Standard two-dimensional (2D) computer displays are traditionally used in engineering design to display the three-dimensional (3D) images generated by computer-aided design and engineering (CAD/CAE) systems. These displays serve primarily as passive visualization tools. The interaction with the displayed images on these devices is only possible through archaic 2D peripheral input devices such as keyboards and mice; via the Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing (WIMP) style graphical user interfaces. It is widely acknowledged in the design community that such visualization and interaction methods do not match the way the designers think and work. Overall, the emerging volumetric 3D displays are seen as the obvious replacement of flat displays in future. This paper explores the possibility of stepping beyond the present 2D desktop computer monitors, and investigate the practicalities of using the emerging volumetric 3D displays, coupled with non encumbering natural interaction means such as gestures, hand motions and haptics for designing in 3D space. We first explore the need for spatial visualization and interaction in design, and outline how the volumetric 3D imaging devices could be used in design. We then review the existing volumetric 3D display configurations, and investigate how they would assist designing in 3D space. Next, we present the study we conducted to seek views of the designers on what kind of volumetric 3D display configuration would more likely match their needs. We finally highlight what would be the consequences and benefits of using volumetric 3D displays instead of the canonical flat screen displays and 2D input devices in design. It has been established that the designers who participated as subjects in the above-mentioned preliminary field study feel that dome-shaped and aerial volumetric 3D imaging devices, which allow for both visualization and interaction with virtual objects, are the imaging options that would not only better suit their visualization and interaction needs, but would also satisfy most of the usability requirements. However, apart from dealing with the remaining basic technological gaps, the challenge is also on how to combine the prevailing proven CAD/CAE technologies and the emerging interaction technologies with the emerging volumetric 3D imaging technologies. As a result of turning to volumetric 3D imaging devices, there is also the challenge of putting in place a formal methodology for designing in 3D space by using these devices.

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