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Elon Musk shapes a 3D virtual rocket part with his hands — and Leap Motion

In his typical fashion, SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk has been teasing his Twitter followers for a few weeks about an Iron Man-like system to design rocket parts with hand gestures before 3D printing them.

A video documenting the process just went live, and it’s nothing too groundbreaking. SpaceX paired a Leap Motion gesture reader with its Siemens NX computer aided design software and added 3D glasses, allowing a designer to shape the part with their hands in a 3D environment. They can’t build a design from scratch, but they can take actions like modifying the shape of an object. Musk demonstrated in the video below that it is also a useful way to examine a design in three dimensions.

SpaceX has spent a few months working with a Leap Motion controller, during which time it shifted from displaying the designs on a simple computer screen to the 3D environments. It also adapted the design experience to the Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles.

The design can then be outputted to a 3D printer that can print in metal.

“I believe we’re on the verge of a major breakthrough in design and manufacturing in being able to take the concept of something from your mind, translate that into a 3D object really intuitively on the computer and then take that virtual 3D object and make it real just by printing it,” Musk said in the video.

This is actually a pretty cool application for a Leap Motion. While there are quite a few gaming, art and productivity apps available in Leap Motion’s app store, it generally is frustrating and not that exciting to use. Designing rocket parts makes it a more interesting tool, at least for professionals.

7 Responses to “Elon Musk shapes a 3D virtual rocket part with his hands — and Leap Motion”

  1. Joshua Mark

    Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong WRONG!!!

    Take the title – “Elon Musk shapes a 3D virtual rocket part with his hands”

    Now… show me where this happens in the video. It DOESN’T!!!!


    I’m a fan of Elon Musk but the video and tweets he put out about “designing” parts with hand gesture were premature. He didn’t design anything with gestures – ironically the parts on the screen were produced with the 2D to 3D tools that Elon says are inferior. But guess what? They’re not. Even when he’s just panning and rotating and translating, these are tasks better suited to a mouse and keyboard. In a video where he’s touting “The Future of Design”, he demonstrates exactly why people don’t use that technology. It’s inaccurate, frustrating and interfaceless! There’s a lot of things you have to be in control of when designing these parts. The surfaces have to represent exact functions. The lengths and thicknesses have very small tolerances. Any interface that lacks input for these numbers and functions is garbage.

    Please take the time the evaluate something before perpetuating meaningless fluff.

  2. Some designer already mentioned a fair critique of this technology – it will have to reduce the time to build the model substantially to pay off. Designing a model can take a few hours of work and this puts a lot of stress on the hand. So you want minimal motion or it will simply be too tiring. You need to offset this to make it a good alternative to the existing technology.

  3. Darren Stuart

    thats pretty cool but I was more interested in the metal fab work. That has huge potential if it can be brought down in price so you could have one in your workshop.