The workspace of the future is in Elon Musk’s lab. Using a variety of virtual reality and gesture-sensing tools, Musk has set up a system that allows himself and his engineers to design and manipulate models of rocket parts using just their hands. He's compared it to the Iron Man laboratory, and in many ways, it looks like just that.
But you won't need the technological expertise of Tony Stark in order to make one: Musk employs a Leap Motion Controller, an Oculus Rift, and a projector — among other common tools — in order to make the setup work. Not all of those are necessarily being used at once though. Musk says that he began with the Leap Motion, and then expanded to more advanced setups, such as one that involved projecting 3D mockups onto a translucent pane of glass.
While Musk admits that it's partially just "a fun way to interact with a complex model," he thinks that this new setup could mean far more than that. "I believe we're on the verge of a major breakthrough in design and manufacturing." Musk demonstrates how using the Leap he can fully move and rotate the model by just swiping, opening, and closing his hands.
"We're on the verge of a major breakthrough."
Musk says that this virtual reality workspace is important because it allows users to "really apply your intuition." He believes that the entire setup will allow users to "take something from your mind to a physical object with far greater ease than we currently do." In a video demonstrating the setup, he explains how this could work, using the example of a cryogenic valve housing being designed. Musk shows someone moving a model on a screen by shifting their hand in the air.
While this could be seen as a disappointingly low-tech approach to Musk's grand promise of an Iron Man-style lab, the entrepreneur seems to see these new tools as the future of engineering. 3D printing will also play a big role in allowing those prototypes to be quickly tested and iterated upon. And Musk certainly doesn't see these as simple novelties, closing his demonstration with no small claim: "It’s going to revolutionize design and manufacturing in the 21st century."