If you're looking for a new startup idea and you can build a cross-platform 3D modeler that:
* is compatible with existing file formats
* can cut real-time 2D plans and sections
* provides a well documented API in multiple modern languages (please no more BASIC)
Seriously, I think there is real money to be made here.
But yes there is real money to be made, and Autodesk is reaping it in. There are contenders for the small time market like Chief Architect but they're not bleeding money it seems. This is a winner takes all market and Autodesk has a 30 year advantage.
But for my end -- designers that depend almost entirely on Rhino or similar products -- those functionality needs aren't there.
But yes, we then have to have our designs "reimplemented" as construction documents if they are going to be built. It would be great if I could work solely in a BIM package, but none of them come close to meeting my (or most progressive designers') needs yet.
There are already a few companies dabbling in this space http://www.shapeways.com/ being the one I'm most familiar with. The most interesting approach would be if you could find a market niche that had idle capacity and a need for creative custom solutions that was currently going unmet.
The real chicken and egg problem with this idea is that you won't have enough designers and qualified production bureaus to form enough of a critical mass of purchasers until you have a critical mass of purchasers to make the service attractive to designers and production shops. It would probably work best if you start off with a small regional network of production houses that employed their own designers.
Big manufacturers already provide construction blocks, in standardized formats, for importing into design tools. From ICF forms to wallpapers. The 'marketplace' part is missing though, that's true. I don't even think it's a matter of technology, it's just that the industry isn't ready for it IMO. Construction is a very conservative industry.
(Yes, Blender, Sketchup, and so forth. Not tailored for the industry well enough.)
- can link in/import a number of existing file formats
- can cut sections as you described
- API is well documented and in .NET which lets you program in C#, F#, VB, C++ and any other language which runs on the CLR.
Great product, which improves dramatically in each release (so if you only looked at it a few versions ago, try again). It will cost you more than $1000 though!
The 'traditional' way of CAD for architecture is to draw a bunch of lines and circles, much like you'd draw a plan by hand, but on a computer. This is very error prone and labor intensive. Your client asks you remove a window, you need to remove it in several views etc.
The holy grail of architectural CAD is in a part of what is loosely called 'BIM', Building Information Modeling. You make a 3d model of a building and generate separate views on that, like cross sections and plans, but also use that same model to do e.g. earthquake simulations or energy efficiency analysis or cost estimating. Autodesk has a product called Revit that purports to do this, but it has a long way to go to really fulfill the 'BIM dream'.
This is a subject near and dear to my heart - working with architects and contractors who run around with A0 format paper copies of plans, who do cost estimates by measuring, with a rule (!) each room on the paper plan and calculate areas with a calculator on a piece of paper, it makes me die a little bit inside each time I get a quote and I see the areas or dimensions or whatever different for each fricking ocntractor, instead of using software that would do pretty much everything that they just spend a day on in a few seconds.
Now I would like my 2D cuts. By this, I mean I would like to look at a 2D cross-sectional drawing of my design. This may be at the XY plane, YZ plane, or some other arbitrary plane.
Most 3D modelers can do this, but when you make the 2D cut, you're often exporting the cut to a new file. If you change anything in the design, the cut does not update, and you must "re-cut". This is what I mean by real-time.
Good 3D modelers don't do this well, and poor 3D modelers can do this exceptionally (I'm looking at you Revit). Some can do both, but they're incredibly complicated and cost tens of thousands (Digital Project)
Have you tried Chief Architect? It works rather well in this respect, it's really made for ease of use. I don't know how well it would scale for large projects though, I've only toyed with it for small residential design. Plus the estimating and electrical/HVAC tools are poor to non-existent.
"plans" means 2D overhead views of a 3D model. "sections" means 2D side views of a 3D model, like a cross-section. I don't know what "real-time" means here, but I'd bet that it means you can grab onto the plane that defines the cross-sectional cut, move it in the normal direction, and have the model update smoothly. (The non-real-time alternative is that the location of the plane is specified by a value in some dialog box.)
Unless I missed something from that article...Is this just a client for viewing renderings or something? I cannot imagine a designer sitting down at an iPad to do any real work... (although as a sort of digital paper, it works)
"Autodesk will soon introduce a free mobile version of the software that will run on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. That version has more limited capabilities, Mr. Hanspal said. But with it, an engineer, for example, could bring drawings to a job site on an iPad, rather than on a big roll of paper, and make annotations on them."
But that's more than made up for in the added usefulness.
For reference, i have a far harder time reading an HTC Incredible in the sun.
I worked on a project years ago for the US Navy. At the time the average warship had something like 5 tons of paper documentation on board so they can do wartime repairs at sea if necessary. But 5-tons of paper docs are risky on a warship since they're combustable and easily destroyed.
Putting all these docs in digital form reduces the weight and risk (doesn't burn and easily replicated). Having that information available via an iPad, iPhone or other portable tablet device would be very handy, indeed.
As a designer, I can imagine being out for coffee or dinner with a potential client and not having my Macbook with me. Being able to pull out my iPhone or iPad and do a quick and dirty sketch of my thoughts/ideas to better convey the message could be incredibly useful. Much better than a standard cocktail napkin.
AutoCad is seeking to simply fill a void in a complete cross-hardware line. This addition will enable users to "CAD" wherever and whenever within certain constraints. These applications will work seamlessly together - so a quick sketch on your iPhone can later be redrawn and upgraded on your desktop.
You will find 20% of the employees doing "big idea" design. They don't use AutoCAD.
You will find 80% of the employees (who wish they were the other 20%) implementing the designers "big ideas" in AutoCAD.
Then they dropped Unix support, then dropped OpenGL support.
Once Windows took off in the marketplace the writing was on the wall and the anemic sales of the Unix ports in contrast to Windows made keeping those ports unprofitable.
Coming from the silicon IC design industry, there are huge IC layout tools which run exclusively on Linux. They work a lot similar to AutoCAD-like software - they do a lot of automatic layout, place-and-route, 3D design, etc.
These tools run for weeks at a time on linux machines and are highly optimized for Linux.
That existing market could have been so easily translated into software like Autocad for Linux. But something went wrong somewhere - probably the OS graphics API was not good enough (a frequent enough complaint for Linux)... I really dont know what.
But even after a proven 4.4 billion dollar market (EDA industry market cap) for Linux based high-performance design tools, Autocad went after Mac. Knowing fully well that TCO for a Linux based system is far, far lower than a Mac based.
On the other hand Maya already runs on Linux and Mac OS X. So they may be using Maya numbers to calculate sales and difficulty porting. Since it's used for video work you'd expect more Mac sales.
I think stability is not the main reason - it may be perceived market or the graphics API problems that I was talking about (especially with third party drivers - nvidia and ati)
Why do I get the feeling that that was the motivation for bringing it to OSX?
Also, with the introduction of OpenGL ES 2.0 support in Android earlier this year, there should be no surprise the Android version should also come out very soon.
So I don't know how they're implementing this, I hope they didn't make some poor sod reimplement the whole rendering engine or worse yet write a new DirectX -> OpenGL layer that works in a Java stack...
My Dad is an architect, very long-term AutoCAD veteran, long term disliker of Windows. IIRC the previous cross-platform AutoCAD was the stripped down LT (is that right?) version. Useful for some things but not a viable choice for heavy AutoCAD users at the time.
Why? The other choice was Pascal and that required swapping floppy disks to do the compile on a dual floppy PC: http://www.fourmilab.ch/autofile/www/chapter2_112.html#11286