Computer-aided design (CAD) is used to create almost every object we use. The problem is that most of the CAD software programs are difficult to use and very time consuming.

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and Columbia University are trying to simplify the process while at the same time make it faster. The researchers have developed a new tool that allows engineers to interactively edit, improve and optimize CAD models with a more intuitive workflow.

Called InstantCAD, the tool integrates with existing CAD programs as a plug-in so designers don’t have to learn new tools to use it.

“From more ergonomic desks to higher-performance cars, this is really about creating better products in less time,” says Adriana Schulz, CSAIL PhD student. “We think this could be a real game changer for automakers and other companies that want to be able to test and improve complex designs in a matter of seconds to minutes, instead of hours to days.”

How It Works

The InstantCAD tool improves and optimizes the process in a design in real time, saving engineers days or weeks. After an object is designed in a commercial CAD program, it is sent to a cloud platform where multiple evaluations and simulations are run at the same time.

With this data, engineers can instantly improve and optimize the design in two ways: Interactive exploration that provides real-time feedback on how design changes will affect performance and automatic optimization where users tell the system to give them a design with specific characteristics.

“It’s too data-intensive to compute every single point, so we have to come up with a way to predict any point in this space from just a small number of sampled data points,” Schulz says. “This is called ‘interpolation,’ and our key technical contribution is a new algorithm we developed to take these samples and estimate points in the space.”

MIT CSAIL says InstantCAD is particularly helpful in more intricate designs for things such as cars, planes or robots or in industries like car manufacturing that care a lot about squeezing every little bit of performance out of a product.

"In a world where 3-D printing and industrial robotics are making manufacturing more accessible, we need systems that make the actual design process more accessible, too,” Schulz says. “With systems like this that make it easier to customize objects to meet your specific needs, we hope to be paving the way to a new age of personal manufacturing and DIY design.”

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