BACK IN 2014, a London-based startup called Gravity Sketch released a prototype for an impressive virtual reality sketching tool. The tech demo relied on a proprietary tablet-and-VR-headset combo that was eye-catching (it reminded us of something out of Tron), but commercially unavailable. Two and a half years later, the London-based startup has ditched the hardware approach entirely—but it’s also a lot closer to bringing its intuitive 3D design tool to the public.
Today the company launches a Kickstarter for an app that will allow anyone to sketch in three dimensions and export their drawing to design tools like SolidWorks and Rhino or a 3-D printer. It builds on the work Gravity Sketch has been doing since 2014, and is a significant upgrade to the iPad appthe company released this past March. The new app, which runs on desktop computers and either an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, will cost $60 ($30 for Kickstarter backers) and, its creators claim, will be available beginning in January 2017.
Like previous versions of the app, Gravity Sketch’s newest offering centers around the idea of drawing in three-dimensions. Only now, instead of manipulating your 3D object on a flat screen, you manipulate it in the space around you. “You’re literally creating in mid-air,” says Oluwaseyi Sosanya, one of Gravity Sketch’s co-founders. When combined with a set of Oculus Rift or HTC Vive controllers, the app turns your immediate environs into a sketchpad. You can draw a car at scale and shrink it down to the size of your palm with a simple gesture. “Imagine pulling two fingers apart on an iPad,” Sosanya says. “Now imagine doing that with your whole body.”
Gravity Sketch was among the first companies to show how mixed reality could upend the creative process, but it’s not the only one. The Google-acquired Tilt Brush released its app for the HTC Vive earlier this year, and while its toolset is better suited for artists than industrial designers (you can’t export your creations to a 3-D printer, for instance), it shares plenty of DNA with Gravity Sketch.
Both apps turn designing into a physical process. In a demonstration video, a car designer uses Gravity Sketch to create a rough, 3-D illustration of a new vehicle by using the Vive controller as a pen. As he sweeps his hand through the air, the body of the car takes shape. Repositioning anything—a wheel, a fender, a car seat—requires that you grab it like a physical object and set it down in a new position. Rotating the car in mid-air is as simple as twisting your wrist. “We wanted to build a language around this 3-D creation where it’s very much about your touch and human input rather than numbers and commands in a drop down menu,” Sosanya says.
Most designers develop a product by creating multiple 2-D sketches, then translating those sketches into a single 3-D image using CAD software. Gravity Sketch wants to expedite that process by allowing designers to draw exactly what they see in their minds, right from the start. “It’s really just shorting the time for a designer to express an idea,” he says. Sosanya adds that during the translation from 2-D to 3-D, a designer’s vision can get muddled by the constraints of the software that require lines or shapes or radiuses to look a certain way. “What happens a lot of times with digital design that 2-D sketches have so much character and personality, but when you go into 3-D software you have to compromise,” he says. “You can just spot which tools have been used to design something.”
Gravity Sketch doesn’t mitigate all of those compromises. The software still has its visual proclivities that will make it known that your design was made with Gravity Sketch. “You can tell just by the style and the thickness of the stroke,” he says. But Sosanya believes creating in 3-D from the start will ultimately allow for a purer expression of an idea. “What you see is much closer to the original intent,” he says.