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INTERNATIONAL DESIGN CONFERENCE – DESIGN 2020
METHOD FOR 3D-ENVIRONMENT DRIVEN DOMAIN KNOWLEDGE
ELICITATION AND SYSTEM MODEL GENERATION
S. Japs , L. Kaiser and A. Kharatyan
Fraunhofer IEM, Germany
The development of cyber-physical systems requires close cooperation between stakeholders from
different disciplines. Model-based systems engineering support this by the design of a system
model. Non-identified domain knowledge by the stakeholders is a challenge when creating the
system model. The CONSENS 3D-Modeling Method supports the domain-independent elicitation
of domain knowledge using a 3D environment and enables the derivation of a SysML system
model. We applyed the method by implementing a prototype, called 3D Engineer, to an application
example from the automotive industry.
Keywords: 3D modelling, virtual engineering (VE), model-based engineering, cyber-physical
systems, systems modeling language
The development of intelligent technical systems, such as autonomous vehicles, is characterised by
close cooperation between mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and software engineering.
The interdisciplinary and complexity of these systems leads to an increasing challenge for an effective
and efficient development. Model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE) addresses these challenges by
methods for the development of a common system model involving different stakeholders.
The precise and early elicitation of the domain knowledge of the stakeholders constitutes a challenge
for the development of the system model. Missing domain knowledge within the system model is a
risk for the discipline-specific development regarding development costs and development time.
There are several approaches (Coulin and Zowghi, 2005; Asger and Yousuf, 2015) that address the
elicitation of domain knowledge, such as the requirement elicitation techniques interview or
brainstorming. However, these techniques are aimed for textual elicitation of requirements and not for
the creation of a system model. In particular, interviews lead to ambiguous requirements (Alessio et al.,
2016). Conversely, MBSE approaches such as CONSENS (Gausemeier et al., 2014) provide a method
for developing a system model, but do not help to elicitate the domain knowledge of stakeholders.
The theory of situational cognition postulates that the elicitation of associated knowledge is more
successful when people are placed in a situational context (Brown et al., 1989). For example, if one stands
on the side of the road and watches the traffic, more safety-critical situations come to mind than if one were
standing in front of a whiteboard. There are already a number of approaches that support the elicitation of
domain knowledge using 3D environments (Florides et al., 2015; Bhimani and Spolentini, 2017; Bhimani,
2017; Brown et al., 2015; Brown et al., 2017). 3D environments allow e.g. the playful interaction with 3D
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objects inside the 3D environment as well as the change of the perspective. However, these approaches can
only be applied domain-specific. Another problem with these approaches is that after the knowledge has
been elicitated, it is necessary to transfer it manually to an MBSE software tool. The approach (Brown et
al., 2015) allows additionally deriving models, but is domain-specific.
In this paper we introduce the CONSENS 3D-Modeling Method, which is domain-independent and,
using 3D environments, improves the elicitation of domain knowledge.
In order to reduce the modeling effort, the CONSENS 3D Modeling Method enables the automatic
derivation of a system model. For this we extend the CONSENS method for use in 3D environments. The
CONSENS method has been applied in numerous industrial projects in the product conception phase, e.g.
to develop smart home products (UNITY Innovation Alliance, 2020) or as a general method for designing
mechatronic products (Smart Mechatronics, 2020). We use SysML (OMG, 2015) as modeling language,
since SysML is the de-facto modeling language for systems engineering (Dori, 2016).
We illustrate our approach with the application example Platooning. Platooning is a method for
driving a group of vehicles autonomously together. Here we illustrate a safety hazard by the
occurrence of an obstacle in front of the platoon. Furthermore we illustrate a safety critical security
threat by the manipulation of sensor data to manipulate the platoon behavior via a fake obstacle.
We structure this work as follows: First, in Section 2, the necessary foundations for our approach will
be established. For this purpose the MBSE method CONSENS is presented, on which our approach is
based. Furthermore, a classification of related work and a delimitation will be performed. In section 3,
we introduce the CONSENS 3D Modeling Method, which allows the application of the existing
CONSENS method for the use in a 3D environment and ensures an automatic derivation of a SysML
system model. Section 4 presents the application of the method using the platooning example. For this
we present a general software architecture for a tool implementation. Furthermore, we show the
application of our method by means of a prototypical implementation by our tool 3D Engineer.
Finally, a discussion, summary and an outlook are presented.
2. Fundamentals and related work
In this section we present the fundamentals of the CONSENS 3D-Modeling Method presented in
section 3 and delimit it from relevant existing approaches.
2.1. CONSENS method and SysML4CONSENS-profile
As the fundamental approach we use the CONSENS method (Gausemeier et al., 2014). CONSENS is
a Model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE) approach and designed for the interdisciplinary design
of complex intelligent technical systems. The method defines, centrally for an MBSE approach, based
on a modeling language the design of a system model in the concept phase. The CONSENS method
requires the design of different partial models for the different aspects of a technical system. The
Environment Model views the system as a black box in the context of its environment. In this model,
interactions between environmental elements and the system are modelled. Application Scenarios
describe a situation-specific view of the described system. The partial model Requirements comprises
a structured collection of requirements for the system. The partial model Functions allows a
hierarchical breakdown of the functionality of the system. In the System Structure, the components of
the system and the relationships between the components are modelled. In the partial model Behavior,
the system behavior is modeled by activities, states or sequences. The partial model Shape, addresses
the early definition of the shape of the system. By means of cross-relationships, the different partial
models can be connected with each other. Relationships within these models are distinguished
according to the following relationship types: information, energy, substance and if unclear logical
relationship. While CONSENS defines its own modeling language, we use the modeling language
SysML (OMG, 2015). This defines a requirements diagram and several structure and behavior
diagrams. In order to be able to use the CONSENS method in combination with SysML, we use a
corresponding SysML profile (Dumitrescu et al., 2013). Profiles allow the modelling language to be
extended by adding further stereotypes. E.g. the stereotype “information” (see Figure 4), allows the
relationship “Manipulated data” between the environmental element “hacker” and the system “car” to
be categorized as an information relationship.
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2.2. Classification of related work and delimitation
We have examined a number of approaches that support system design and allow to derive a system
model in a modeling language. We exclude approaches like (Atukorala and Chang, 2018), which are
very formal and can only be understood by discipline experts, or approaches that do not use an
established modelling language. For this purpose, we consider the requirement elicitation and
documentation as an early form of system design. For this we have created a classification (see Figure
1). We distinguish between approaches which support domain-dependent and independent system
design. Furthermore, we distinguish between approaches which additionally allow a derivation of a
system model or not. We illustrate the classification in Figure 1, exemplarily on the basis of
approaches that compete with our approach or are relevant to it. The Driving Simulator based method
(Florides et al., 2015) supports the elicitation of requirements for the automotive industry by means of
a simulation-based 3D environment. The approach does not deal with the derivation of requirements
or a system model. The Business Process Modeling Method (Brown et al., 2015) supports the
identification of business processes through a 3D environment in the form of an office complex. Here
the determined business processes are automatically created in the form of BPMNs. Both approaches
are not independently applicable to domains.
Figure 1. Classification of MBSE approaches
An example for the domain independent system design is the CONSENS method (Gausemeier et al.,
2014) (cf. Section 2.1). The method helps to create the system model by means of different partial
models. The system aspect shape can be linked with other Partial models by cross-relationships.
However, this aspect is not methodically addressed in order to support the design of the individual
partial models. In particular, CONSENS offers no automatic derivation of a system model. Techniques
for the elicitation of requirements such as interviews or document analysis can be used independently
of domains. However, these do not support the automatic derivation of requirements of a system
model. Design thinking refers to the cognitive, strategic and practical processes by which design
concepts are developed. According to (Brenner and Uebernickel, 2016), design thinking contains
phases which are run iteratively to develop specific and stepwise more detailed prototypes. (Tomita et
al., 2017; Lewrick et al., 2018; Tekaat et al., 2019) are showing the feasibility and potentials of
combining design thinking with systems engineering. The creation of prototypes in design thinking
approaches harmonizes with approaches that use 3D objects as system representatives. However, we
did not find any approach that allows the automatic generation of a system model. The Audio
Recordings based method (Abad et al., 2018) is domain independent. By analyzing audio recordings
through e.g. interviews, requirements can be automatically recorded in text form and be categorized.
No support in the elicitation of these requirements is considered in this method.
Based on our literature analysis, we did not find approaches that simultaneously improve the
elicitation of domain knowledge, can be applied domain-independently and allow the automatic
derivation of a system model to reduce the manual modeling effort. We fill this research gap with the
CONSENS 3D-Modeling Method (cf. Section 3).
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3. CONSENS 3D-Modeling Method
In this section we present the CONSENS 3D-Modeling Method. By using 3D environments, this
method enables the playful elicitation of requirements and design of an informal system model.
Furthermore, the method allows the automatic derivation of a SysML system model.
The method generally consists of four process steps (see Figure 2). The first step consists of the
definition of the general use case, here platooning. This is followed by the application of the CONSENS
3D analysis phase (see Section 3.1) and the application of the CONSENS 3D synthesis phase (see
Section 3.2). The existing CONSENS analysis and synthesis phase was extended for use in 3D
environments. The last step is the automatic derivation of a SysML system model based on the steps
performed in the analysis and synthesis phase. For this purpose, a meta model is used which defines the
mapping between text, elements of the 3D environment and SysML elements (see Section 3.1).
Figure 2. Method overview
3.1. Meta model
The meta model shown in Figure 3 is fundamental for the CONSENS 3D analysis and synthesis phase
and the derivation of SysML system models. This defines the mapping between text elements,
elements of the 3D environment and SysML elements. Stereotypes allow the specific distinction
between the respective elements. Furthermore, by noting the position sequence, it is possible to
capture the motions of 3D objects.
Figure 3. Meta model
Figure 3 shows the application of the meta model to the function “brake car”. The text element of the
function can be allocated via the trace-relationship directly to the SysML element “brake car” with the
stereotype “function”. In addition, “car” can be assigned to a 3D and SysML element with the
stereotype “bdd”. A SysML Block Definition Diagram (bdd) represents system elements as black-
boxes. Vehicle movements are captured using the position sequence. Since there is a relationship
between the function “brake car” and a specific “car”, this is annotated accordingly.
3.2. CONSENS 3D-analysis phase
For the application of the CONSENS method using a 3D environment, an extension or adaptation of the
method is necessary. In this section we introduce the 3D analysis phase, which is based on the existing
CONSENS analysis phase. The 3D analysis phase consists of three sub-processes (see Figure 4).
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Figure 4. CONSENS 3D-analysis phase overview
The first sub-process, design of an environmental context, is new and precedes the previous analysis
phase. For the general use case, here platooning, an environmental context in the 3D environment has
to be designed. The environmental context provides the foundation for situational cognition in the 3D
environment. For platooning we choose a major city as the environmental context.
The second sub-process uses the environmental context in order to design the general system and its
direct environment, supported by the use of 3D objects. In this sub-process a boundary is defined
between the system under design and its direct environment. In addition, relationships shall be
established between the system and the environmental elements. We define the individual vehicle in
the platoon as the system. The situational cognition is reinforced by the environmental context and
enables the derivation of environmental elements for the system out of the environmental context.
Examples would be other vehicles in the platoon, the roadway and obstacles that could be located in
the major city. The detection of obstacles corresponds to a CONSENS information relationship
between obstacle and vehicle. The braking of the vehicle on the road represents an energy relationship.
In addition, the environmental element hacker can be derived for the environmental context of major
cities. The hacker could be in a house or café close to the roadway in order to manipulate vehicle
sensor data or the communication between vehicles in the platoon.
The third sub-process deals with the definition of user stories. This sub-process corresponds with the
creation of an application scenario in CONSENS. User stories are short requirements formulated in
common language. In the context of the 3D analysis phase, user stories are used to describe what is to
be modelled and what has already been modelled in the 3D environment. User stories are linked with
environmental elements and the general system from the 3D environment. They can also be linked to
each other. The modeled relationships between the 3D objects and the modeled behavior (see section
3.3) provide potential for the automatic generation of user stories.
An example is the following user story: If the vehicle detects a sudden appearing obstacle, it must
perform an emergency braking. In order to increase precision and avoid ambiguities, a connection is
established between the specific vehicle and the obstacle with the corresponding 3D elements. In
contrast to the existing CONSENS analysis phase, the use of user stories represents a simplification
and serves as a basis for the formulation of requirements.
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Based on the process steps of the 3D analysis phase, SysML models can be derived from Section 3.1
using the meta model. Figure 4 shows a CONSENS environment model for the Platooning application
example in the form of a SysML-BDD. The user stories from the 3D environment are presented in the
form of SysML requirements. Cross-referencing of user stories with each other is also done for
SysML requirements. Since user stories are linked with 3D elements, a link is set between the SysML
requirements and the SysML-BDD. This is used to formulate precise requirements.
3.3. CONSENS 3D-synthesis phase
In this section we introduce the 3D synthesis phase, which is based on the existing CONSENS
synthesis phase. The 3D synthesis phase consists of three sub processes (see Figure 5).
The first sub process deals with the design of system functions. System functions are initially
independent of solutions and can be implemented in different ways. They are defined in CONSENS
by a subject + verb combination. The extension consists of linking subjects of a function with 3D
elements. For example, for the function “Detect obstacle” a link from “obstacle” to the representing
3D element is created. If there is a hierarchical relationship between functions, this is also captured.
The function “Detect obstacle”, for example, requires the function “Brake car”.
Figure 5. CONSENS 3D-synthesis phase overview
The second sub-process deals with the design of system components and their relationships to each
other. Using 3D objects, system components can be placed relative to each other in the general system
and can be connected to each other. The modelled artefacts environment model, user stories and
functions serve as a basis. In the context of the application example, a sensor component is required
for the detection of obstacles. A security unit has to analyze the sensor data in case of external attacks.
There is an information relationship between the sensor component and the security unit.
The third process step deals with the design of the system behavior using the 3D environment. The
system behavior can be modelled on two different levels. On the one hand on level of the general
system and its environment and on level of the system components. The artifacts that have already
been created in previous process steps serve as a basis. An important aid is the positioning of 3D
elements in the 3D environment. Analogous to the procedure in SysML, modeling can be condition-
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based, activities-based and interaction-based, depending on the behavior focus. Figure 5 shows an
interaction-based sequence within the 3D environment. Because an interaction represents a
relationship between two 3D elements, it can be differentiated by a relationship type. If an obstacle
is detected, the vehicle should then brake and finally warn other vehicles. Based on the process steps
of the 3D synthesis phase, SysML models can be derived from Section 3.1 using the meta model.
Figure 5 shows SysML models for functions, the system architecture, and a sequence diagram for
system behavior. If a SysML model element occurs within another SysML model element, it is
linked to other model elements to avoid ambiguities. For example, the function “Brake car” appears
in the sequence diagram as an interaction message. Here, “car” refers to the vehicle that first
recognized the obstacle.
4. Application of the method and prototypical implementation of 3D
In this section we introduce the application of the CONSENS 3D-Modeling Method. First, a general
software architecture for tool support is discussed, then a prototypical implementation of our tool - 3D
Engineer (Japs, 2020) - will be presented.
Figure 6 shows the general architecture of 3D Engineer. 3D Engineer requires a 3D model library. For
this we use the Unity Asset Store (Unity, 2019a), which contains more than 31000 3D object packages
and is continuously extended. Most object packages contain several 3D objects up to over 100. 3D
Engineer extends a 3D engine by the process steps of the CONSENS 3D analysis and synthesis phase.
The 3D engine we use is Unity (Unity, 2019b), one of the most commonly used development
environments for 3D games. Part of 3D Engineer is the generation of SysML models. A Model-based
Systems Engineering Environment is required for further processing of the SysML models. For this
we used the CAMEO Systems Modeler (CMS) (NoMagic, 2019). For the model import we developed
our own CMS plugin.
Figure 6. Software architecture overview
Figure 7 shows the prototype implementation of 3D Engineer. We used the CONSENS 3D method for
the general Use Case Platooning using 3D Engineer. We created an environment model in 3D
Engineer and automatically generated a SysML-BDD (see Figure 8). Furthermore, we modelled two
interaction sequences in 3D Engineer (see Figure 7) and automatically generated two sequence
diagrams (see Figure 9).
The application of the method is described in detail below (see Figure 7). During the analysis phase, an
environmental context was created for the general use case. For the environmental context “Major City”,
we used Windridge City from the Unity Asset Store, which is often used in the scientific community.
We used 3D objects from the Asset Store to model the general system and the environment.
The general system is the front vehicle. As environmental elements we use a woman as a hacker, a
box as an obstacle and a rear vehicle as another vehicle in the platoon. Relationships are established
between the general system and the environmental elements and differentiated according to
relationship types. We have indicated a possible automatic text recognition by speech input by the
In play mode, requirements are determined in a playful way by touch gestures by placing 3D objects,
changing perspectives and moving objects. The Specification Mode is used to intuitively design the
system model. In order to keep up the modeling flow, dummy objects are used, here the box. These
boxes can potentially be identified by a label.
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Figure 7. Implementation of 3D Engineer
Figure 8. Generated system environment model
During the synthesis phase, system components and their relationships are designed. For this purpose,
the implementation of the general system and its environment could be reused. For the design of the
system behavior, we focused on the realization of the interaction behavior (see Figure 7). For this
purpose, a sequence of interactions between 3D elements is formed and described textually. In order to
differentiate more precisely, each interaction relationship is assigned to one of the four relationship
types of CONSENS (see Section 2.1). Figures 8 and 9 show an environment model and a behaviour
model. Both models were designed using 3D Engineer and the CONSENS 3D-Modeling Method and
were automatically generated in the form of SysML models. For this purpose 3D Engineer generates a
file. This file is processed using the CMS plugin we developed, so that SysML models are automatically
created from it.
Figure 9. Generated behavior diagrams
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In this paper, we have presented an requirements engineering approach which simultaneously improve
the elicitation of domain knowledge, can be applied domain-independently and allow the automatic
derivation of a system model to reduce the manual modeling effort.
We have identified the following challenges: The initial effort for our approach is relatively high. For
preparation, a suitable selection of 3D models must be determined. Missing models must be created
manually or represented by dummy objects. Furthermore computer hardware like tablets is necessary.
The use in an industrial environment requires the exact knowledge of the corresponding license for
free 3D objects. For example, in design thinking, sticky notes, pens and cardboard are sufficient. For
using CONSES, a whiteboard and pens are sufficient. Classical elicitation techniques such as
interviews or questionnaires require only a written preparation.
We have identified the following benefits: Compared to CONSENS, our approach supports the
elicitation of the stakeholders’ domain knowledge through an interactive visualization in a 3D
environment. Furthermore, the additional manual effort of digitizing domain knowledge in the form of
digital models is not required. Created digital models and relationships can be reused in 3D Engineer
regardless of location and in subsequent projects. In contrast, analog approaches such as design
thinking or CONSENS. Here, the extracted domain knowledge for example only exists in the form of
labeled whiteboards, walls with sticky notes or in the form of cardboard prototypes. The consolidation
of the domain knowledge in the form of digital models is still necessary in this context. Especially the
creation of digital models based on design thinking results requires additional cognitive effort.
The direct creation of SysML models saves preparation effort, but the situational cognition regarding
elicitation of domain knowledge from the stakeholders is not addressed. In particular, our approach
enables the elicitation of domain knowledge without requiring detailed SysML knowledge from the
6. Conclusions and future work
The development of intelligent technical systems requires the cooperation of stakeholders from
different disciplines. Model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE) addresses this challenge through
methods like CONSENS for the creation of a common system model. The precise and early elicitation
of the domain knowledge of the stakeholders represents a challenge for the creation of the system
model and, in the negative case, poses risks for the discipline specific design.
The CONSENS 3D-Modeling Method addresses this challenge. Compared to existing approaches, this
method is domain independent. For this purpose, in order to increase the situational cognition of
stakeholders, the method provides a relation to 3D environments. To ensure consistency in
engineering, the method allows an automatic derivation of a SysML system model. We have
illustrated our approach by means of the platooning application example. For this purpose, we applied
the method on the basis of the platooning example by our prototypical implementation - 3D Engineer.
Part of future work is the validation of the method and evaluation of other application examples like
robot production cell. For this purpose, a comparison with two groups of people is suitable, in which
one group uses e.g. established approaches of requirement engineering and the other group uses the
CONSENS 3D method. In order to increase situational cognition, the use of the CONSENS 3D
method in combination with virtual reality will be investigated.
I like to thank my students Oliver von Heißen and Sebastian Schmidt for they support in implementing 3D Engineer.
This research was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the project
SecForCARs, grant number 16KIS0790. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the authors.
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