Multitouch CAD – Are you Serious!?


What I learned this week … came from a Youtube video by direct modeling (3D CAD) company SpaceClaim. SpaceClaim MultitouchThe video is cool from the music to the product, but after their hilarious April Fool’s joke – how serious is this really? Let’s put aside that question – and the question of how ready this technology may be – until I have a chance to talk with them a bit. In the meantime, what I want to discuss is “why we would care if multitouch came to CAD?

My Initial Thoughts
What the video shows (OK, please just go watch it, it is worth the two-plus minutes it takes and I could never do it justice) is the use of multitouch capabilities in a CAD modeling environment. It is glitzy and fun, but I think packs some real promise. Why would multitouch be appealing? Other than the fact that it looks cool (and hopefully comes with the techno-music built in) – where would we find business value in such an interface? I have written about multitouch in 3D before and its potential to increase engineering efficiency and increase collaboration at some point, but never really considered it as a real modeling interface (other than when watching a movie) in the near term.

So is There Business Value?

I am sure SpaceClaim has their views on this, and I look forward to hearing them. To me, there are two potential avenues to value that spring to mind:

  • More natural interface – people work with their hands. Hands are amazing tools that we start to use when we are very young. Our brains are geared for hand-eye coordination. Many of the computer interfaces developed for modeling are electronic analogies for physical manipulations. After all, where did “cut and paste” came from? Particularly in direct modeling, terms like “push” and “pull” are used, which are much more the words we would have used as we grew up modeling in Playdough, clay, sand, or whatever was available to us. Perhaps we can be more creative when we are closer to our naturally learned modeling techniques? Of course, with the power of technology to extend what our hands can do with rapid calculations and visualization capabilities, we should be much more creative than with a physical material (with all of its inherent constraints). For example, I am much better at “cut and paste” online than with my unaided hands because of capabilities like “snap to grid” and a general lack of dexterity.
  • More accessible user interface (maybe) – I was just at Six Flags New Jersey with my son yesterday, and they had a multitouch desktop with photographs on it. It’s tucked away in a little lab behind a bunch of rides, but they have a cool hands-on lab. Kids were walking up to this desktop, sliding the pictures around, and with very little instruction resizing and re-ordering them. Why? It fits into their (physical) paradigm of the world. As much as my kids can learn to manipulate an Xbox controller with levers and buttones to simulate a football game, isn’t it easier to pick up a Wii controller with a motion-oriented interface? So perhaps these capabilities will (eventually) open up 3D modeling to a much broader audience? For example, wouldn’t it be great for a non-engineer to be able to show the CAD expert the change they want instead of describe it and watch the engineer interpret the words and try to model it?

SpaceClaim Multitouch Analysis

Note: I have posted on the Wii contoller as a user interface as well, which combine physical motion with buttons. My guess is that we are not looking at an either-or between these different interfaces, but multiple interfaces (and hybrid interfaces).

Implications for Manufacturers?

The implications for manufacturers are twofold:

  • Keep an eye on this technology – let’s find out how real (and how ready) this is. This is something that is worth keeping an eye on. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as the primary interface any time soon. There are a lot of complex interactions that are likely hard to make gestures for. Likewise, making them intuitive may not be entirely …well… intuitive. This will take some time for the value to be recognized.
  • Keep en eye on this company – let’s face it, these guys are creative and out to change the game. Is this the most compelling next step for 3D modeling software? I am not convinced yet. But, a company with the ability to spot an opportunity like this and start walking down the path is a company worth learning from. And I have to note that the video says it will be available “this Fall,”  and that it appears from the video and the credits that this might go beyond modeling to analysis and simulation. Interesting…

So that is what I learned this week, I hope you found it interesting. Let me know what you think. And let’s all wait to hear what SpaceClaim has in mind in regards to making this deliverable product.