3 Inventions Showing Us The Future of Drawing

April 10, 2013

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Humans have been drawing since prehistoric times, long before we developed any kind of written forms of language. Now, our species is taking drawing to whole new technological levels. Below are three ways that we’re expanding the horizons of drawing with the biggest breakthroughs since Etch-A-Sketch.

The First 3D Drawing Pen

c69f4daa7816727c3185e0e87be2b39c_large Boston-based Wobbleworks went to Kickstarter, hoping to find $30,000 to fund their breakthrough 3D doodling pen — and wound up with over $2 million. The co-founders, Peter Dilworth and Maxwell Bogue, both have decades of experience developing toys and hope to have it for sale by this fall. The 3Doodler is essentially a hand-held 3D printer. The large, plug-in pen extrudes melted plastic from a nib that’s as hot as a soldering iron. The plastic is then solidified almost-instantly with a built-in fan. So as soon as you lift your line of plastic off of a two-dimensional space and into the air, it stays there. Wobbleworks is reportedly planning a version of the pen that could extrude molten sugar, allowing people to draw their own candy. See it in action here.

Microsoft’s Self-Sketching Whiteboard

This year, when researchers at Microsoft unveiled their latest projects at the company’s annual TechFest, among them was SketchInsight, the intelligent whiteboard. The whiteboard helps you turn data into charts, graphs and maps and present data in a more engaging way. The “data-enabled digital canvas” responds to drawn commands. For instance, drawing an L shape lets it know you want a chart, a circle will give you a pie chart. It’s essentially an auto-complete for data visualization. The presenter can also interact with the board, adding or subtracting data to tailor their message. We find it particularly intriguing that while SketchInsight will instantly complete your charts and graphs, and use your own sketched icons, it uses the hand-drawn line effect. This creates the illusion that a human hand drew out all of the visuals. Nice touch!

Sketch Recognition Engine

Humans have the wonderful ability to recognize meaning in even a far less-than-perfect sketch of something. Stick figures for example — even if the head is square or the proportions are completely wrong, there’s a pattern we can recognize, that we read as “person.” A group of researchers from the Berlin Institute of Technology and Brown University have created a “sketch recognition engine” that will do the same. As you draw, the program will guess — with increasing accuracy as you add lines — what it is that you’re drawing. Instead of feeding the machine a set of standard shapes and lines, they used data based on drawings made by hundreds of actual human beings. While the engine still only can place drawings in the correct category 56% of the time, compared to humans at 73%, it still performs far better than random chance at 0.4%. You can watch it in action here. We just want to know — what would you use a sketch recognition engine for? Perhaps you could use it as a kind of translator — drawing a picture to find the word in a foreign language. What do you think?