Friday, July 11, 2008

The Future of 3D CAD: Online?

At right is a screen shot of a "room" in Google's 3D Virtual World. The name of the room: Superhero's HQ.

Now, if you're like me, you probably find the whole Secondlife phenomenon to be somewhat...disconcerting, if not outright cringe-inducing. The level of dorkdom on such sites must be mind-numbing. The probability that the designer of Superhero's HQ has ever had a date with an actual girl is infinitesimally small, and just by looking at the image, a small zit has probably started forming in the middle of your forehead.

However, the SolidWorks blog SolidSmack points out the potential usefulness of a 3D virtual reality world: This could allow engineers to design within a browser, and it could be a huge step forward in collaboration, telecommuting, etc. They predict that SolidWorks 2010 might include some sort of Virtual Reality functionality. You can picture how this would work: You would have your own room (or lair, as the case may be), with various models lying around like furniture; you could invite someone into your room, where you could actually assemble parts into assemblies, etc.

This seems like an optimistic assessment of the motivations behind Virtual Reality to me. While gaming systems graphics cards can be used to run CAD, and advances in these graphics cards have been driven by gaming, the benefit to the CAD community has been peripheral and accidental. Actually incorporating CAD into Virtual Reality, and VR into CAD, would require a conscious effort and a lot of money, and I just don't see it happening. I can see the developers of this technology putting much, much more effort into the appearance of character's virtual breasts than they will into the interface between SolidWorks and VR.

But I could be wrong; so you might want to start working on your Viking Warrior avatar now.