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"I want to change the relationship between the computer and human," DARPA's Dr. Jan Vandenbrande said during his Tech Hub talk at the 2016 SAE World Congress. (Kami Buchholz)

2016 SAE Congress: Computers will amplify human creativity, says DARPA expert

New manufacturing methods are at odds with the human mind’s ability to envision innovative component shapes, but computers can help fill the creative void, according to an expert from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

“What I envision is that the computer system amplifies human creativity,” Dr. Jan Vandenbrande, DARPA Program Manager, said during his presentation on designing for advanced materials and manufacturing processes, at the 2016 SAE World Congress Tech Hub.

Today’s design engineering approach is human-centric. “The role of the computer by and large is to capture the shape, not your design or your design decisions,” noted Dr. Vandenbrande. “The computer acts as a giant calculator where you push the buttons and get an answer, and you are responsible to decide what to do with the answers [such as] how to make a shape stronger, how to improve crashworthiness.”

But new manufacturing/fabrication techniques are changing the production landscape.

For instance, the possibilities appear infinite with additive manufacturing, popularly known as 3D printing. “So now you can have a ball inside of a ball inside of a ball. Something we could have never made before. That freedom is so vast that our minds can’t deal with it; we can’t even imagine the things we could come up with,” Vandenbrande said in an interview with Automotive Engineering.

Creating shapes with composite materials is a bit more complicated as it can be difficult to know, up front in the design process, if a particular shape would encounter production issues.

“We really want something like an error correction in Microsoft Word that tells you, ‘No, you shouldn’t do this’. Or ideally, it generates the [optimal] shapes that you can make with that material, and it optimizes the manufacturing,” Vandenbrande explained.

In 2015, a mission-critical component from GE Aviation became the first 3D printed part to be certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for flight. The part serves as the housing for the compressor inlet temperature sensor used in certain GE commercial jet engines. It underscores the new frontier of 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing processes.

“So how is the rest of the world going to leverage these amazing new technologies?” Vandenbrande asked.

But to keep up with production possibilities, design creativity will need an assist, according to Vandenbrande.

“We need a new set of mathematics as well as a new set of representations to amplify human creativity, and [that’s needed] to make use of all these amazing [manufacturing/fabrication] capabilities that we have right now,” Vandenbrande said.

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