AutoConnect. (h): the case that both objects are structured.

Applications of AutoConnect. (i): the case that one side is directly 3D printed.

Once AutoConnect has automatically generated a range of designs, users can select the most suitable one for their purposes. Disney Research believes that this automation will open up 3D printing and 3D design to a larger audience, including those who lack the requisite skill to manually construct such a design. "The promise of 3D printing is that people can personally create customised objects, but it's often a difficult promise to fulfil because 3D objects can be so hard to design," said Jessica Hodgins, vice president of Disney Research. "That's particularly true for connectors, so we think AutoConnect could become an important and valuable tool as the 3D printing revolution continues to grow."

Although the company recognises that many open-source 3D printable connectors are available online, these are one-size-fits-all models, not necessarily tailored to the exact objects possessed by a user. "One solution to the problem of 3D design has been the creation of online design repositories," explained Shinjiro Sueda, a post-doctoral researcher at Disney Research. "For instance, there are many designs available online for attaching smartphones to bikes. But finding designs for connecting less common objects can be difficult if not impossible."

Disney Research will present AutoConnect at ACM SIGGRAPH Asia 2015, the Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, November 2-5, in Kobe, Japan.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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