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3D for everyone with Google SketchUp

MozArt multimodal interface for SketchUp

Computer Aided Designing is a highly demanding profession and a hobby. Demand for CAD education is vastly increasing due to increasing carrier opportunities. Almost all professional designers in construction industry are familiarized with popular CAD systems. But there are few designers still following the old fashion paper drawing method. Complexity and longer learning curve in traditional CAD systems have prevent them from thinking of a solution beyond pencil-paper sketching.

Traditional CAD systems such as AutoCAD, Maya, 3D’s max are great in designing precise 3D models. But process of designing a basic 3D model is much sophisticated and time consuming. Even adopting to a newer version of a CAD system for someone who’s already familiarized with an older version is not easy. Because, additional features in newer version makes the user interface much more complex and reduce the PC speed and productivity as well.

In accordance with changes in global trends and due to vastly expanding job market many institutions and education administrators are focusing on improving the quality of CAD course curricula. Use of traditional CAD systems are not adequate to cope with today’s architectural and site design trends such as sustainable landscaping, xeriscaping, zero energy building designing, disaster resistant building designing and many other eco-friendly concepts. Designers have to think twice because of the impact of phenomena such as climate change and disasters. Those are considered as the biggest future challenges of construction industry. Sustainable architectural and landscape implementations are long term investments on environment. But, to be more effective, smart decisions should be made in early stages of design. However, functionalities in traditional CAD systems are not adequate to deal with all these future challenges. Designers need to be familiarized with design systems that support sustainable procedures and methodologies to overcome future challenges and to cope with modern trends.

Google SketchUp is not just another CAD systems, it is equipped with tools to work with sustainable concepts. SketchUp has a suit of Ruby plug-ins which is specially designed for environmental decision making such as energy and daylight analysis.
Complexity in the user interface is the origin of all learning problems. User interface is the frontier that humans and computer software interacts. So it should be simple and playful for effective human computer interaction (HCI) and easy learning. Sophisticated look and feel of the user interface with number of menus, tool boxes, pallets makes the learning a headache for newbies. User interfaces based on window, icon, menu, pointer (WIMP) are still dominant in design software industry and most software developers still follows the WIMP tradition in user interface designing.

In late 1990s computer scientists have identified this problem and started to focus on developing much more interactive user interface prototypes. As a result of innovative research, Sketch based user interfaces were introduced.

Then, software developers adapted to Sketch based interface modeling (SBIM) and released 3D modeling systems such as Sesame, Sketch and SketchUp with much simpler user interfaces. When it comes to user friendliness SketchUp is far ahead than other CAD systems since it’s debut release in 2000 and was tagged as “3D for every one”. SketchUp’s user interface is simpler and tool operations are quicker and easier than traditional CAD software. SketchUp’s push-pull tools is a great innovation, as it makes modeling so much easier and fun.

Normally traditional CAD software occupy huge amount of PC resources and reduce PC speed and productivity considerably. Higher price is another constraint that keeps students and 3D fanatics away from using CAD software for learning and playful stuff.

SketchUp solved both these problems. It utilizes very low amount of system resources so that it does not affect the PC productivity significantly. After SketchUp was acquired by Google, they are releasing a free version of it. That made a huge difference, lot of professionals, 3D enthusiast and FOSS developers gather around SketchUp.

There is a trend of using SketchUp in engineering schools mainly because of the shorter learning cycle, simplicity, accuracy and compatibility with many other software packages. It is great for teaching kids some mathematical concepts. Many teachers are using SketchUp as a stand alone tool or in combination with Google earth in geography, social studies, history and many other design classes. Great thing about recent user interface research is that some researchers are trying to eliminate WIMP prototype from SketchUp by developing multimodal interfaces with speech and touch input functionality. MozArt is one of the voice and touch based interface system introduced to play with SketchUp. Speech input interfaces allow physically disabled people to involve with 3D modeling. SketchUp has no boundaries. It gives a chance to everyone to feel the freedom of 3D modeling.

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