I’m Praneet Mathur - Architect, Software Developer, and Consultant for ShapeDiver. I discovered Grasshopper while studying Architecture, but I’m still exploring its potential and finding new ways to make use of it over 5 years later. In this blog post, I’m going to try and elaborate on the more unconventional ways Grasshopper can be used. Hopefully, this will help you re-discover Grasshopper in an entirely new light!
<< If you're not entirely familiar with Grasshopper, I recommend watch our video explaining Grasshopper for beginners. >>
While Grasshopper has been developed primarily as a parametric modeling tool, its robust API and embedded features allow for it to be used as a powerful software prototyping environment. If you’re handy with a little C# or Python, Grasshopper can become a sandbox for creative coding! Let me show you some examples.
1. Automating Repetitive Tasks
Why trim your grass one blade at a time, when Grasshopper can do that for you (pun intended)?
I’ve used Grasshopper in the past with a little C# or Python scripting to create a custom bulk-renaming utility for organising a ton of files for a project. A friend of mine even used it to send out unique applications for internships in bulk to Architecture firms (although I don’t recommend trying that!).
A task that otherwise requires you to check items off a list one by one, performing a set of steps for each can become extremely tedious. Grasshopper’s visual programming environment can help you dynamically evolve your process as well, allowing you to make the process more streamlined over multiple script iterations.
2. Custom Applet + UI Prototyping
HumanUI is a popular Grasshopper plugin developed by Andrew Heumann. It performs a seemingly simple function - creates windows and UI elements that can communicate with the Grasshopper script. In practice, this simple concept can be a very powerful tool.
Whether you’re making a script for one of your design projects or trying to create a utility script that fits into your regular workflow - HumanUI can be used to expose the input and output of the script in a clean and user-friendly way. This is helpful not only for simplifying the use of frequent scripts but also for packaging them to share with someone who doesn’t necessarily want to see your wire-spaghetti.
3. Automating Time-consuming Processes
With every modification to a design, a new set of drawings need to be created. For mass production of customizable products, you may need to re-generate g-code or production drawings every time a customer sends unique specifications. Using plugins like Squid and Pterodactyl, you can easily compose and export pdf drawings and reports, directly from within your Grasshopper script. Plugins like Droid and Silkworm allow you to produce g-code from geometry within Grasshopper very efficiently. With some custom C# code, you could also post-process this g-code and feed it straight to your 3D printer.
Such strategies can cut down on several minutes that are wasted in opening third-party applications, importing your exported model, and then pushing to the destination after post-processing. These several minutes, over several iterations, can amount to many hours saved in your regular workflow every month! Time = Money ;)
4. Web Applications
We don’t need to go too far from home to explain this one - ShapeDiver is a web platform that lets you upload your Grasshopper scripts and run them in the cloud-like watching YouTube videos. Though this sounds simple, the other examples should tell you how powerful this can become.
Many ShapeDiver users are already using this platform to create amazing web-based solutions that run in the browser for their customers and even for their teams. Irrespective of your industry, turning Grasshopper scripts into applications that can be scaled up adds even more value to this already incredible piece of software.
Here are just a few of the many success stories from ShapeDiver users:
This Italian jeweler has brought a modern twist to the timeless history of Italian craftsmanship. Their design team has implemented Grasshopper into their design workflow and drastically accelerated the manufacturing process needed for every custom order.
A furniture design studio based in Berlin, Germany, that experiments and prototypes ideas for flat-pack, CNC furniture. With Grasshopper and ShapeDiver they have the power to allow their users to co-design a product before placing an order via the Shopify integration. A custom DXF file is then generated after every order. Clients can then choose to pay for the file only and manufacture locally, or have Nomade Editions manufacture and ship the product to them.
5. Accounting and Finance Management
Yes, Grasshopper is an unorthodox choice for this, to say the least, but if you’re an avid user it really helps with creating a highly customized workflow for managing your money and small business. Making API calls through simple C# scripting can also help invoice automation and integration with other management systems you may be using. API calls can also be made to fetch real-time forex rates or stock prices (even cryptocurrency!).
You can easily make a script to calculate exactly the numbers you need, rather than depending on a ready-made application that might not show you the numbers and analytics that are most relevant to you. A well-made grasshopper script could become your weekly dashboard to track and plan expenses.
6. Grasshopper + Arduino
This is a famously easy way to get started with Arduino and robotics for Architects. With tools like Firefly and Heteroduino enabling direct communication between the Grasshopper Environment and an Arduino device, prototyping complex systems can’t get any simpler than this.
Here’s one of my old projects - I created a best-out-of-waste robotic arm without having to write more than a few lines of code:
You can learn more about this project here. Also, check out the Firefly Experiments’ Gallery for more cool Arduino/Hardware projects with Grasshopper and Firefly.
7. XR Content Prototyping and Digital Fabrication
Grasshopper plugins like Fologram, Mindesk, and Project Shark allow you to not only visualize 3D scenes through XR technologies [Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality] but can also help in the fabrication of complex geometries without the need for documentation and drawings. You can create PoC VR apps and prototype 3D User Interfaces. Then, you can take it one step further by using holographic visualization as a guide for fabricating real-world objects and structures.
Designs that would otherwise be extremely complex to draw and document on a 2D sheet can become much simpler to execute. Moreover, in the lack of Adobe XD alternatives for XR Applications, you can design UI/UX through the same medium in which it’ll be used.
So why should you use Grasshopper in these unique ways? Well, in some cases, simply because you can!
The way I like to think about the use of innovative technologies is by assessing the value addition they offer in any given context. As an Architect and Designer, my team and I find ourselves using Grasshopper in all sorts of uncanny ways just because it presents certain advantages and flexibility over other solutions.
In summary, using Grasshopper in weird ways can help you in one or more of the following ways:
- Automates mundane tasks
- Saves tons of time
- Easy to learn and build upon
- Robust enough to work with robotics
- Smart enough to work with XR
- Powerful enough to create applications
- Flexible enough to do much more!
This basically means that it can perform the job of several IDEs, Game Engines, Macro editors, Spreadsheet apps, Modelling tools, and more - even Accounting software. The fact that it was created to perform just one of those jobs shows the amazing job McNeel did while developing it.
Steve Jobs once said, “The best way to create value in the 21st century is to connect creativity with technology”. Grasshopper is one of the best tools that can enable that today and the massive community supporting it adds more value to it every day on Food4Rhino.
Have you used Grasshopper in a way that would make David Rutten proud? Tell us about your most abnormal scripts!
With ShapeDiver you can collaborate in an online environment where you and your colleagues can operate and design remotely. You can also build cloud-based applications through our API features that can help you create online experiences with limitless potential.
If you need inspiration, browse through the ShapeDiver gallery to see what others computational designers are working on!
<< ShapeDiver is the most convenient way to take Grasshopper definitions online. We are committed to helping designers everywhere share their creations and create cloud-based applications with limitless potentials.>>