Thursday, November 25, 2010

Energy3D: Design, print, cut, assemble, and test

Figure 1: Designing a building with

We have come close to release an alpha version of Energy3D, a computational building science laboratory for simulating energy flow and designing energy efficiency. This program will allow you to design a building in a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get style in 3D, just like Google SketchUp, and then evaluate its energy performance.

The alpha version will feature the Blueprint Wizard, which automatically deconstructs a 3D structure into 2D pieces, figures out which pieces are on the same 2D plane, generates a layout of all the planes, calculates the necessary lengths and angles, and prints them on a sequence of pages. Every piece is numbered and annotated with calculated geometric information adequate to guide students to cut it from provided constructional materials such as paper or foam board. The entire deconstruction process is animated so that the user has an intuitive understanding of the relationship between a house and the pieces in the blueprint.
Figure 2: Cutting and assembling the
building shown in Figure 1.

Students also have an option of fitting designs to the dimensions of constructional materials. For example, one option is to assemble a house using printer paper. If students select this option, Energy3D will automatically rescale every piece to guarantee that the largest piece can fit an A4 page and all the others will be proportionally rescaled accordingly. In this case, the texture and all the marks on a piece will be printed out, making it possible for students to construct a physical scale model that looks just like its computer counterpart.

Figure 3: Testing the scale model under
a table light and observing its thermal
signature with an IR camera.
If students are not sure where a piece is located during assembly, they can go back to Energy3D and click on the corresponding virtual piece in the 3D computer model, which will then be highlighted to indicate its position. Thus, the software tool remains useful during the hands-on construction. If any revision is needed after a physical scale model has been constructed, Energy3D’s blueprint feature can help students evaluate whether a modification is feasible by calculating how many pieces will need to be changed and whether there will be enough materials to make the changes.

Energy3D is developed by Drs. Saeid Nourian and Charles Xie and made possible by a grant awarded to the Concord Consortium by the National Science Foundation.