Research Perspective on Supporting Software Engineering via Physical 3D Models
Building architects, but also civil or mechanical engineers often build from their designs physical3D models for a better presentation, comprehension, and communication among stakeholders. Software engineers usually create visualizations of their software designs as digital objects to be presented on a screen only. 3D software visualization metaphors, such as the software city metaphor, provide a basis for exporting those on-screen software visualizations into physical models. This can be achieved by 3D-printers to transfer the advantages of real, physical, tangible architecture models from traditional engineering disciplines to software engineering. We present a new research perspective of using physical models to support software engineering. Furthermore, we describe four envisioned usage scenarios for physical models which provide a plethora of new research topics. As proof of concept, we investigate the first usage scenario by evaluating the impact of using physical models on program comprehension in teams through a first controlled experiment. Our experiment reveals that the usage of physical models has a diverging influence. However, they improve the team-based program comprehension process for specific tasks by initiating gesture-based interaction. Therefore, the experiment shows that physical models can provide a promising future research direction.
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