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3D Design for Everyday Consumers

October 25, 2008

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,education,entertainment,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:39

In The Boston Globe article “Next software for the masses? How about three-dimensional design,” author Scott Kirsner explained that computers were once used only by PhDs and videocassette recorders were designed for television broadcasters. He went on to say that the mobile phone, GPS, photo editing software, and Internet were intended originally for professionals and academic types.

Kirsner suggested that 3D design software may someday become common among non-professionals and I agree. When playing with Google SketchUp, it doesn’t take much time to see what is possible. However, before 3D design truly makes it to the mainstream, it will need to become even easier than SketchUp, and it will. Take, for example, Spore Creature Creator from Electronic Arts. I was able to create elaborate 3D creatures in the first few minutes after installing the software. What’s more, these models are fully closed, water-tight solid volumes that can be manufactured.

The key will be for software, running on your computer or web server, to help you along so that it becomes effortless. I don’t expect for design software such as SolidWorks or even SketchUp to achieve this level of ease. I envision, for example, software designed for a very specific purpose, such as designing bicycles. The process might start by allowing you to select a style from a library of frames. After selecting one, you could change its shape, but within limits, making it impossible to produce designs that would not accommodate wheels, a seat, handlebars, sprockets, crank, and so on. It knows that you are designing a bicycle and not an electronic device, football stadium, or something else, so everything is built around bicycle design with libraries of parts that you can change. 

We are at the early phase of having access to software that allows almost anyone to create 3D content with little effort and no design experience. The models may not be as sophisticated as those produced by users of Catia, Inventor, Pro/E, or SolidWorks, but that may not matter. The majority of these models would be used in educational or entertaining ways, such as adding them to a document, video clip, or computer game, or manufacturing them on a 3D printer.

Bungled U.S. Energy Policy

October 13, 2008

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 08:06

A lot needs to be fixed in the U.S. at the moment. At the risk of being the bearer of more bad news, here goes.

Jonathan Gourlay, features editor of Desktop Engineering, wrote an interesting editorial in the August 2008 issue. He stated the following.

           In the last fiscal year, the Energy Department had planned to spend
           $159 million on solar research and development. Nearly double
           that, $303 million, on nuclear energy research and development,
           and nearly triple, $427 million, on coal, as well as $167 million on
           fossil fuel research and development. Using the most conservative
           recent numbers available, we spend that combined amount every 
           five days in Iraq.

Shocking? It certainly was to me. With a new administration coming on board soon, I am hopeful that we will see some changes that will reduce our dependency on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse emissions. Our current national priorities give us little chance of either.