Forbes

Joy Tan

Artificial Intelligence Turns Design Into A Collaborative Undertaking

A Chinese aphorism says that “the fire burns highest when everyone adds wood to it.” It’s an apt way to describe the way that industrial design and product development are becoming a collaborative undertaking. Cities like Shenzhen, long known as factory towns that churn out low-end toys and shoes, are embracing a new identity as creative meccas for design.

This trend is gathering steam worldwide, for one main reason: design tools are starting to function less like inanimate objects and more like colleagues or assistants. As people and machines begin working together in new ways, the field of design will turn into a team sport, one where human ingenuity combines with artificial intelligence and automation to broaden the possibilities of how society shapes the world.

Expanding Your Options: Generative Design

Generative design lets you feed specifications into computers that harness the processing power of the cloud to spit out hundreds of design options that meet your particular requirements. For example, you might want to manufacture a table made of rugged plastic that can support a weight of up to 200 kilograms. Enter the parameters and constraints, and almost immediately you’ll get a myriad of from which to choose. You’re likely to find some alternative you probably would not have considered.

Airbus used generative design to create a better partition for its A320 jetliner. The partition separates the galley (the airplane’s kitchen) from the main passenger compartment, and Airbus had specific requirements in mind. The new partition had to be lighter than the old one, no more than one inch thick, and strong enough to anchor two jump-seats. Airbus used generative design to review thousands of options that met those weight and strength requirements. The end result was a new partition that was 45% lighter – a feature that Airbus estimates will save 500,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Printing Bridges in Mid-Air, And Other Robot Tricks

Robots are combining with generative design and additive manufacturing to come up with new design technologies. In in the Netherlands, for example, software maker Autodesk has partnered with MX3D, a company that makes robotic additive manufacturing technology (more commonly known as 3-D printing). The company’s industrial robots manufactured a steel footbridge, incrementally building the structure over an Amsterdam canal in a process some described as “printing in mid-air.” The bridge is still being tested for structural integrity and will be installed later this year. Dutch designer Joris Laarman, who worked on the structure, said the 3-D printing technology “connects futuristic technologies with the historical city” in a way that brings together the new and the old.

Millions Of Data Points From The IoT

In a city, connected objects form a kind of urban nervous system. Sensors embedded in the objects, provide designers with real-time input on how the things they make are actually used. This feedback that helps lead to better design – one of the chief benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT).

For example, Bandito Brothers, a media production outfit based in Los Angeles, equipped a race car with sensors that collect millions of data points showing how the vehicle performs during an actual race. The data was then fed into a generative design tool. The result: the team built a custom chassis that maximizes performance based on changing weather and road conditions as they are captured by the sensors.

The Secret Sauce: Artificial Intelligence

If generative design, robotics, and the IoT are the technologies allowing humans and machines can work collaboratively on design tasks, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the secret sauce that accentuates their impact.

AI allows technology to learn, so our tools can get better at doing their jobs. Generative design tools will begin to learn which of designs people like and which ones we don’t. Robots (and even smartphones) will no longer need to receive detailed instructions from their users. The IoT will leverage AI not only to perceive the world, but to adapt to it intelligently.

This newly added layer of artificial intelligence will make technology more adaptive, more flexible, and more creative in solving problems. As a consequence, computers will begin to improve upon human capabilities such as reason, intuition, and imagination. Given the plethora of design challenges in the world, this added creativity is an encouraging trend.

Increasingly, machine learning will be integrated into design tools, enriching the relationship between humans and machines in novel ways. Engineers and designers should no longer view tools as machines that require elaborate instructions, but instead as collaborators whose input contributes to solving complex, thorny problems that humans alone could not.

This unprecedented blend of humanity and technology will be exciting to experience. As machines and computers start developing human-like capabilities that complement our own, it will fundamentally change society’s relationship with our tools, and with the design process. Instead of being users of technology, humans may become more like mentors, coaching our tools and guiding them through the tasks we want to accomplish.

 

This article was written by Joy Tan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.