Mixed physical and virtual design environments for digital fabrication

Weichel, Christian (2016) Mixed physical and virtual design environments for digital fabrication. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Digital Fabrication (3D printing, laser-cutting or CNC milling) enables the automated fabrication of physical objects from digital models. This technology is becoming more readily available and ubiquitous, as digital fabrication machines become more capable and affordable. When it comes to designing the objects that are to be fabricated however, there are still barriers for novices and inconveniences for experts. Through digital fabrication, physical objects are created from digital models. The digital models are currently designed in virtual design environments, which separates the world we design in from the world we design for. This separation hampers design processes of experienced users and presents barriers to novices. For example, manipulating objects in virtual spaces is difficult, but comes naturally in the physical world. Further, in a virtual environment, we cannot easily integrate existing physical objects or experience the object we are designing in its future context (e.g., try out a game controller during design). This lack of reflection impedes designer's spatial understanding in virtual design environments. To enable our virtual creations to become physical reality, we have to posses an ample amount of design and engineering knowledge, which further steepens the learning curve for novices. Lastly, as we are physically separated from our creation - until it is fabricated - we loose direct engagement with the material and object itself, impacting creativity. We follow a research through design approach, in which we take up the role as interaction designers and engineers. Based on four novel interaction concepts, we explore how the physical world and design environments can be brought closer together, and address the problems caused their prior separation. As engineers, we implement each of these concepts in a prototype system, demonstrating that they can be implemented. Using the systems, we evaluate the concepts and how the concepts alleviate the aforementioned problems, and that the design systems we create are capable of producing useful objects. In this thesis, we make four main contributions to the body of digital fabrication related HCI knowledge. Each contribution consists of an interaction concept which addresses a subset of the problems, caused by the separation of virtual design environment, and physical target world. We evaluate the concepts through prototype implementations, example walkthroughs and where appropriate user-studies, demonstrating how the concepts alleviate the problems they address. For each concept and system, we describe the design rationale, and present technical contributions towards their implementation. The results of this thesis have implications for different user audiences, design processes, the artifacts users design and domains outside of digital fabrication. Through our concepts and systems, we lower barriers for novices to utilize digital fabrication. For experienced designers, we make existing design processes more convenient and efficient. We ease the design of artifacts that reuse existing objects, or that combine organic and geometrically structured design. Lastly, the novel interaction concepts (and on a technical level, the systems) we present, which blur the lines between physical and virtual space, can serve as basis for future interaction design and HCI research.

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Thesis (PhD)
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18 Jan 2016 14:46
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 00:17