I’ve previously written about the advent of autonomous vehicles: cars that drive themselves. With the tragic Germanwings crash this week – which was allegedly caused deliberately by the copilot – I’ve been wondering about the possible role of autonomous systems in commercial flights. If the technology exists to allow planes to fly by themselves, then why couldn’t a plane “refuse” to be crashed in the manner that the Airbus was in the Alps?

People may not yet be comfortable with the idea of pilotless airliners (give them time), but could an aircraft “sense” imminent danger and take evasive action to avoid crashing? Mercedes-Benz already employs such technical wizardry for their cars. Features like advanced radar systems that scan for problematic traffic flow and initiate braking to avoid collisions are already in use. Of course, a huge aircraft carrying hundreds of passengers at 500mph would present many more technical challenges. And what if the situation arose (think Captain Sullenberger’s crash-landing on the Hudson river) in which a controlled collision was necessary?

On preliminary cockpit audio from the Germanwings flight, alarms are sounding and audible warnings of “Terrain…Pull up!” can be heard. Surely an aircraft could be equipped to analyze a flight situation in the context of fully-functioning systems and non-threatening flight conditions to intelligently override a pilots actions. And perhaps in the case of a Hudson river landing scenario, a manual override of an autonomous system might only be initiated with the presence of two pilots.

I’m not an engineer and perhaps the technical hurdles and security challenges involved in creating such a system are too great. But I’ve learned to never underestimate what is possible.



3D product renderings offer some advantages over photography: they can be less costly to produce, they can highlight details that might otherwise be difficult to capture, they can illustrate something that doesn’t even exist yet, and they can be revised or edited more easily at a later time if something like a color scheme or feature changes. And as everyone knows, the results, from a photorealistic standpoint, can be virtually indiscernible from those of a photograph. Here’s an example of a 3D rendering of a valve I created for Oventrop Corporation, using Modo.

3D product rendering



I’ve previously written about my approach to creating infographics. I frequently get asked to design these technical diagrams that help explain a company’s production process. An image can often be the most concise and engaging way to communicate and market what is often a complicated set of industrial procedures.

The drawing might require a simple two-dimensional view, but usually something more attention-grabbing like an isometric rendering that shows the machines in a 3d view is requested. These drawings can be static or have interactive functionality added. Sometimes animation is the way to go. The approach is determined by the complexity of the process and how the drawing is going to be deployed and viewed by the audience.

Here are four samples of typical process diagrams that employ slightly different approaches. First, a two-dimensional rendering of the gasifier process, created for Genser Energy. This approach is usually the least time-intensive to create, and can also be animated relatively easily because of the lack of perspective. (Flash required):

Next, an illustration of Markem-Imaje’s coding and labeling options. This rendering provided a visual representation of Markem’s comprehensive number of labeling and coding machines in the context of the various substrates that they’re capable of working on. Rendered in an isometric style, this image had to fit into a brochure layout where space was limited, so the size and detail of the machines had to be carefully considered. The conveyors were “flattened” horizontally to fit the space:

Aservin had me create a simplified drawing of their salt-packaging plant for potential investors. The original illustration was tailored for print and presentations, and I added some simple interactivity for potential use on the web:

ECT2 needed to communicate their synthetic media treatment process. I designed a static illustration with arrows to indicate the flow of water, but because of the complexity of the operations involved, I also created an animated version (using Adobe's Edge Animate) with control buttons for use on the web and at trade shows:



My five-year old computer mouse recently began to act up. I’ll admit it, I’m a little obsessed with input devices for my computer. Adjusting bezier curves on a detailed infographic with a mouse that momentarily ignores you, only to suddenly skip an inch or two can get old really fast. After blowing, tapping, shaking, and banging (last resort) on the thing I decided it was time to head to the local Best Buy to see the latest
mouse offerings.

I’ve never been a fan of the Apple Mouse (Mighty Mouse? Magic Mouse?). I’ve always thought it was an example of Apple’s occasional tendency to favor form over function. I understand that Apple's mouse has to appeal to a broader market, unlike a company like Logitech, that can feature a whole line of peripherals to suit various user needs. But at it’s simplest, Apple’s input devices have just never felt that comfortable to me. Anyway, a computer mouse is not something you should buy online. You’ve got to hold it in your hand to appreciate the subtle differences between components. So I took a few for a spin, so to speak. After shaking my head in disgust at the general build quality of these things, the weird placement (or lack of) buttons, I finally decided to pay a bit more and go for a gaming mouse, the Logitech G602.

The packaging for this device really appealed to the technical artist in me. The top of the box features a split view of the mouse, the right half of which is a glowing, blue-filtered x-ray image that reveals the inner components of the device. This may be the first packaging that I’ve ever considered keeping just for aesthetic purposes (okay, I didn’t do that, but I admittedly winced a bit when it went in the recycling bin).

Using a variety of illustration and 3D graphics software requires that I have buttons to access application shortcuts, and this mouse has plenty of them. Using a utility called SteerMouse (the Logitech driver is admittedly a bit dodgy on the Mac side) I was able to configure various mouse clicks, scroll functions, and input key combinations, even customizing them for different applications. 

Looking like it would be at home on Batman’s utility belt, this thing was obviously designed with the young gamer-set in mind. But the elegant good looks are substantiated with a high-level of comfort and functionality. Who knows, at the rate technology is improving touch gestures, voice input, and pressure-sensitive styli for your computer, maybe this will be my last mouse. But for now, I can highly recommend it.



green infrastructure

I created this illustration awhile back for h magazine (agency: Landesberg Design). It appeared in an article about the impact of storm water runoff in urban communities like Philadelphia. The drawing highlights various green initiatives, including permeable parking lots, bioswales, rainwater gardens, stream buffer restoration, rain barrels, and green roofs. Thanks to Kipp Madison at Landesberg Design for the fascinating project!

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