Pteromys: Interactive Design and Optimization of
Free-formed Free-flight Model Airplanes
Nobuyuki Umetani     Yuki Koyama     Ryan Schmidt     Takeo Igarashi    
The University of Tokyo      JST ERATO       Autodesk Research

(Left) Our model airplane design tool analyzes the aerodynamic properties of a glider and optimizes while the user interactively designs the plane. (Center) The user fabricates the airplane. (Right) The airplane actually flies.


This paper introduces novel interactive techniques for designing original hand-launched free-flight glider airplanes which can actually fly. The aerodynamic properties of a glider aircraft depend on their shape, imposing significant design constraints. We present a compact and efficient representation of glider aerodynamics that can be fit to real-world conditions using a data-driven method. To do so, we acquire a sample set of glider flight trajectories using a video camera and the system learns a nonlinear relationship between forces on the wing and wing shape. Our acquisition system is much simpler to construct than a wind tunnel, but using it we can efficiently discover a wing model for simple gliding aircraft. Our resulting model can handle general free-form wing shapes and yet agrees sufficiently well with the acquired airplane flight trajectories. Based on this compact aerodynamics model, we present a design tool in which the wing configuration created by a user is interactively optimized to maximize flight-ability. To demonstrate the effectiveness of our tool for glider design by novice users, we compare it with a traditional design workflow.


System Features:

Pteromys, our airplane design tool, allows novice users without domain specific knowledge to design their own free-formed airplanes. The pteromys simulates and visualizes flight trajectories of an airplane during its shape modeling, facilitating creative but yet functional design. Moreover the pteromys optimizes of airplane's shape so that the airplanes fly well. To achieve these features, we present a novel simulation and design approach (below). In offline preparation stage, we capture flight trajectories of sample set of glider the system construct relationship between forces and wing shape using machine learning (below-left). In online design stage, the user can design airplane while system simulate and optimize the flight in real-time (below-right).



Pteromys: Interactive Design and Optimization of Free-formed Free-flight Model Airplanes
Nobuyuki Umetani, Yuki Koyama, Ryan Schmidt, and Takeo Igarashi
ACM Transactions on Graphics (Proceedings of SIGGRAPH 2014).
Paper [pdf, 15MB]



Q:What "Pteromys" originally means?
A:It's a flying squirrel: wikipedia
Q: How to pronounce "Pteromys"?
A: Here is a pronunciation: forvo
Q:Does Pteromys use any fluid (airflow) dynamics simulation?
A:No. Instead of expensive fluid dynamics simulation, Pteromys utilizes a simpler but much faster approach called "wing theory".
Q:What is the main difference from the existing "wing theory"?
A:Our approach tries to apply wing theory for free-formed airplane. To acquire parameter necessary for this application, we use machine learning techniques in the preparation stage.
Q:How much does it cost for fabricating airplanes?
A:People can construct an airplane very cheaply (less than one dollar for each).
Q:Can novice users create their own airplane?
A:With the real-time optimization, the design is amazingly easy. You just need to follow your intuition.

Selected Press:

CNET:Can an armadillo paper airplane fly? Autodesk says yes
New Scientist:How the weirdest designs can become great paper planes


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