Nature is unbelievably complex. Animals and humans have evolved in this world without in-built digital systems. Our minds have evolved in ways that allow us to make sense of our environment, so that we can abstract and categorize the things that we encounter and experience. As such, we have an in-built tendency to represent the world in terms of simple, clearly identifiable boundaries of space and objects. When we create objects ourselves, we continue to follow this path without even realizing it. Traditional manufacturing and design assumes that each object, or each independent part of a larger object, is made of a single homogeneous material. This makes human-made objects clearly stand apart from nature. A tree, for example, is not made from a single material and nor does it have 'parts' that are as easily discernible as we would think - if we look up close we can see that roots blend into the trunk, which blends into branches which blend into twigs, which blend into leaves. Our abstractions are useful for recognition and categorization, but they do have limitations when it comes to creating or recreating complex objects like this.
Historically then, we've interacted with nature through powerful but reductive simplifications and approximations - the way we look at it, the way we model it and the way we attempt to reproduce it. Cheap computing power is now extending our capabilities, putting us in a far better position to understand the complexities of nature. We have better control over matter and can design and fabricate a whole new class of human-made objects. These objects offer more localized, dynamic, sustainable and natural interactions with the world. Unfortunately, we've hit a stumbling block. The current generation of digital design and fabrication systems have failed to fully capitalize on the raw computational power that is available to us. We still can't create objects that offer a comparable wealth of detail, complexity and combination of materials that we find in nature. Here is an example of how a typical user might model a watermelon using 3D modeling tools and a real watermelon. There is little to compare other than the rough outside shape. How can we truly represent a slice of watermelon digitally?
Let us take a very basic example, one that is even human made, a glass marble. Marbles are simple children's toys, but how can we exactly model their construction?
The only real 'surface' here is the outer shape, but modelling it with polygons will always leave it faceted. Perhaps we can try to overcome this inaccuracy and using a parametric surface, but can we efficiently represent the minute chips made by numerous games of marbles? Still, a spherical surface won't allow us to define what's inside. Perhaps each of those different colors could be a separate part? If we look closely at the swirls we can see that they don't have sharply defined edges. The colors mix and blend together throughout the interior. Our traditional approach of modelling with surfaces falls apart completely. Our entire approach is wrong because this is a problem that requires real volumes with no neatly defined 'parts'.
Is this a fair example? Would anyone actually want to recreate a watermelon or 3D print a glass marble? Perhaps not, but what about a human organ such as a kidney. That's also a challenging volumetric problem and one that would be of huge benefit if we could design and fabricate them as required.
So, the way we think about the world allows us to make sense of it, but doesn't necessarily let us reproduce it. Existing digital systems have followed our natural way of thinking and have led us to an impasse. They are imprecise and fundamentally incapable of accurately representing real objects. If we want to move forwards, we will need to take a very different approach.
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Uformia: Saving the world from polygons!
Furuflaten, Norway, October 19th - Uformia AS announced today that it has launched a KickStarter campaign for its new modeler, MeshUp. Based on volume modeling, MeshUp is set to overcome the many limitations of existing polygonal and surface-based modelers, particularly within the realms of 3D printing and fabrication. MeshUp is a stand-alone product with features including mesh repair, mesh combining, microstructures and watertight STL and slice generation.
"CG artists and designers know very well the limitations and tediousness of modeling with polygons," explains Turlif Vilbrandt, CTO and joint founder of Uformia. "Mesh models tend to have all kinds of problems such as cracks, holes and self-intersections. This is due to a disconnect between the real world being represented and the modeling software's attempts to represent real, volumetric, complex and “messy” objects by only surfaces."
MeshUp allows users and 3D printers to fabricate directly without the need for the complex, multistage fixing process that is usually required with traditional polygonal approaches. MeshUp is based on the same volume modeling framework that powers Uformia's existing product Symvol, which is available as an add-on for Rhino. Every object in Uformia's system is a true 3D volume (not voxels or parametric surfaces), because the software reduces each object to a mathematical function. This inbuilt definition of a model's volume makes the system ideally suited to modeling objects that are destined for 3D printing.
MeshUp offers a number of features that are of interest to the 3D printing and broader modeling communities. Users can load and combine meshes without having to worry about vertices and polygons. Meshes can be converted to a shell and microstructures can be added quickly and easily. MeshUp will also offer STL and mesh repair techniques, including a rounded repair method that attempts to take into account any missing volume. Then, when it's time for physical fabrication, MeshUp will export clean watertight STL files or slice data for 3D printing.
MeshUp will be available for Linux, MacOS and Windows. Symvol for Rhino is available as a free and feature limited Maker version while the Community version is available for €190 or approximately $246; both work on Windows and require Rhinoceros® version 4.0 SR8+. MeshUp is now a live project on Kickstarter, accepting donations.
About Uformia AS
Uformia is an international north Norwegian company who aims to develop a new kind of 3D software that will solve many of the problems of today's software, especially in the field of digital fabrication.
MeshUp on Kickstarter: www.uformia.com/ks-mu
As we mentioned earlier this summer, Uformia will be one of the exhibitors at the 3D Printshow in London, 19-21 October. As we near the event, it is becoming clear that it will be as promising as it looks.
Uformia will be releasing a few new and exciting bits at the show (more on that later), and we are pleased to announce that Simply Rhino from the UK will be joining us at our stand where they will be premiering Rhino3D v5!
Tickets are selling out quickly, so order yours ASAP, and don't forget to sign up for some of the workshops or seminars. A few that Uformia are participating in:
FRIDAY 19 OCTOBER
--> 14:15 - 15:45: CEO Panel Session
Cherie Stamm will be joining this panel session where companies in the industry are invited to discuss their company, business philosophy, and concept of future and how they intend to build it.
--> 17:00 - 18:00: Fabricating Reality
Turlif Vilbrant will discuss the significance of 3D printing and how software today does not capitalize on available computation nor is it able to drive 3D printers to their full capability. Turlif will discuss the history of humans trying to gain control over matter, and share his thoughts on the future directions required for 3D design tools to fulfill their potential.
SATURDAY 20 OCTOBER
--> 10:00 - 11:00: Saving the World From Polygons - Revolutionary Design Tools Based on New Mathematics, for the Future of Manufacturing
Turlif Vilbrandt will give a live, hands-on demonstration of Uformia's first product, Symvol for Rhino, and discuss Uformia's new modeling approach.
SUNDAY 21st OCTOBER
--> 15:00 - 16:00 Fabricating Reality
This is a repeat of the Friday show, in case you were unable to attend.
Aaron Trocola @ Engineering.com wrote this nice piece about how volumetric representations, "models that are not just a 2D surface in 3D space" (a mantra here at Uformia), will help to bring about the end of polygons (at least for manufacturing). He contends, as we do, that volumetric representation allows for more complexity in designs going out to print (too many discrete features can result in a polygonal representation that is too heavy to calculate) and will also bring about multi-material printing.
We applaud Aaron's words, and thank him for acknowledging Symvol as a potential software solution towards this end.
A note on solids and solid modeling -
While solids used in traditional CAD package today are based on mathematically perfect surfaces and/or patches, they are still collections of 2D surfaces (same as meshes) defined in 3D space (2-manifolds). If the right tools are used and the user is thoughtful and careful about modeling the surface patchwork, the resulting model will be a closed or manifold surface that clearly separates the inside from the outside (in fact meshes can also be used to create a solid object). Unfortunately in practice "solid models" are often not solid as they will have cracks, hanging surfaces and intersections which increase with the complexity of a model. This has given rise to the marketplace of repair tools to fix "solid models".
We should also mention that we are not a voxel or discrete based modeler (although we can bring voxel data into our system). Our technology is to voxels what NURBS or parametric solids are to meshes and we are always watertight by default. As well we already offer experimental multi-material modeling inside our API (more about that later).