Elon Musk Creates Rocket Parts With the Wave of a Hand

by Nancy Atkinson on September 5, 2013

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We knew SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was powerful, but now he’s gone all Ironman on us. Last week on Twitter he posted a teaser, saying, “Will post video of designing a rocket part with hand gestures & immediately printing in titanium.”

And now, here it is.

“I believe we’re on the verge of a major breakthrough in design and manufacturing,” says Musk in the video, “in being able to take a concept of something from your mind and translate into a 3-D object intuitively on the computer, then make that virtual 3-D object real just by printing it. It’s going to revolutionize manufacturing and design in the 21st century.”

See a montage of images of a SuperDraco rocket part made of Inconel-X, an austenitic nickel-chromium-based superalloy, emerge from a 3-D printer:

SpaceX SuperDraco Inconel rocket chamber with regenerative cooling jacket emerges from EOS 3D metal printer. Via Elon Musk on Twitter.

SpaceX SuperDraco inconel rocket chamber with regenerative cooling jacket emerges from EOS 3D metal printer. Via Elon Musk on Twitter.


Musk and his design team have been working on using natural gesture-based interaction with a computer-aided design program called Leap Motion, allowing designers to work quickly to create parts, and then equally as quick, use 3-D printing in a metal superalloy to create the part.

Very cool.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Fujio Bright September 5, 2013 at 7:17 PM

Awesome!

Ole Jørgen Nordhagen September 6, 2013 at 12:36 AM

Wow! Musk’s 4th move and completely unexpected – just coming along the path. THIS may be a major one.

ckirmser September 6, 2013 at 1:51 PM

Huh?
He rotated an existing CAD object using Kinnect-like technology and it’s “major?”
That’s an awfully low threshold of expectation…

Jeffrey Scott Boerst September 6, 2013 at 5:42 AM

Is that a new update for Kerbal Space Program that he’s helming?

StefaniaBelmondo September 6, 2013 at 8:01 AM

He’s not designing anything in that video, he’s merely rotating a already existing model. This might look ‘cool’, but from a designing standpoint it doesn’t seem to add anything useful. In CAD you need to be precise and efficent, and waving your hands in front of a screen is not that.

But if rotating parts with your mouse is not hip enough for you, I guess this is a very practical solution.

ckirmser September 6, 2013 at 1:50 PM

Exactly.
I fail to see why your comment deserved a “down” vote, as it is spot on.

Olaf2 September 6, 2013 at 6:10 PM

It keeps the fans impressed.

Wezley Jackson September 6, 2013 at 10:59 AM

I will probably sound like a teenager saying this, but Elon Musk is my hero. I have the same Cinema Display as him (the 23in is over 5 yrs old) but obviously Elon and I have the same good taste for well designed kit ;) Seriously, seeing the use of hand gestures to orient a 3d cad view and printing it with a 3d printer which prints metal parts is amazing. Very inspiring. And in the video, they actually demonstrated modifying the design in CAD 3D using hand gestures too! The future for sure! Thanks for the great article Nancy – You are right that Elon’s going all Iron Man on us :)

ckirmser September 6, 2013 at 1:49 PM

“And in the video, they actually demonstrated modifying the design in CAD 3D using hand gestures too!”

Where?

I watched the video and never saw a single instance of modifying any design.

Everything was done to a premade CAD artifact which was not changed in the least, except for orientation.

Wezley Jackson September 11, 2013 at 6:45 AM

2:46 – but on re-examination I realize that it is merely changing the view of a cutout – it gave me the impression the part was being modified but now I realize it was only the view plane changing how much of the cut-out was showing.. Still look impressive – perhaps one day soon actual modification of parts will happen this way..

ckirmser September 11, 2013 at 2:02 PM

Indeed, it was neat, but the article way over-hyped the reality.

Olaf2 September 6, 2013 at 6:13 PM

Using hand gestures is very tiring-some and inefficient if you have to do this 8 hours a day. The only good thing hand gestures does is impressing people that does not have a good understanding of technology and science. It is good PR and a trick to attract more investors.

ckirmser September 6, 2013 at 1:47 PM

“Will post video of designing a rocket part with hand gestures”

Um, he didn’t “design” a thing. The part had already been designed in CAD software. All he did was perform transforms on the preexisting model.

Not all that big a deal…

Paul Gracey September 6, 2013 at 4:25 PM

Part of design is inspection and correction of minor details. While for illustration purposes he used very clean, already completed designs, for precision in the process a second or third screen would add dimensions and limit factors for the necessary information to determine its qualities. Was he designing as we watched? No. but could he have spotted and changed a minor flaw? Most certainly, and it would have arrived at the real designer’s workstation simultaneously. The design process has always been iterative, and cooperative at some level but this speeds it up considerably, while eliminating the fine motor skills some times needed even with mouse generated translations into 3D, to say nothing about the old paper and pencil based methods that got us to the Moon in short order.

Olaf2 September 6, 2013 at 6:22 PM

At first it seems a good tool, but when you look at it for more than 10 minutes you get a head-ache because the image never stands still. You will not use that technology for normal 8 hours a day. Also your arms will drop off.

It could be useful as a stand in a museum so you can have the kids toy with the rocket and build their own rocket.

Even if you would use that technology in a rocket to save up keyboard and mouse space. It is useless because you might accidentally trigger a switch to open an airlock because the computer mistranslated the scratching of your nose with an emergency situation.

forj September 6, 2013 at 1:53 PM

OK – I’m a huge Elon Musk fan, and I am also a big fan and follower of all the technologies being demonstrated in this video ( private space industry, 3D printing, leap motion, occulus rift, etc ), but that whole thing just came off as an advertisement opportunity for the companies involved. i am surprised he didnt try to work Tesla in there somewhere hah

Aqua4U September 6, 2013 at 7:03 PM

Lets go zero Gee in Lunar orbit and get gone with this idea! Ship metal up from the Moon by turning it into an electro-conductive dust and injecting it into a constrained Microwave beam.. catch it at the other end with cone shaped mag. field.. a catcher’s mit? Refine and congeal!

Chetan Chauhan September 6, 2013 at 7:58 PM

I think the fact that they might start using 3D printed components for their rockets is far more interesting news than anything else about the “Wave of hand” stuff.
The fact that you can have working prototypes in hours instead of days or months is going to reduce costs of rockets by a magnitude , in the long run.

philw1776 September 7, 2013 at 1:12 AM

he was simply doing the Ironman thingy, hoping to score with Gweneth Paltrow

Domagoj Delimar September 7, 2013 at 7:20 AM

It’s just a nice showcase of the emerging technologies, kind of like these guys did it (even better IMHO) months ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keHXjidUmC0

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