Two years ago London startup Gravity showed off a wild concept for creating 3-D forms using augmented reality software. In the demo, a designer wearing AR glasses wielded an Arduino-connected pad and pen. As he drew on the plastic pad, his drawing appeared as a 3-D object that could be viewed and manipulated almost as though it was floating in air. The compelling concept hinted at how augmented (and virtual) reality could someday be as natural a creative tool as basic pen and paper.
Now Gravity is now releasing its first commercial product, a tablet app called Gravity Sketch. The app doesn’t have nearly the wow-factor that the cool concept did, but it has something else going for it: It is incredibly easy to use.
Gravity Sketch is a bit like Microsoft Paint, but for 3-D creation. Dragging your finger across the screen will render that line in 3-D. Draw a circle, and it appears as a sphere. Draw a square, and it appears as a cube. Built-in tools let you create perfectly symmetrical objects, apply different finishes, and snap everything to an aligned grid before exporting the OBJ file to whatever 3-D software you might be using.
“The barrier to entry is non-existent, really,” says co-founder Oluwaseyi Sosanya. “With one stroke you create something really quite complex.” To create a wine glass, for example, chose the symmetry tool and sketch the profile of the stem and bowl. The mirror image of your drawing will appear on the other side, in 3-D form.
Unlike typical 3-D rendering software like CAD or even SketchUp, Gravity Sketch relies on a “what you see is what you get” interface. There are no drop down menus; the app uses touch and gestures, a major departure for such software. Sosanya says Sketch is an attempt at democratizing 3-D design. “Right now for a child to get involved in 3-D creation, there’s probably only one software they can do that with, and it’s not even software, it’s a game,” he says, referring to Minecraft.
Gravity Sketch removes engineering jargon like “extrusion” and “parameter” in favor of simple actions. Having your sketch come to “life” in real time in front of you is key. Sosanya believes 3-D modeling must adopt a new kind of language that harkens back to the way humans have always built things: with their hands. “It’s nothing you have to study,” he says of Gravity Sketch. “It’s a human language—what you expect the software to do, it does.”
Gravity has embraced 3-D printing as the logical output of the app, but frankly, that seems to be the least compelling use-case. Looking forward, Gravity is essentially preparing people to use a new gestural language for creation that it will carry through to more advanced VR and AR products. And the idea that anyone, not just professionals, can sketch a 3-D object with scant technical knowledge will grow increasingly important. As virtual and augmented reality become more commonplace, it’s easy to see how everyday communication could shift from two to three dimensions, too. Five years from now, it won’t just be developers who need literacy in this space—it’ll be everyone.