CMU makes a sketch to improve design processes

  • 26-Mar-2009 09:15 EDT
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Levent Burak Kara (left) and Kenji Shimada are shown with the design tool, SketchCAD, that their team developed at Carnegie Mellon University to enable engineers to sketch designs on a tablet computer.

A team of Carnegie Mellon University researchers has developed software that will enable engineers to design new 3-D products by simply sketching their ideas on a tablet computer.

“The idea is to empower engineers and designers with tools that are already familiar to them and are the most natural for the task,” said Levent Burak Kara, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CMU.

The software, dubbed SketchCAD, is a digital pen-based computer system that can be used for a variety of industry sectors.

Because thinking about a new product shape by sketching is more expressive and more intuitive for engineers than the traditional mouse-and-menu-based design interfaces, the new system gives users more freedom to be creative and a shorter learning curve for use, according to CMU.

By providing greater freedom in conceptual design phases and alleviating costly redesign issues, the researchers believe the new technology will have an immediate impact on a multitude of industries.

“Right now, our technology is being adopted by Honda designers for designing new cars in fast and cost-effective ways,” said Kenji Shimada, the Theodore Ahrens Professor of Engineering at CMU.

In the future, the new software system is expected to be tasked for a variety of uses ranging from physicians planning surgeries to university professors teaching basic engineering design methods.

Within the same context, the team is developing another software named SimuSketch that can recognize and simulate engineers’ hand-drawn diagrams and mechanical systems. The system enables engineers to quickly implement their ideas in the form of diagrammatic sketches and test their feasibility with real-time simulations, allowing users to design and analyze complex engineered systems by simply sketching their ideas.

CMU says that while the new system may harken back to the early 1960s with the birth of CAD tools that first sported a pen-like device, its new tool addresses much more challenging issues in engineering design and creativity.

"It is the 21st-century equivalent of an enhanced feather quill pen, which also experienced many changes, too,” said Kara.

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