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From CAD User Mechanical Magazine Vol 19 No 12 - DECEMBER/JANUARY 2007
3D Connexions new 3D Space Navigation tools aim at giving everybody a new, and fun, way of viewing things.
Just like space travel is opening up for the common man – with tourists paying to be blasted off into orbit for the ultimate ‘getting away from it all’ short break – so, thanks to 3D Connexions, are the ubiquitous 3D space navigation tools breaking into the hobby market!
In one bound, the company has widened the market for its’ left-handed devices – hitherto the 3D model manipulation tools used by savvy mechanical design engineers – by launching two new models, and by slashing its prices!
The justification for such a move is easy! As more and more companies are feeding their websites with 3D models – from Adobe Acrobat 3D to Google Earth, a vast new market is opening up of both serious and amateur users who also want the ultimate in hardware tools to view and explore the new content. And they are not prepared to pay professional prices that would represent a large percentage of their computing budget, when the images and applications they want to access are freely available on the web, and which they will want to play around with on budget priced PCs.
For those of you who have never used a left-handed navigation tools, a bit of an explanation, or impression, may be of use, here. The left-handed device doesn’t add any more functionality than you get with your normal right-handed mouse and the normal navigation and control functions you get with your drop-down menus. With a single mouse, though, each function is performed in serial mode – one function at a time – and if you want to rotate a model, or zoom in, you have to suspend other operations to do it.
With a left-handed device, multiple navigation manoeuvres can be performed simultaneously – supplemented by programmable keys that can be used to access a variety of functions according to the application being used. At the same time, the right-handed mouse is used to select and interact directly with the model. Used together, after a surprisingly short period of practice, the whole operation blends together in a delightfully smooth fashion, both speeding up, and simplifying control.
Starting process for the new models come in at just £39 including VAT! That’s for the Personal model of the new Space Navigator, a simple and compact device with just 2 pre-programmed keys, complete with 3D application support for Google Earth and visualisation, and which will run off your USB port - aimed at home and educational users. That will provide full left-handed control of a 3D model – or, most impressively, allow users to fly, seamlessly, through 3D Google Earth landscapes, leaving the right handed mouse for the usual point and click functions. A professional version of the Space navigator will cost another £30 – including VAT, for use at work.
The second new model is the Space Explorer, a mid-range enterprise solution that comes with 15 buttons, 13 of them labelled for views, keyboard commands, modifiers, panel and fit, and two that can be programmed to handle your most frequently used application commands. The Space Explorer is very carefully designed – like all of 3D Connexions Space devices, and following extensive ergonomic testing – to fit snugly into the hand with all functions readily available with a minimum of effort. That also allows for a sleek modern design, and soft, tactile materials – it’s got a real nice feel to it! The Space Explorer can be connected to USB or serial ports, and is supported by Windows XP and MS Vista, UNIX and Linux. For those awkward sods amongst you, the design is also symmetrical, so that you can swap the operation around, and use it as a right-handed device.
The range of devices is rounded off by 3D Connexions current models, the Space Traveller, a portable device, designed for use with laptops and mobile workstations, and which has 8 programmable buttons, which can all be programmed with application commands, and which now costs just £127, and the Space Pilot, the top-of-the-range navigation device that comes with 21 programmable function keys, and an LCD display that shows you what the current configuration you are working in.
The latter is important, because the Space Pilot is intelligent! It has the ability to distinguish between modes or environments – such as Parts, or Sketches, displays the mode functions that are associated with these on the screen – and can switch between modes on the fly! A function key – programmed by the user – can, therefore, show as a shading function in one mode, and then switch to become a scaling function in another – the ultimate in flexibility and efficiency!
Opening Up New Worlds
3D Connexions has, like a couple of other companies who know where the future lies, developed close links with Google, who, with their hugely popular Google Earth, its’ 3D Warehouse, its acquisition of Sketchup for fast and intuitive architectural modelling – and other new tools, like Picasa for handling your library of images – appear to be setting the agenda for 2D and 3D graphical content on the web. Tools like the Space series give users greater control over how they view these and other 3D models – adding a personal, fun, dimension to the experience that can only motivate a users learning and discovery.
It goes without saying that they also enhance the CAD users creative abilities, and improve their efficiency in handling and manipulating their 3D models.
In keeping with its drive to recruit many new users at all levels, 3D Connexions has provided an excellent new Configuration Wizard that not only installs the devices, but introduces the new user to the various functions available, and graphically illustrates how these are accessed by the devices.
Users are invited to try each function key on a device, and can see, on the screen, exactly how a 3D model will respond to each. It will also demonstrate, in a similar fashion, how hand movements on the controller cap – the ‘joystick’ element of the device – will translate into action – zooming, panning, tilting, spinning, etc – and the speed of response. On completion of the installation it will also invite you to try out a number of applications, including Google Earth, that will demonstrate its performance most convincingly!
Talking of applications, support is also built in for CAD applications including Autodesk Inventor, SolidWorks, UGS NX, Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire, Solid Edge and CATIA. DCC (Digital Content Creation) applications supported include 3ds Max, maya, XSI/SOFTIMAGE and Cinema 4D.
Finally, you don’t need to worry about upgrading the device as support for new applications, or software upgrades become available. An Update Wizard will handle this, automatically, for you.
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