Meshing Augmented Reality, 3D Printing, and Robotics to Advance CAD Modeling

Virtual reality and augmented reality tend to get a lot of attention in the gaming and entertainment industries, but they also have a lot of potential for getting work done—particularly if that work is 3D modeling. Usually, we see this with virtual reality CAD (computer-aided design) environments. But, now a new joint effort out of MIT and Cornell is using augmented reality to combine the virtual and the physical into a single design tool.

The project, called Robotic Modeling Assistant (RoMA), uses a 3D printing robot arm to bring designs to life as they’re being designed. The operator wears an augmented reality headset, which lets them sculpt digital creations on a rotating physical platform. That works in a way that’s similar to virtual reality-based modeling, but the robot arm is what makes the real magic happen.

At any point during the modeling process — when everything is still purely digital — the operator can choose to have the robot start 3D printing. Unlike the traditional 3D printing you’re probably familiar with, the robot arm just extrudes a very minimal skeleton. That means it prints very quickly, so that it can be used in tandem with the digital design tools. Utilizing the mix of digital and tangible, designers can physically interact with their designs as they’re modeling them.