Humans have been building bows for thousands of years—there’s some evidence that they go back 70,000 years—but can computers design one? That’s the question amateur archer John Briscella of the Brooklyn-based Aminimal Studio recently asked. The result of his exploration is the Optimal Bow, an aluminum arrow shooter designed algorithmically.
Meant as a tribute to archery, art, and technology all at once, the Optimal Bow was created by first scanning an existing bow into a computer. Briscella then taught Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher software what the weapon’s major points of interest are: where a bow is held, where the arrow sits, how much force the bow needs to be able to withstand, and so on. Dreamcatcher was then told to make the optimal bow out of aluminum, using the inputted design specifications.
This is generative design. Generative design allows software to automate many aspects of the design process, so instead of just entering a bunch of points into a CAD model, you set specifications and limits, and let the computer work out the details. Generative design is relatively a new field for art and design, but Briscella says it fascinates him because he’s able to explore challenging concepts. "Can code have creativity?" Briscella says. "How can humans co-design with machines? And what level of robotic craftsmanship can be achieved? It may seem like science fiction, but it is real."
According to Briscella, archery has long been something he turns to in the design process to relax and focus. He never thought about actually designing a bow, though, until he was brought to San Francisco as Autodesk’s artist-in-residence. During his time there, he would go to the Golden Gate park’s outdoor range to shoot, when one day it hit him that he should make his own bow. Once he teamed up with Dreamcatcher, the project went swiftly. "The software was at an earlier stage so there was a lot of back and forth. The Optimal bow [helped] the team push the software further, and now they have even tried their hands at archery!"
Although the finished product is called the Optimal Bow, it isn’t necessarily better than a regular bow, Briscella says. "I can’t say it’s superior to any bow yet, except maybe the first bow ever made," he says. But he hopes that generative design can eventually have a major impact on the sport. Briscella is currently talking to world champion archers and Olympic-quality bowmakers to leverage generative design to create the next-generation of bow.