Touching Virtual Bricks: The Next Major Design Tool

While most industries are moving sales online at a rapid pace, construction material sales are still stuck in the physical world. One of the reasons the industry has been relatively slow to make the transition is that what we do has such as strong physical basis; when you're selling someone bricks, at some point they want to actually hold a brick. Salesmen excited by the potential of social media as a sales tool are frustrated by this inability to put bricks in prospects' hands.

Now they can.

Japan's Gifu University is working on the Hepatic Interface Robot (HIRO III), a new interface tool that lets designers "touch" virtual objects. From Popular Science:
Driven by 15 independent motors, its black phalanges provide real-time force feedback to your hand, precisely simulating the weight and contour of virtual 3-D objects -- a pretty wild paradigmatic leap forward in interface technology! 
Currently the research team is looking at medical applications - tactile diagnosis is a very important, and hard to teach, skill - but I see major breakthroughs when this technology is combined with BIM.

First of all, what a great way to design! Placing, removing, or manipulating elements by "hand". Getting a tactile sense of an object's weight, or the load placed upon it. "Feeling" airflow through a space, or feeling wifi signals as if they were airflow. Designers will be drawn to this tool.

Secondly, it creates the opportunity to put a brick in someone's hand from across the country. As adoption increases and most large architectural firms have at least one HIRO-type device, manufacturers will be able to imbue their digital samples with the weight and feel of the real thing. As device sensitivity increases, this could include texture as well.

This is a very exciting new technology, and we will be watching it eagerly.