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.