Soon, product designers will be able to get up close and personal with their creations while they're still planning them. Rather than just look at digital models on their computer screens, they could walk around a 3-D hologram of the design.
That could soon become a reality in design studios, thanks to Microsoft and design software giant Autodesk. Today, the two companies showed off an early stage integration of Microsoft’s HoloLens "mixed reality" system with Autodesk’s Fusion 360 design software that they hope could make product development much easier and more intuitive.
Often lumped in with virtual reality and augmented reality systems, HoloLens is different, Microsoft argues, because it creates mixed reality holographic experiences that can be manipulated.
Microsoft says HoloLens has a wide range of potential applications, including in the enterprise, and already it is being used in the design of motorcycles, Volvos, and to help NASA scientists visualize Mars.
With the integration of HoloLens and Fusion 360, everyday industrial designers and mechanical engineers will have a tool that enables "much more effective collaboration [in which they] can see and really interact" with their work, says Ben Sugden, the studio manager for HoloLens.
In traditional design environments, says Garin Gardiner, a senior business development manager at Autodesk, two people working on a problem would have to go through several iterations of a design, each time making changes on a workstation before discussing the updates. Often, they would have to wait until a new version of the design is 3-D printed if they wanted to look at a three-dimensional model.
But by using HoloLens with Fusion 360, people working together on a design can make changes that are instantly reflected. "With HoloLens, we can give you a similar understanding of the true size and scale of objects," Sugden says, "without the slow iteration process of 3-D printing."
For now, the project is in the proof-of-concept phase, and neither Microsoft nor Autodesk would say when or if it will be commercially available. Still, Gardiner says Autodesk has shown the integration to a number of its clients and is getting very positive feedback from them. "It is the future of where product design is going," he says.