Tuesday, 8 April 2014

'Think It' to 'Make It!'




What if you could just think of a thing – a 3D cartoon toy character; or a new washer for a dripping tap; or perhaps a Baseball Cap with your team’s insignia – and then get hold of one of those new fangled 3D printers and make it right on the spot? No years of training to become a skilled design engineer or toolmaker, and no complicated CAD routines to learn. You just imagine the widget, and it pops out of the 3D printer within, say, ten minutes, just like magic!

Fictional nonsense? Or a happy-go-lucky vision of twenty-second century technology? Or perhaps a profound dream that might arguably be one of mankind’s most spectacular and beneficial technological innovation?
Well, this is no longer a daydream! It is a hard reality. Because an ultra-bold enterprise called ‘Thinker Thing,’ wants you to be able to create anything just by thinking about it! Sounds to Dr Who?

At this point, users are not directing complete designs with their thoughts, as though your brain were controlling the mouse. Instead, the EPOC measures reactions to different design elements and selects the element that is most appealing to the design’s thinker. Each piece of a larger design slowly evolves as EPOC continues to monitor a designer’s thoughts, until eventually the entire piece is complete. Thinker Thing, say:

‘3D printing, what the economist calls the next industrial revolution, is based on a promise, for anyone to be able to create real objects from a computer model. But who can create these computer models. Current software is based on techniques from the 80s, they’re outdated difficult to use and take years to learn. How much of a revolution will it be if only a handful of professionals can create for these machines.

Most of the CAD programs used to create designs for additive manufacturing (AM) aren’t what you might call user friendly. But what if someone could build a design tool that allows the user to make anything they can imagine, by thought alone? Thinker Thing is a company that has taken on this ambitious project, with startup funding from the Chilean government. Instead of controlling the evolution of a design with a mouse or touchscreen, the company is developing a method of using an Emotiv EPOC EEG reader to build 3D objects. From the website:

'The Emotiv EPOC headset ‘reads’ thoughts to direct digital design. Courtesy of Emotiv.'

‘When I was a child I used to think how incredible it would be to just imagine a thing and it would simply appear, readymade. This might still seem like science fiction, but amazingly the technology needed to make this a possibility is already in existence today, all that is missing is a creative approach to build the interface between mind and machine.’

At this point users aren’t directing complete designs with their thoughts, as though your brain were controlling the mouse. Instead, the EPOC measures reactions to different design elements and selects the element that, according to your EEG, is most appealing to the user. Each piece of a larger design slowly evolves as EPOC continues to monitor a user’s thoughts, until eventually the entire piece is complete.

Currently, the Thinker Thing team is touring Chilean schools to expose the children to basic engineering principles, using the EPOC headset and design software to create monsters (think Monsters, Inc. rather than Pacific Rim). The features of each monster will vary child-to-child, and the end CAD design is printed out by a 3D printer. Thinker Thing has launched an Indiegogo project to hold an exhibit of the various creations following the tour’s completion.


While this approach has some flaws from a specific design standpoint, the neuroscience behind the program and the EPOC are still very new. Before too long it may actually be possible to think of a specific image and see that image take shape on your computer. That might not thrill CAD software studios, but such a development would open up digital design to anyone with creativity.

Have a breeze around 'Thinker Thing's website and watch the intriguing videos.
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