2010. It’s here… or almost here. Which means it’s time to reflect on all the fun innovations that we ran screaming towards, or away from, over the past decade.

Over the past ten years I went from storing data on a CD to storing data online. I also went from emailing someone a couple times a week to sending tens, thousands, billions of messages per day. All the tech to keep me distracted from breathing normally or having a properly developed physique is a mix of good and bad, but mostly good.

As far as the CAD-related tech is concerned, there’s only five I could think of, which means there are likely twenty others which are way better. Here’s what spilled out after a small glass tube resembling my head was shaken vigorously and smashed against a neck of a CAD administrator.

Middle Mouse Button and 3D controllers
Yeah, seems crazy huh. Even though the scroll wheel mice started being used in the late 90’s, it wasn’t till we were well into the 21st century before MCAD apps started using the extra appendage to allow us all to move about a little easier. Even though it seems like CAD Apps have been playing catch-up among the various forms of input mechanisms, the middle-mouse button scroll wheel has become crucial to how we *ahem, Windows users* function in 3D space.

Along with middle-mouse button joy, we have the 3D controller line of devices from Logitech’s subsidiary 3DConnexion formed early in the decade and the beginning of many exploring stylus, touch and Infrared input devices. CAD interfaces are at a point where they’re finally growing along with the ways input devices are developing. Looking forward brings all the ideas of each of the devices becoming more and more integrated with what the user is designing in his environment.

Image: Matt Lyons / GameGavel.com

User-generated, Web-based model library
We never use to share our data. That would have just been gross a decade ago. Now, there’s Google’s Sketchup 3DWarehouse and Dassault’s 3DVia. Both brought in a new way to share our 3D model sickness with people and both continue to develop the community aspects of their sites. There are also sites like Autodesk Seek and 3D Content Central that are building a community around the manufacturer’s libraries of models and product specs. Each year, the content and people becoming familiar with these types of sites grow. It then becomes a perfect lead-in to what people expect to find when searching for 3D content or product data on the web.

Direct-modeling development
Don’t call it a comeback… it’s been here for years, but the last decade has shown a huge resurgence and a lot of cynicism about how it could change the direction of product development. SpaceClaim stands out as a company that, quickly, gave this tech the innovation it needed to kick the interest back into high gear. With backers like Mike Payne who helped develop the previous generation of 3D modeling apps, there was a lot of interest early on in what SpaceClaim was expecting to do. It’s no surprise now that many other CAD companies have been inspired by what they started. They also lead the push toward multi-point 3D interaction with the development of a multi-touch modeling methodology release earlier this month in their 2009+ release. Whether direct modeling makes the design process easier or not, the tech is there and starting to seep into feature sets being developed by other companies.

Modeling/Rendering Love
We had our modeling and we had our rendering. It’s largely been separated in the 3D MCAD world. The last few years have seen this change completely with MCAD companies acquiring rendering companies and integrating better graphics. However, most of the innovation has happened through partnerships CAD companies have formed with companies creating photo-realistic rendering programs. The two that stand out in this area over the past decade, who were not even around prior to 2000, are Bunkspeed with their Hypershot product and Luxology with modo. Both have developed plugins and file import functionality which have made it easier for engineers and designers to bring life into their models. With the ease that model can be brought into rendering programs, it’s easy to see where modeling and rendering programs could affect each other to bring about better compatibility in the future, or even make both processes completely seamless.

Rendering in modo by cannon

Prototyping and Making
The world of 3D printing and rapid-prototyping has all but exploded over the past 10 years. There’s Ponoko and Shapeways of course, but there’s also places like Makerbot and RepRap that are putting all that proto-print tech into your hands. Combine this with the communities that are forming around the idea, and people desiring to print the models they find through the growing repository of model libraries, and you’ve got yourself a business to affect CAD technology for years to come.

A lot of what’s brought this about is web-based applications and the accessibility people have to each other, an innovation in itself completely unrelated to product development, but what’s also the sum total of all the cases, chairs, conference rooms and coffee mugs which make it all possible.

So, that’s the quick wrap-up of the past ten years. Ya think these are really that innovative? There’s likely even more innovation among data management, analysis, hardware and more that is just a taste of what’s to come in the next decade. What would you say has been the most innovative?

Post image by dana.ocker via Flickr


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.