Jul 25, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at MIT and Columbia University have developed “InstantCAD,” a tool for interactively editing, improving, and optimizing CAD models with an intuitive workflow. The tool takes the form of a plug-in, and can be used with existing CAD software.

“Making CAD easier.” It’s a promise that every digital designer wants to hear, but few would believe possible. That’s why a new research project from Columbia University and MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL)—who have adopted that very maxim for their project—is so exciting.

The researchers involved in the project have developed something called “InstantCAD,” a plug-in that allows users to grapple with CAD designs in real time using an intuitive workflow, and which could be particularly beneficial to users in aerospace, automotive, and robotics.

The university experts say the 3D design tool can be used to optimize and improve existing designs in order to arrive at an optimal product, letting users “interactively edit, improve, and optimize” their CAD designs in an intuitive and streamlined way.

And because InstantCAD is a plug-in, designers can simply incorporate the tool into their existing CAD software.

“From more ergonomic desks to higher-performance cars, this is really about creating better products in less time,” said Adriana Schulz, lead author on the study. “We think this could be a real game changer for automakers and other companies that want to be able to test and improve complex designs in a matter of seconds to minutes, instead of hours to days.”

InstantCAD can deliver on this impressive speed promise because of its complex cloud-based simulation capabilities. When designing a product, users do not to reel off multiple iterations and individually test them all in the traditional ways; instead, they can make small tweaks to certain parameters and find out the consequences of those adjustments in real time.

(Images: Rachel Gordon/MIT CSAIL)

This is because multiple geometric evaluations and simulations are run at the same time on a cloud platform.

But InstantCAD users can be even more hands-off if they feel like it, because they are ultimately given two ways to optimize their designs: interactive exploration, in which a user interface provides real-time feedback on how design changes will affect performance; and the more control-relinquishing “automatic optimization,” in which specific objectives and constraints are provided that the system will seek to achieve in the most effective manner.

Of course, it’s generally pretty hard to optimize designs automatically, due to the huge number of possible design options for a given part. However, the MIT and Columbia researchers think they have found a way around this problem.

“It’s too data-intensive to compute every single point, so we have to come up with a way to predict any point in this space from just a small number of sampled data points,” said Schulz. “This is called ‘interpolation,’ and our key technical contribution is a new algorithm we developed to take these samples and estimate points in the space.”

According to the plug-in’s creators, the uses for InstantCAD could be numerous, and the tool could even be used to create extremely complex systems like cars, planes, and robots—systems whose performance needs to be optimized to the highest degree for companies to be competitive in the market. It could also be used to optimize the strength and performance of 3D printed parts of various kinds.

“Our system doesn’t just save you time for changing designs, but has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of the products themselves,” said Associate Professor Wojciech Matusik, another author of the study. “The more complex your design gets, the more important this kind of a tool can be.”

InstantCAD could have uses for entry-level users too. According to the researchers, the intuitive workflow of the tool could make part optimization easier even for non-professional designers.

"In a world where 3D printing and industrial robotics are making manufacturing more accessible, we need systems that make the actual design process more accessible, too,” Schulz commented. “With systems like this that make it easier to customize objects to meet your specific needs, we hope to be paving the way to a new age of personal manufacturing and DIY design.”

Schulz’s paper was co-written by Associate Professor Matusik, PhD student Jie Xu, and postdoc Bo Zhu of CSAIL, as well as Associate Professor Eitan Grinspun and Assistant Professor Changxi Zheng of Columbia University. It can be read here. The researchers have provided a link to the source code and instructions for InstantCAD from this page.



Posted in 3D Software



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