Tag Archives: Digital fabrication

Energy3D Version 1.0 released!

Looking for free tools to teach engineering design in K-12 classrooms? We are pleased to announce that Energy3D Version 1.0 is now available for free download at http://energy.concord.org/energy3d. Energy3D is a computer-aided design and fabrication tool for designing and making model buildings. With it, your students can easily conceptualize a dream house on the computer, print and assemble a real model, and take it home to show to their parents!

Energy3D works just like Google's SketchUp: You can create a 3D structure by drag-and-drop -- no number crunching is required. But unlike SketchUp, it is tailor-made for building design, evaluation, and fabrication to support engineering design learning in K-12 schools. One of its great features is the "print-out" functionality, which allows students to print out the houses they designed using a regular printer and then cut out the 2D pieces for 3D assembly (see the second image in this blog post).

You can imagine how Energy3D may work for your students by looking at the houses designed by a class of high school students in the third image of this blog post. The tool is very easy to use and works well even for young kids. So if you are teaching in an elementary school, give it a try and tell us how it can be improved for younger students.

The development of Energy3D has been funded by the National Science Foundation under the Engineering Energy Efficiency Project. Dr. Saeid Nourian, a computer scientist with a Ph. D. from the University of Ottawa, has been the primary developer since joining the project in 2010. The software is based on the open-source scene graph game engine, Ardor3D, which requires Java to be installed.

"Semi-digital" fabrication technologies

A street made by using Energy3D.

Emerging digital fabrication technologies such as 3D printing could trigger a new wave of industrial revolution according to New Scientist. While 3D printers are becoming more affordable and they are growing more powerful, versatile, and speedy, they will likely not be immediately available in the classroom.

Fabrication in schools is fundamentally important to engineering education. The lack of appropriate educational technology that supports students to transform ideas into products could impede student learning and creativity. To meet schools' immediate needs and fill the gap between now and future, we have been developing a flagship app called Energy3D that provides a "semi-digital" solution for fabrication.

The current version of Energy3D focuses on designing, constructing, and testing model buildings. The program supports students to conceive and design a building on the computer. It then converts a computer design into a sketch on paper that can be printed out using a conventional printer. Students can then cut out the pieces from the sketch and then assemble them into buildings as designed. The reason we call this technology "semi-digital" fabrication is because, while the computer helps generate the sketch, students still need to cut and assemble manually.

This has a catch, however, as it assumes the pieces are all as thin as a piece of paper. But for education, it is perfectly fine because it reduces the design and manufacturing complexity for young students, allowing them to address a tractable number of important questions related to math, architecture, engineering, and science.

We are going to the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival to be held in Washington DC in April 28-29 to demonstrate this technology. If you happen to be there and are interested in seeing how it works, meet us at the Concord Consortium's Booth #2758 in Hall B.