Tangible interfaces for computer aided design and design process support

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


The doctoral research is linked to the EPSRC funded project PhysiCAD which is investigating a tangible
interface for CAD using construction kits. The PhysiCAD project has revealed three areas of possible
1. Evolving construction kits for engineering design support
Using Lego as a starting point (chosen for its familiarity and accessibility) the aim is to develop a
system that allows evolution of the components to meet the user's requirements and the needs of the
design process. The limitations of Lego for design - resolution, scale, surfaces, and functional parts - need to be investigated. From this, a syntax for evolutions needs to be developed to allow users to
communicate their required changes given the stage of the design process.
Novel brick types (compatible with Lego) - flexible, off-plane, functional, higher resolution - must be
designed to accommodate the evolutions of the construction kit as well as methods to generate bricks
and systems of bricks to support the designer and design task.
2. Techniques for simultaneous localisation and mapping of constructed models to useful CAD models
The first part is to explore and develop approaches for localising components within a constructed
physical model. Current approaches to consider are: IMUs embedded in Lego bricks, Computer vision
system using a Kinect Sensor, Construction motion of the user's hands/arms. An experimental rig for
the IMU technique is currently in construction. A preliminary scoping study has been performed using
a computer vision approach.
A method of translating the chosen SLAM technique into a useful CAD model or 3D visualisation
needs to be established. Potential expansion should include displaying changes in the digital model
on to the physical one as well as methods for feature based construction.
This would provide an intuitive, tangible for creating digital models - moving away from the high skill
level required for CAD using a keyboard/mouse/screen.
3. Digital-Physical construction kits to support co-design and co-creation
An important aspect of physical prototyping is the ability to collaborate and communicate over the
same model. However, the affordances of digital modelling are lost when using a physical model
alone. A novel system to combine the two mediums is to be explored. Design behaviour comparison
between individuals, pairs and groups shall be investigated to establish requirements and develop
functionality of the system.
This work would lead on from the PhysiCAD development rig - using a top down projector to augment
the communal workspace. Means for capturing and presenting rationale, constraints and past and
possible design iterations will be explored.
One of these three areas will be chosen following the initial scoping and exploratory phase of the


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Duncan B. (2017) Evolving lego: Prototyping requirements for a customizable construction kit in Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED

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Goudswaard M. (2017) Realisation of self-replicating production resources through tight coupling of manufacturing technologies in Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED

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Mathias D. (2017) Design variation through richness of rules embedded in lego bricks in Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED

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Ranscombe C (2019) Designing with LEGO: exploring low fidelity visualization as a trigger for student behavior change toward idea fluency in International Journal of Technology and Design Education

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509619/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1795855 Studentship EP/N509619/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2020 David Hewitt Mathias
Description Developed a novel approach to prototyping looks-like prototypes with LEGO and low cost 3D printing.
This approach reduces prototype fabrication time and reduces material usage.
Exploitation Route My findings could be take forward by others to investigate how other combinations of prototyping techniques could be used to improve prototyping.
Further work could also include ways to make the prototypes more functional with mechanisms or electronic components.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Bath Digital Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gave a talk and demoed my work at the Bath Digital Festival 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Undergradute Design and Manufacture Teaching 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Teaching Design and Manufacture to 180 Undergraduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019