For the last week, nearly everyone I know has been playing Pokémon GO, and I can’t stop laughing about the stories I’ve heard of grown men walking into lakes or crashing into people and objects while in hot pursuit of Squirtles. I haven’t downloaded it yet, though I’ve been tempted – based on my tendency toward Internet/smartphone addiction, however, I suspect I wouldn’t get anything else done. Ever. It was enough of a mistake to download Neko Atsume. I do think Pokémon GO is really cool, though, and it’s an excellent example of how accessible virtual and augmented reality are becoming – these days, all you need is a smartphone.
It’s not all just for fun, either. Augmented reality is a valuable tool in a wide variety of industries, and a Swedish tech company is using it to make 3D modeling easier. Stockholm-based Febtop Tech, a manufacturer of modular, delta-style 3D printers, is currently developing an app that allows users to design 3D models by simply drawing in the air with a finger. FEBCAD AR is being developed for Android at the moment, though other platforms will be added later.
“When we observe new users, with no previous 3D printing experience working with our 3D printers, we often see them struggle as they try to learn a 3D modeling software or a CAD program,” said Tom Yang, CEO of Febtop Tech. “We quickly realized that we had to find a way to make that process more natural and inviting for new designers.”
How the app works is simple: the user looks through his or her smartphone or tablet and “draws” simple 3D shapes like cubes, cylinders and pyramids on the table or desk in front of the screen. 2D designs can also be drawn freehand and converted to 3D. Objects can be easily moved and rotated, and the user can view his or her design from any angle by moving the phone or tablet around the design. Once the model is finished, it can be exported to STL or sent directly to one of Febtop’s printers.
“The idea of using AR as a way to lower the barrier into 3D printing was born around a year ago,” the team explained. “We had many discussions around how it could be implemented and what tools we could use. Should we implement it with AR glasses or simply use phones. We decided to go for the phone since most people have one and the point was to make it accessible so it was the logical choice. The actual software development took of roughly 3 moths ago.”
The company, a small team of CEO Yang and Creative Technologist Simon Karlsson, plans to release the app and its source code online with an open source license. It will also be bundled with their 3D printers, the Optimus and the Nimo 3D, once they’re officially released. The Optimus is a modular machine that can be assembled either as a delta or Cartesian printer, with an extruder that can be swapped to turn the printer into a CNC mill or laser engraver. The Nimo is a smaller, simpler plug-and-play printer that Febtop bills as ideal for beginners or educational settings.
While FEBCAD AR is still a work in progress, the key behind its development is simplicity and accessibility. Febtop tossed around the idea of designing it for use with AR glasses, but elected to go with a simple smartphone interface to make it easily accessible to everyone.
“The challenges around the development of the app has more revolved around solving practical problems of making the app useful and simple,” the company stated. “We want the software to be actually usable so you can easily draw simple designs and for the app to not only be a gimmick. There is a lot of features you need before you can draw something useful and one of the challenges we face right now is how we can add more features without bloating the interface…
What you can do with the app right now is [the] following:
- Draw boxes, prisms, cylinders and cones.
- Draw a 2D shape by freehand and extrude into 3D.
- Move around individual shapes that you have drawn and place them where you want.
- Rotate individual shapes around the X, Y or Z axis.
- Import STL files to view in the AR environment.
- Export your design to a STL file.
- Send your design directly to one of our printers.
We have not seen any other apps doing what we are doing. Most AR apps we have seen just allow you to view models but not draw them.”
While there’s no word on when the app will be officially released, it looks good so far, as you can see in the video below, and we’ll continue to stay up to date on its further development. Is this an app you would like to have eventually? Discuss further over in the Design 3D Models from Smartphone forum at 3DPB.com.