REAL 2016: There's More to 3D Printing than Just 3D Printing

3D printing technology has certainly become a steady rock in both the manufacturing and Maker worlds, but it is far from an island. In fact, 3D printing is heavily intertwined with and dependent on an ecosystem that Autodesk calls “Reality Computing”, coined by the software developer to address an umbrella of 3D (and other related technologies) in general. This includes 3D image capturing, 3D modeling, and, of course, 3D printing, each of which has become increasingly dependent on the others as the digital world continues to blend with the physical. In order to recognize, and celebrate, those who are pioneering technologies related to Reality Computing, Autodesk inaugurated the REAL conference just last year. We will be reporting live from the REAL 2016 in San Francisco, California, helping you follow the action and innovation taking place at the Fort Mason Center this week.


Before we break into the action at REAL 2016, let’s get a firm understanding of just what reality computing is. One of our former correspondents here at 3D Printing Industry, Andrew Wheeler (who is now Co-Chair of REAL 2016), interviewed Autodesk’s Technology and Innovation Strategist Rick Rundell back in 2014, who explained exactly what reality computing encompasses.

“Reality Computing is about capturing physical information digitally, using digital tools to create new knowledge and new designs, and then being able to deliver digital information into the physical world by materializing it through various computer controlled processes or through augmented reality,” Rundell said. “We use the term ‘Reality Computing’ to encompass an emerging set of workflows around the data required by 3D printing and also data that is generated for various kinds of spatial sensing technologies.”

Rick Rundell of Autodesk
Rick Rundell of Autodesk

So, as you can see, Reality Computing goes much deeper than just 3D printing technology. In its simplest form, Reality Computing can be looked at in three different steps: capture, compute, and create, REAL 2016 has broken down their event to cover each of these categories both independently and in-relation to one another. ‘Capturing’ entails anything from 3D sensing to 3D scanning, referring to the process of sensing the physical world and digitizing it. This is where the next step of ‘computing’ comes in to play, where the physical world is 3D processed and transformed into an optimized digital space. Lastly, is ‘create’, which entails anything manifested in the physical, from 3D visualization (such as in VR or AR) to 3D printing itself.

What does Reality Computing encompass?

But still, 3D printing is an integral part of the process, and it will be represented by a number of speakers and companies at this year’s event. This includes Tim Geurtjens of MX3D, who will be discussing their project to 3D print a steel bridge in Amsterdam; Bastian Schaefer of Airbus, the aerospace giant that is utilizing 3D printing technology on a daily basisfashion and architectural designer Behnaz Farahi; and over one hundred other speakers and exhibitors. For those 3D printing enthusiasts out there, there are many other individuals to look out for at REAL 2016, including artist Eyal Gever, who is planning to send a 3D printed “laugh” into space this year as the first-ever extra-terrestrial art installation; as well as Kaitlyn Hova, who will be performing on her own 3D printed violin. Overall, the event showcases the merging worlds of capturing, computing, and creating.

Behnaz Farahi
Behnaz Farahi

Although each of the aforementioned speakers use 3D printing technology in an important way, the other facets of Reality Computing are just as vital to their process. Other speakers and companies who don’t fully utilize 3D printing technology, very obviously and relevantly use other 3D technologies from the same limitless ballpark. Take BioDigital’s Frank Sculli for instance, who will be speaking about their cloud-based, immersive 3D environment for exploration of the human body. Another example is San Francisco’s very own Matterport, a unique real estate agency using image capturing for the rapid 3D visualization of physical spaces.


At REAL 2016, it won’t just be the well-known figureheads sharing their expertise with the attendees, in fact, the event will kick-off with The REAL Deal Startup Competition. The competition will feature four qualifying startups, including a couple that are heavily invested in expanding 3D printing technology. There’s AREVO, who will be presenting their “3D Printed Carbon Fiber Composite Materials”, as well as UNYQ, a prosthetic cover producer who utilizes 3D printing for some of their products. Other competing startups include LucidCam, a stereoscopic 3D camera for VR, and Minds Mechanical, a startup offering proprietary software solutions for 3D technologies.


REAL 2016 considers itself to be more of a hands-on think-tank than an ordinary Maker Faire or tradeshow, a place to discuss innovative ideas with this wide-ranging, yet close-knit community. Throughout the week, 3D Printing Industry will be bringing you coverage on the individuals, startups, and companies at REAL 2016, attempting to expand beyond 3D printing technology to help us better understand it.