While I was growing up, I’d occasionally run towards a wall, jam my fingers up into my arms, pass out and wake up to dogs dragging me off into the woods. Fortunately, the dogs were my pets and my fingers healed into agile implements of multi-touch destruction.

And thankfully so. At SolidWorks World 2010 I sat down with Blake Courter to try the new multi-touch features released with SpaceClaim 2009+ late last year. He snickered at my deformed knuckles, but observed in awe my reaction to what I’m positive will be tech that shapes the future of 3D modeling.

Here’s why.

How Multi-touch Will Shape the Future of 3D Modeling

Some say that the users will shape the future of 3D modeling. So not true. That would mean all those 3D CAD programs would work… thrust, parry, JAB. What do us users know about ‘ease-of-use’ or ‘scalability’ anyway? What we want, even if we don’t know it yet, is the ability to stick our fingers in stuff and make it move. Here’s what is amazingly amazing about that.

It is way more intuitive than you think
I was hunched over a small coffee table on an even smaller screen using SpaceClaim, yet I was able to manipulate the view and the geometry without even knowing how to go about doing it. It was awkward at times and you’re limited to what you can do with four fingers, but the way in which I could create sketches, make selections and move geometry with my fingers was natural.

It will immerse you
I’m not sure what happened when I was moving models around with my hand, but I didn’t want to go to the keyboard. It was actually a pain to move away from the screen. It wasn’t even a 3D environment. It was a flat screen, with basic touch capability on the standard SpaceClaim UI. If I was being slapped repeatedly, I wouldn’t have known it, I was completely immersed. So, how much more immersive would a full-featured multi-dimensional environment be?

It compliments the strengths of the program
If you’ve used SpaceClaim, you know it focuses more on geometry and selection rather than on ‘silly’ features. I knew I needed to create geometry to manipulate it, just like any 3D modeler. I knew I could modify it directly in SpaceClaim. What multi-touch brings to SpaceClaim, and ultimately what 3D developers need to think about, is cohesive workflow, or as I’d rather refer to as, a sticky goo that coats and compliments direct model manipulation.

What multi-touch 3D modeling programs need

If you change the way you interact with objects on a screen… without putting your face through it, it’s obvious there will need to be some changes to the screen, and even the UI.

More options for location of commands
Having been born with arms to the left and right of me, it’s more natural to move to the left and right to access commands. The same goes for an environment where you create objects through different sets of commands. Adding more options for where commands are located or how they appear is a simple way to allow users to adapt to touch systems with fewer violent fits of rage.

Increased touch sensitivity
Multi-touch devices are fairly new-ish, 1995 or so, so the touch screen technology will be improving. The response, whether by fingers, stylus, mandibles or other objects, needs to be improved to the point that touch gestures make the modeling faster. There is definitely going to be an expectation here among users and if the program doesn’t respond along with the input, users will simply not want to use it.

Adaptive commands
So, you have to hit buttons and make selections in a certain way in order for the geometry to be created or modified. The program should sense this and, in a way, learn from this to adapt how geometry is formed and commands are accessed. There’s a limit to the amount of things I can do along the way to creating models, the program knows this and adapts accordingly, or spankings.

Mouse buttons/keyboard incorporated into UI
As I said above, it was a pain to move away from the screen. The natural evolution of this is to move the input to the screen. There are advantages and disadvantages to this obviously, but the concept of any touch-enabled program should push away the development of requiring people to access sub-system input. This could be done with a virtual keyset or stenotype-style device to eliminate the QWERTY keypad altogether.

I haven’t seen or used much that you would call unique in the process of development products by pushing around bits of digital geometry. Multi-touch isn’t so new a concept and and it’s near the point of becoming sickening and really cliche, if not already. However, we need keywords to describe what we’re doing and give marketers a chance to properly target our desire for tech. Multi-touch is perfect, but understand this… it’s not perfect. Notice I didn’t say that multi-touch will be the future of 3D modeling. That’s an important differentiation. It will shape it, as we’re seeing, but what will truly be revolutionary in the world of 3D modeling and product design is how we’ll shift about in this technological storm to bring more cohesion to the entire design, engineering and manufacturing process.

Using SpaceClaim 2009+ with multitouch in a cafe, on a laptop, to create and modify 3D geometry. Amazing really.
Using SpaceClaim 2009+ with multitouch in a cafe, on a laptop, to create and modify 3D geometry. Amazing really.

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.