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Prototype Development

Intern Q&A: How to make PIE

September 10, 2018

Alec Hill, a biomedical engineering grad student from UW-Madison, and Alex Upadhyaya, an Industrial Designer from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, were half of the 2018 summer intern team at Design Concepts.

Along with two other Badgers: biomedical engineering grad student Luz Maria Neira, and mechanical engineering student Laura Kramer, they were tasked with developing virtual reality into a tool for Design Concepts’ product development process.

The goal was to create an impactful tool that was useful and adoptable within the company. The interns took this open-ended idea and came up with a tool that will enhance prototyping and concept review. It’s called PIE - Prototype Interaction Environment. This system utilizes HTC Vive VR technology along with the game development software Unity to attach virtual 3D models to low-fidelity physical models by using a tracking sensor. This allows designers and engineers at Design Concepts to physically interact with computer-generated models, making concept review more tangible, and eliminating the need to do extensive physical prototyping.

Throughout the rest of this post, Alec and Alex answer questions about their process, results, and perspective on the project.

How much experience did you have with VR before beginning this project?

Alec: Absolutely zero. The first time I tried on a VR headset was my first day here.

Alex: Yeah, same here. I had no idea of the possible implication of VR in industrial design, let alone how it worked.

What was the hardest part of developing PIE?

Alec: The coding, hands down. Before starting here, I knew nothing about C# or how it worked. Getting the code to work properly and have it not break the rest of our work as things got more complex was a real challenge. Getting the orientation and position of the tracked objects right every time, regardless of how they were modeled, or how the tracker was placed, was also an endeavor. It took some tricky mechanics to get it just right every time.

Alex: For me the hardest part was more abstract – I knew that we would be able to accomplish a working tool, but I was more skeptical of our ability to create a clear repeatable methodology for the tool. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out how everything we developed could be repeated on a variety of projects by a variety of people. It seemed like we wrote and rewrote the workflow hundreds of times.

How many times did Alec drop something?

Alex: This was a running joke all summer, because Alec seemed to drop something all the time– usually something important. My approximation, 759 times.

Alec: Yeah, I’m surprised I didn’t break more things to be honest.

How do you think your differing backgrounds and departments (industrial design, mechanical and electrical engineering) helped complete this project?

Alec: It really makes a difference to have a diverse skill set on your team, no matter what you’re doing. For our sake, all of our skills were put to good use for different parts of the project. I sort of gravitated to the “under-the-hood” work, like the scripting and the mechanics, while Alex excelled at coming up with compelling ways to present our work and make it more applicable to the scope of our project. Even though the other mechanical engineering intern, Laura, was out in San Fran, and the electrical engineering intern, Luz Maria, was busy with other projects, they had a lot of great ideas to bring to the table. They were able to provide a different point of view that really helped us hone in on one project idea. We wouldn’t have gotten this far without them.

There’s a lot to be said about the potential for VR to expedite the design process.

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