MIT researchers feel that 3D Printing makes Big Data displays easier to understand. They make their argument using the example of a 3-D printed model of the MIT campus, which they created using a laser ranging device to measure the buildings. They used this data to build a 3-D model of the campus which they printed out in translucent plastic using standard 3-D printing techniques.
One advantage of the translucent plastic is that it can be illuminated from beneath with different colors. Indeed, the team used a projector connected to a laptop computer to beam an image on the model from below. The image above shows the campus colored according to the height of the buildings.
But that’s only the beginning of what they say is possible. To demonstrate, Weber and Gadepally filtered a portion of the Twitter stream to pick out tweets that were geolocated at the MIT campus. They can then use their model to show what kind of content is being generated in different locations on the campus and allow users to cut and dice the data using an interactive screen. “Other demonstrations may include animating twitter traffic volume as a function of time and space to provide insight into campus patterns or life,” they say.
Weber and Gadepally say their approach is particularly useful when groups of people have to access the data at the same time. They give the example of city planners studying the patterns of traffic that occur in cities. That kind of data is difficult to reason about at a group level without a display that everyone can see and interact with. And the big advantage is that a key part of the data set, the model, is fixed—set in stone, almost. That allows complete flexibility with the data that needs to be crunched but complete inflexibility with the data that doesn’t need to be touched. That can simplify matters considerably. And a 3D Printed picture speaks a thousand words…