back to article IRON MAN MUSK: Elon reveals Tony Stark-style 3D design smarts

Elon Musk has posted the video of his Iron-Man-esque 3D design process, where he makes rocket parts using a Leap Motion controller and a 3D printer. Kicking off with an onscreen representation of the part that Musk can flick around with his hands, the design then moves to an actual 3D projection, just like in the movie and …


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  1. Gordon Pryra


    "Musk is not planning to use his new-found ability to make an actual metal exoskeletal frame to pursue baddies with"

    With great power comes great responsibility!!

    Someone needs to tell Musk all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing!!

  2. Dave W

    Robbie Rocket Pants

    You will never believe the elation followed by disappointment that I felt when I realised I'd misread the opening paragraph and that it referenced rocket "parts" and not rocket "pants".

    "Elon Musk has posted the video of his Iron-Man-esque 3D design process, where he makes rocket pants using a Leap Motion controller and a 3D printer."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Robbie Rocket Pants

      Upvote despite your obviously intending to go all single-white-female on me.

  3. Holtsmark Silver badge

    I call bullshit

    Spending my day designing Aerospace parts in CAD, I can not come over the impression that this is pure management porno.

    Engineering is parameter driven. All important thicknesses, angles, lengths are set by entering numbers on a keyboard (or using filtered output from computer analysis). You do NOT gesture a wall thickness of 2.467885423456mm, instead you enter 2.5 mm on your keyboard


    All that I can see in the video is some manager impressing other managers by using hand gestures to move around an ALREADY ENGINEERED part.

    This is NOT progress

    1. frank ly

      Re: I call bullshit

      " ... I can not come over ... management porno."

      No matter how hard you tried?

    2. killakrust

      Re: I call bullshit

      Precisely. That was impression I got from the video too. As a seasoned CAD user also, the input method shown seems to be 'ok' for spinning around a 3d object, but inherently useless for actually designing said 3d object.

      Maybe they will post another video of this software at some point that shows them actually drawing something, but until then I call bullshit.

      1. James Hughes 1

        Re: I call bullshit

        I've seen many comments like this, and the answer is simply...

        This is a very early proof of principle, not a finished product. It seems a standard Register comment that as soon as some prototype or scientific research is posted, everyone comes out of the woodwork to denigrate it. Are Register readers (and others) really so short sighted they cannot grasp the concept of 'it's still in the early stages and will get better. It may end up in the bin, but the idea is there to work on". I'm just glad people like the Wright brothers, or Otto Diesel, or more recently James Dyson don't have your attitude.

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: I call bullshit

      >Engineering is parameter driven. All important thicknesses, angles, lengths are set by entering numbers on a keyboard

      Actually, CAD workflow is usually to 'sketch' the design intent, and then 'constrain' the entities to each other and add dimensions. You might enter these dimensions with a keyboard, or they may be derived from the results of a simulation, a parts catalogue or a spreadsheet, or be defined with respect to another entity.

      With constraints, mouse-using designers don't rely on pixel-perfect accuracy - they use 'snaps', which can work in 3D just as with a mouse. Relations between entities can be revisited and edited at any time.

      Even if you want to type in your dimensions, the Leap is capable of recognising when your fingers are above a number pad. It could even allow you to use your desk as a virtual keyboard if you wanted. However, voice input would work better for a lone Tony Stark in his own workshop than it would for an engineer sharing an ofice with others!

      1. Robert Grant

        Re: I call bullshit

        Yeah, this is right. Be cool if you could enter numbers and properties with voice as well.

    4. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: I call bullshit


      Agreed, the spinning and zooming is not at all impressive, especially since the CAD software probably made the 'view' commands open long ago (so that human input devices like the 3D Connexions SpaceNavigator can be used with it). Even before the Leap was released, its forums had lots of discussions about using it with CAD, and requests for people to help develop drivers.

      A good Leap CAD interface for creation (rather than review) can be made, but I suspect it would have to be designed around the Leap, rather than using the Leap as a bolt-on. Before that happens, a lot of experimentation will be required to discover what works best.

    5. Shasta McNasty

      Re: I call bullshit

      Its a Proof of Concept, not a finished product so not everything will be accounted for in this version.

      Maybe the next version will have a voice interface to add details like dimensions.

    6. Gordon 10

      Re: I call bullshit @Holtsmark

      Is that fear I smell - I see thousands of pink slips hitting CAD operators desk soon.

      (followed by a hire back at twice the rate when the first PHB designed part exploded on launch)

      1. Holtsmark Silver badge

        Re: I call bullshit @Holtsmark

        Nope, it is not fear.

        I have spent the last 4 weeks fixing under-defined models where the "engineer" created parts with "wide sweeps of his hand". I would LOVE tools that would speed up my work-flow more while yielding well defined models. Such tools would not lay off engineers, but rather result in the same amount of engineers (there is never enough of us) produce more refined designs.

        However, having world + dog bow before Mr Musk and his new way of using BOTH HANDS to view an object where a single hand plus an input device, or just head + Track-IR could do better (Leaving one or two hands to actually work the model), then thats when I CALL BULLSHIT.

        And yes.. It is only proof of concept. However, the proof should show a little more novelty before it becomes a newsworthy "breakthrough". There is enough cool engineering out there that does not get coverage.

    7. Darkwolf

      Re: I call bullshit

      Combine what they have with to get the proper keyboard commands for digits, and then see what can be done.

  4. Shrimpling

    unfortunately an Oculus Rift headset is needed for this

    I think this should read: "thankfully Musk has found a way for us to convince the Boss we need an Oculus Rift for the office"

  5. Dave 126 Silver badge


    There have been threads for 3D CAD on the Leap Motion forums, even before the device was released, about this very sort of application. There was nothing surprising in the video, except that the presenter looked like Christopher Walken.

    I've been wanting the Reg to feature the Leap and so steer some Reg commentards towards the Leap forums, because it is clear that the UI is in its infancy. It will take more than just hooking up to the CAD software's existing 'view' APIs to get the best out of this sort of set-up.

    Another aspect of the 'Iron Man' workshop (as featured in the films) is a situation-aware assistant in the workshop; there is no division between Tony Stark's CAD workstation and his physical workbench. Something like this can be done today with Kinect and Siri-like kit. Basically, make the entire workshop an extension of the CAD interface, in such a way that designs can easily moved back and forth between the real and the virtual.

    A workshop that makes a note of your spoken dimensions every time you pick up a measure tape. A workshop that photographs and digitises your back of an envelope sketches. A workshop that creates a CAD layout based on where you've placed some cardboard boxes (cardboard and duck tape is often a better and quicker way of appraising a design than a CAD simulation). A workshop that can use a laser to project cut lines.

  6. Skizz

    What a load of Rubbish!

    The spinning and zooming demo was total pants. It looked awkward and imprecise. Using a mouse and keyboard is much more efficient, and you can access all the other editing commands easily. It looked like you had to hold your hands stationary for a moment before moving them away from the camera so the system didn't think you were trying to spin the object (which happened to the presenter bot).

    Been watching far too much Minority Report.

  7. Black Rat

    3D Titanium printer

    The waving of hands is just a distraction ask any magician. as for that 3D metal printer now that's the real trick.

  8. Phil Atkin

    Laser sintering ROCKS!

    That's the important bit folks, not the 1991 VR stuff. Lasers. Frikkin' lasers.

  9. Craigie


    Where exactly?

  10. JP19

    Just like that

    Watching him reminded me of Tommy Cooper - just needed a fez.

  11. Christian Berger

    2 Big flaws

    It's imprecise, so it might be good enough for viewing models, but certainly not good enough for actual design work.

    It's horribly unergonomic, just try to hold your arms up for prolonged periods of time.

    The only advantage it has, is that it saves you half an hour or learning to work your CAD package... if things are really intuitive.

    It may however have some uses in areas where you cannot use proper input devices. Think about CAVEs, rooms with 3D projections on their walls. You cannot use a mouse or keyboard there. Gestures might be a solution there.

  12. CaptSmeg


    I am surprised the guys at spaceX are playing around with building this sort of stuff themselves. If they really think this is going to help, then surely they should just fork out for some kit from Oblong? Then save all their innovation juices to use on rockets. I can only assume they think they can do it better in some way.

    Well good luck with that, Boeing and the likes use oblong and it looks much more precise than something leap motion based. It would only take a few botched injectors or whatever to cover the extra cost. Plus oblong were the ones that actually designed the minority report set.

    But to be fair, if I was that loaded I would happily spend the money playing with such kit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: oblong?

      You know, this makes me wonder: how come things can be oblong, but not obshort? This seems like a significant oversight.

      1. Cliff

        Re: oblong?

        How come you can belong to a group, but not beshort to it?

        Probably what you've been thinking all ashort, I guess?

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