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Dell looks to Core i5 and i7 to deliver cost-effective entry-level workstation

Published 29 September 2009

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: workstations, xeon 5500, core i7, dell precision

This is an interesting move by Dell, who has just launched a workstation specifically designed and certified for AutoCAD. OK, so the fact that it’s designed for AutoCAD is unlikely to make most DEVELOP3D readers sit up and take notice, but what they might find interesting is that the Precision T1500 is based on Intel’s new Core i5 (or Core i7) processors. This is a first from a major workstation manufacturer, whose current lines are predominantly made up of Intel Xeon processors, which are more expensive but don’t offer much additional benefit.

The main difference between Intel’s Core i5 / Core i7 and Xeon processors is that the Xeon supports ECC memory, which is designed to correct any data errors that may occur, a benefit that is pretty hard to quantify. Xeon is also the only Intel workstation processor that is available in pairs, which is often required for CAE and rendering.

With a choice of entry-level graphics in the form of AMD’s ATI FirePro V3750 or Nvidia’s Quadro FX 580, the Precision T1500 is a bit limited in its graphics options. However, what it may do is push the other workstation vendors to launch price-conscious Core i5 or Core i7 systems that raise the graphics performance just a little, making them ideal for most mid-range CAD applications.

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Can community funded design and manufacture achieve reality?

Published 28 September 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: crowdsourcing, community-based funding

If you’re a follower of design technology then chances are you’ve come across C Sven Johnson, former blogger on Core77.com and author of the ReBang blog. I noticed that he’d been talking about a KickStarter project during a recent twitter stream and took a look, finding the results fascinating. When we’re facing a constriction of design freedom, due to economic pressures, with those that hold the purse strings clinging onto them for dear life, one option, particularly for the independents, is to go it alone. Develop a product, take it to manufacture and sale. But of course, that takes one thing that’s rarely in abundance – cash.

This is where something like KickStarter comes in. You get an idea, you detail it and you hope that the community stumps up the cash to help you out. It’s not crowdsourcing in terms of creativity (I’ll save you the usual drivel about threadless et al), but it certainly is crowdsourcing of funding. So, I caught up with C Sven and asked him to give us the background on the project, where it came from and what he’s working on.

The development idea for 100K Stray Toastheds is itself the product of a few years of conceptual gestation. Back in early 2006, before Fabjectory, Ponoko, Figureprints and other fabbing-centric sites popped up, Pete Cashmore, Mashable’s founder, contacted me. He’d come across my blog (via Wired’s Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” blog entry on my 3D ripping example) and asked if I was interested in setting up a 3D printing service fabbing avatars (I wanted to fab jewelery). As it turned out, what we were chasing was very much what Ponoko has done with 100KGarages; only geared towards service bureaus instead of home-based CNC users. Unfortunately we ran into a few snags, including a general lack of interest from the service bureaus who, for the most part, didn’t grok what we were doing or how it might benefit them.

Mashable, of course, began to take off quickly around that time and I was starting work on MTV’s first 3D virtual world project, so our informal partnership fizzled. However, the idea stuck with me, and towards the end of the year, as my contract on the MTV gig was nearing completion, I realized that the only way around the reluctant service bureaus was, eventually, to go to the people using their own 3D printers. With that in mind, I backed out of my virtual world development consulting and shifted back to regular product development; I didn’t want to get too far away from tangible goods.

Continuing to look for ways to set up a decent service, I determined that the biggest hindrance to acceptance by the product development community was the potential for 3D file “sharing”. A thread on CGTalk had stuck with me over the years and I kept imagining how most industrial designers would react. So for a long while I spent a lot of time watching the music industry, the problems cropping up on Flickr and in Second Life and around Facebook, and trying to wrap my head around reputation systems and intellectual property.

About a year ago or so I realized what was needed for an online distributed system to work; not just for 3D files but for most if not all content. Lacking that application, one of the first things I did when 100KGarages was announced was see how it handled file “sharing”. It doesn’t. It’s going on the honor system, as far as I can tell.

In the meantime, Jerry Paffendorf, a friend of mine from my early 3D ripping exploration/Second Life/MTV virtual world days had gotten into the Kickstarter beta and phoned me to brainstorm some ideas for a project he was considering. I was curious about Kickstarter, but initially underwhelmed. Kickstarter, for me, is an idea that probably a lot of people have but no one ever actually thinks could work, so they dismiss it without a second thought. The brilliance isn’t the idea; it’s in not dismissing the idea. As Jerry launched, met his first funding goal and then proceeded into a second round, I took notice. Other projects were getting funding as well; including some which really didn’t seem like something I’d expect would be funded. I kept wondering, “Where are the humanitarian projects, like ...”? And then finally it hit me.

My first stab at a project was to make a product for developing countries. It was with that project in mind that I approached Jerry asking to be put in touch with Kickstarter’s founders so I could launch that product development project. On Jerry’s recommendation, they contacted me. They didn’t know the details of the project I was wanting to pursue, but I was invited to join.

However, after a couple of weeks of initial research into my humanitarian product idea, I ran into a bit of reality: the likelihood that the problem I was hoping to address wasn’t a product issue but a cultural issue.

Putting that idea on slow burn, I decided to look for something less ambitious to simply test the concept of going to the community for product development funding. And that’s when Ponoko launched 100KGarages. I immediately knew what I wanted to do, and fortunately I found a perfect candidate product.

The Toasthed Pull Toy was originally a school project; one I didn’t want to do because we’d already done toys and I wanted to do a medical product or something similarly sophisticated. I did three pages of sketches; the first filled with a variety of pull toy forms, picked this one, and did a couple more rough sketch pages to figure out how it might work. From there I banged out a foam model.

For me, it was a quick, class-required effort; not something of which I was especially proud. Surprisingly, it got an excellent response. If it hadn’t, I’d probably not have bothered photographing the model.

As it turns out, however, because the Toasthed toy was left so unresolved yet so seemingly finished, it makes an excellent test case for Kickstarter. Because there’s a decent model, people are more apt to believe in the project’s chances for success. If it’s nothing more than what they see, that may be good enough.

My intentions, however, are to revisit the design with both a better attitude and 16 years of experience under my belt. I now see this toy becoming a kind of platform for customization (as indicated by my reference to Build-a-Bear on the project page). That opens up some interesting possibilities; not just in the product but in how the community grows the product on its own.

We’ll see how it goes. While the design is of renewed interest to me, it’s the circumstances surrounding this project which are of greater interest. I don’t know of any other product being “crowdfunded” in this way. And if I get funded and can set a good example, it opens the door to other industrial designers with good ideas and not enough funds to make them a reality. Given the state of the economy, Kickstarter and its eventual imitators may provide a springboard to something pretty interesting. That’s what this project is really about, as far as I’m concerned.

I find this fascinating. The idea that it might be possible to take a product at least to a pre-release manufacturing state, share both the intellectual property and any rewards, without formalised backing. That’s an indication of a shift. Crowdsourcing is a phrase often bandied around as is Community, when dealing with online activities. If you look at an example where the two work together very successfully, look at threadless and the many other t-shirt community sites out there. They source graphic design work from their community, find which designs are popular, then print those up – and sell them - and in some cases, sell a LOT of them. The designer gets a decent fee, no set-up costs and fame and glory. The company makes a crap lot of cash – by using the community to reduce the risk of failure of a product, by having a self filtering system for its products. But that’s just t-shirts.

C Sven is talking about hard products, products which are ‘more likely’ to be involved in legal and liability action, should faults occur (after all, you’d have to be pretty unlucky to choke on a t-shirt). The legal problems are discussed in the comments on the project page. We were so taken with this that we chipped in a few quid but he’s still got a way to go, if you’re interested, then the project page is here and all donations are, I’m sure welcome. Whether this project gets the green light or not, as he says, doesn’t really matter. What I find most interesting is that this sort of thing is possible at all. It’s certainly not going to replace how things are done for the 99.9% of us, but for those with a good solid idea, it’s another avenue to explore and see where you can go.

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3DVIA launches community app for iPhone

Published 22 September 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: dassault systemes, apple, iphone app, 3dvia, devcon 2009, ipod touch iphone

Dassault’s 3dvia group has finally released the iPhone app for interaction with the 3d-centric community portal, first demonstrated at DEVCON earlier this year. As hinted at in the demonstraton, the App gives users the ability to interact with the community aspects of the service, giving users a fully manipulable 3D model, search functions as well as all that good social media-related stuff (rating, commenting etc).

The multi-touch interface is exceptional (except a lack of landscape switch-a-roo goodness), with a single finger rotating the model, two fingers panning and the ninja-pinch for zoom in/out as you’d expect. You can search models on line (here’s a LOT), view and comment on them. If you’re rocking the iPhone 3GS, you can also use the built in camera to capture an image and integrate a model for a variety of purposes.

Here’s a quick video on the basics of the App

I caught up with David Laubner, Director of Product Marketing for 3dvia online and the first question was the big one:

Why?

We must deliver our products and services where our users expect and want to have them. With the massive popularity of the iPhone, we need to make sure that we have an offering to suit this growing communities needs.

What purpose do you think the application will serve?

This first application for Dassault Systemes is primarily targeted at the existing 3DVIA.com user base of 120K+ users. It brings most of the functionality of the site right on to the iPhone including 3D model search and interactive 3D view. Users will have access to their own content and network allowing them to interact right on their phones.

It also include the 3DVIA Collage feature which allows users to combine most of the 15K+ models on the site with pictures from the iPhone. This application is both viral and practical at the same time. For designers and 3D artists, you can create environments on the fly for your work right on your phone. As shown in the “I Wonder” video, consumers can use it to visualize changes in the real world. A consumer looking to add furniture to their home could take a picture with their iPhone and position various 3D models of couches from our partner Mydeco.com until they find the right one.

The viral aspect of this feature is easy to see. Users are already using it just create funny pictures with some of the more artistic 3D models from the site.

Can you open 3dxml files that have been mailed to you?

Indirectly – the model would have to be uploaded to the 3DVIA.com site and then you can access it from your “my3DVIA” tab on the phone. Users can access their private models if they need to keep it out of the public view.

What are the differences between the iPhone and iPod Touch implementations

Primarily it is the lack of the camera on the touch blocking the use of the Collage feature. Additionally, it will only work on the 2G and not the earlier version.

3dvia Mobile is about providing access to content on 3dvia.com – a community web-site – so why charge users? it’s not inline with the community ethic?

This was a strong debate for the group but it fits with some of our plans as we move forward and look to develop both the product offering and the business model. Our intent is to continue to develop the offerings on 3DVIA.com and always have a strong product at either free or very inexpensive price points.

Although the free period that we are offering right now will have a bit of a marketing boost, it is being offered to help support our key users that have been deeply engaged with the site for so long.

At the moment, the app is live on the Apple App Store and is free, but will eventually be chargable at $1.99 (estimated). While initially this seems like a throw away application, looking at the numbers within the community, the potential for closed session discussion and the ability to quickly share your models, you’ve got something intriguing.

You can upload data to 3Dvia.com via all manner of means and using a variety of formats including .3ds, .obj, .dae (collada), .kmz, .vrml, .3dxml, 3dm (rhino) – strangely no SolidWorks native export (but SWx does export 3dxml and collada). There’s even a handy tutorial for uploading and ensuring the best data translation from Catia available here. There’s a couple of blogs running that will be covering the app, so take a look here and the 3d perspectives blog here.

With the Autodesk SketchBook Mobile annoucement last week and now this, it looks like vendors are taking mobile devices seriously – performance on these devices is getting better, the interaction methods are increasingly intuitive – leaving the keyboard and mouse combo for dead when it comes to visualisation and manipulation of 3D data. Yes. The screen is small, but the potential if huge. Bring it on.

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Autodesk launches Twitch: hosted web-app go live on labs

Published 18 September 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: autodesk, autodesk inventor, autocad, maya, revit, online, hosted web apps

Big news just in. Autodesk has just launched Project Twitch on its labs web-site. This sees an experiment start in delivery of the company’s flagship products, AutoCAD, Maya, Inventor 2010 and Revit 2010 over the web. Not downloaded, not maintained, but hosted online.

At present there’s some pretty hefty restrictions on the use of the services. For example, you need to be running on Windows (XP or Vista), using IE (7+) or Firefox (3.x). You can’t upload, download or save files (the apps are provided with sample files). But perhaps the biggest restriction is that you need to be within 1,000 miles of the data center hosting the applications. As you’ll see from the image below, the data center is in San Francisco, which makes a large proportion of the potential users in terms of reach, either fish or aquaman.

Hosted apps are the future – that’s pretty much certain (look at the rise of google’s various apps) and several CAD vendors have already started to experiment with hosted applications. Dassault have been working towards this with Catia for several year. SolidWorks has been pushing out trials of online drawing apps with BluePrint Now and Drawings Now). But this is perhaps the first time that a truly mainstream set of applications has been delivered in this way. It’s a brave new world people. Strap yourselves in. If anyone is in that demographic (presumably sans scuba gear) and gets this working, let us know how it goes.

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