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This is a guest post by Joris Peels who has enjoyed being the community manager at Shapeways over the past two years. He’s from the Netherlands and makes some mean stoofperen. YOu can find him on Twitter @pilz

CAD and 3D modeling tools have come a long way in letting more people turn their ideas into designs. The tools offered today have become simpler and easier to use as well as more powerful. But, you still need training, skill and a lot of time to master a CAD or 3D modeling app.

Lets dream for a moment of a world where anyone can design. What kind of a tool would make that possible? Well, in my mind, the ultimate solution would be BAD or Brain Aided Design. How would BAD work? Rev up the MRI, have a seat and let’s take a look.

  1. You hook yourself up to a fMRI scanner and imagine the object you would like to design.
  2. You imagine the surface, shape & texture of the object and imagine where the inside and the outside of the object are.
  3. A decoding algorithm will then take the fMRI data and decode your thoughts.
  4. The resulting brain reading data will be a point cloud.
  5. You could then turn the point cloud into a mesh. You could do this using tools such as Meshlab, Geomagic, Netfabb, Magics or Mimics.
  6. The resulting file could then be rendered properly and everyone can then see what you imagined.
  7. or more temptingly, based on this workflow the resulting object could actually be 3D printed, turning your thought into a real thing.

Could it really Work?

Now, if you’re a skeptical kind of person you might be wondering what kind of drugs I am on. Steps 4-7 are very simple and have been replicated thousands of times using fMRI and MRI data.

As for the “imagine” steps, they are inspired by the work of Belgian design duo Unfold and a House episode.

Lest that only increase your skepticism, the basic “brain reading” technology necessary for BAD actually does exist but is far from being perfected. Jack Gallant and his team at the UC Berkeley actually came up with a precursor technology for this in 2008. His quote from the Nature article at the time, “Our results suggest that it may soon be possible to reconstruct a picture of a person’s visual experience from measurements of brain activity alone. Imagine a general brain-reading device that could reconstruct a picture of a person’s visual experience at any moment in time.” This quote is now two years old.

At the moment, very basic images from the brain can been seen, reconstructed and recognized. But, it remains to be seen whether it can be perfected and utilized to extent that BAD requires. If this is possible however, the ability for anyone to have to directly be able to turn their own thoughts into both a design and also a physical object will alter many areas of design and manufacturing. I can not be sure that BAD will work. But, I am sure of one thing, that the core tenet of BAD: turning a single person’s thought into a single product will be the defining technological development for the next generation.

Visual Image Reconstruction from Human Brain


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.