u p F r o n t . e Z i n e
t h e b u s i n e s s o f c a d
Issue #688 | April 25, 2011
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In This Issue
- Software Rollcall
- Demo Time
- Price List
2. The Continuing Withering of Think3
3. Out of the Inbox and other regular columns
There is a lot of action in the area of point clouds these days, as fast laser scanners take millions of 3D points and fast computers process the data into objects. Converting the points into objects automatically is "the Holy Grail that everyone has been chasing for a while," Christopher Scotton told me last week.
He is ceo of ClearEdge3D, a company that claims to reduce 3D modeling costs by up to 90%. I also spoke with cto Kevin Williams, company founder (in Jan' 06), and the one who worked out the EdgeWise algorithm. Previous to this, he worked as a scientist at defense contractor SAIC on their aerial LIDAR [LIght Detection And Ranging] toolkit.
The EdgeWise algorithm automatically finds coplanar and cylindrical points in point clouds; another algorithm identifies surfaces. Mr Williams says his software is up to 10x faster over doing the 3D modeling from points manually.
Another area he is working on is interpolating the stuff missed due to occlusion. Things like trees and interior walls get in the way of the laser scanner's vision, and so cast "shadows" into the point cloud data. They are currently developing AI [artificial intelligence] algorithms to extend surfaces through occluded regions, and then connects them together. "What about taking laser scans from multiple viewports to reduce the number of occluded areas?" I asked. This helps, Mr Williams explained, but cannot eliminate them all.
The company is trying to reduce the amount of manual cleanup as much as possible, and figures it is a year ahead of everyone else. The plan is to stay ahead of competitors.
The company's initial release was EdgeWise Building for converting 3D point clouds into planar objects -- like walls, awnings, and floors. See figure 1. More recently, they added to the software the ability to recognize cylindrical objects for their Plant version.
Figure 1: EdgeWise Building recognizing planar surfaces of a building.
EdgeWise Plant recognizes pipes and walls, but not details like flanges or valves. Recognition of structural steel is being added.
Later this year, and into next, the company is planning additional versions of the software:
- Road and Bridge (due in late 2011 or early 2012) recognizes surfaces, curbs, gutters, substructure, superstructure, decks, ground surfaces, and center lines. It is able to strip off scanned vegetation by looking at the angle of adjacent points; quite vertical ones are probably plants.
- MobileMapper (due in 2012) works on a truck (and not an Android device) to create models of cities. It captures terrabytes of data, which is then processed up to 100x faster using EdgeWise.
The software exports data in DXF and COE formats. For instance, pipes are exported as extruded circles in DXF. The company plans to support other export formats.
Mr Williams showed me how EdgeWise Plant could find all straight pipe sections on its own in a few minutes. "Manually extracting this many features can take 2-5 hours," he said. For now, it intentionally ignores gaps; a semi-automatic tool draws lines to close gaps, another one interactively "fillets" to resize bends. A future release may well make the connections and bend sizing automatic. Yet another tool changes pipe diameters to ASME standard size.
But that's all, for the company does not intend to add any more manual tools. "This is not a full end-to-end tool, so we let other software add the flanges and other details. We consider this a preprocessing step. We just eliminate the tedium." Other software is used to add the details, such as Cyclone.
Mr Scotton asked rhetorically, "As middleware, how do we price this thing?" There are two ways to pay:
- Per-scan pricing is $20 to $60 each, depending on the volume. This allows the cost to be passed on to the client easily, and apparently saves $100-$400 of labor cost per scan. Currently, customers have to buy a "bucket" of scans, just like a pre-paid phone card, but the company plans to go to per-scan billing, invoiced monthly.
- Annual unlimited license for large vendors who do thousands of scans a year.
Both pricing models include support, training, and upgrades.
upFront.eZine: What about PointTools?
Mr Williams: PoinTools has some fantastic functionality, particularly for visualization. We see them as extremely complimentary to what we're doing and we are currently exploring ways to collaborate with them.
upFront.eZine: Where did the name come from?
Mr Scotton: From a lot of brain storming, looking for something that (1) sounded cool and (2) had the URL available. Really, though, it's a play on words that comes from finding the edges of buildings.
We have highly enhanced our Application Program Interface (API).
Now more compatible with AutoCAD.
Come and try GstarCAD 2011
The Continuing Withering of Think3
Just how withered is Think3? Users and (former) employees are desperate to keep updating the software, but just who owns it? Last October, Versata Enterprises said they did, putting Scott Brighton in charge as ceo and Chris Smith as coo. But then some employees revolted against the new owners when allegedly they were fired and/or not given back pay.
Deelip Menezes has been on the track of this story, since Think3 employees first contacted him and he's the only CAD journalist granted an interview with the ceo of the new owners, who might not be the new owners. [My requests for interviews have been ignored.]
An email sent last week in English, Italian, French, and German to upFront.eZine and other CAD news outlets reads, "Dear Journalist, Please check think3 web sites for important update www.think3.com & www.think3.it More information will follow. Thanks. The think3 Staff."
The Web site says it was taken over last week by the Court of Bologna, who assigned all assets of Think3 to a trustee. It warns that copying the Web site is a criminal offense.
Here's my thinking on this issue. Think3's head office is in Italy, but it might have structured itself to run semi-independent subsidiaries in other countries. I found a reference to "think3 China Ltd," for instance. The segmentation allowed Versata to shut down the India operations abruptly (where employee protection laws are weak), but now faces problems in Italy, where laws are stronger. Could it be that if the owner cannot pay back wages and employment termination payouts, then it is considered bankrupt in some jurisdictions?
It gets confusing, because Mr Menezes uncovered a statement that implies that an unknown company bought Think3 Italy and then licensed Think3's intellectual property to Versata. In its original press release, Versata says "Think3 will continue to operate as a stand-alone corporation within the Versata family of software businesses." I've asked Atlas Capital what they think, since they facilitated the acquisition.
DraftSight is a no-cost*, easy-to-use 2D CAD product that generally takes a few minutes to download and runs on multiple operating systems, including Microsoft Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, the Mac, and Linux.
Out of the Inbox
Open Cascade says it's checking out the OpenCL GPU programming language for ray tracing visualization of CSG [constructive solid geometry] models made of thousands of primitives and Boolean operations. In one test, each pixel was computed independently of others, the task computed in parallel only by the graphics card. (The CPU and main memory remained unloaded.) Open Cascade got the image to display at a speed of 10 frames per second in a 512x512-pixel window. http://www.opencascade.org/about/news/issue170/
Jay Vleeschhouwer writes, "I have joined Griffin Securities in New York as software analyst and managing director. I am the first addition in technology research. I will be reinstating my regular software coverage and publishing activity." http://www.griffinsecurities.com
General CADD Products releases General CADD Pro Version 9.1 with xref display, multi-document interface, direct distance metric input, Send File, expanded macro language and commands , custom toolbars, on-screen info, and much more. http://www.generalcadd.com
"I missed seeing everyone at COFES last week," writes Matt Sederberg of T-Splines. "On its eve, we released T-Splines 3 for Rhino, our first major upgrade to this product in nearly two years." New features include importing subdivision surface files, additional native modeling techniques, and seamless transfer into SolidWorks. We are planning an interview with Mr Sederberg in a later issue of upFront.eZine. http://www.tsplines.com
"Siemens PLM Software introduces next generation of social product development built on Microsoft technology." A company cannot in this day and age, unfortunately, call a new release of software "next generation" when it is locked to a single operating system -- in this case, Teamcenter software locked to SharePoint 2010. http://www.siemens.com/plm
AutoCAD WS now has a "Connect to Service" feature, which lets you access files from Box from within the WS interface. So says Box, a company that provides cloud-based file storage and collaboration. It's not clear to me, however, why anyone would need to use Box, since Autodesk already includes cloud storage with WS. http://www.box.net
Remo is the unincorporated village in which my dad has his weekend farm. As it turns out, Remo is also the name of rendering software from Remograph of Sweden. Remo 3D v2.1 creates and modifies 3D models for realtime visualization using the OpenFlight format. Remo 3D runs on Linux and several variants of Windows. http://www.remograph.com
Dassault Systemes is calling Isight its "open simulation automation and design optimization desktop tool from SIMULIA," meant to replace napkin sketches with a coordianted simulation of mechanical, thermodynamic, hydraulic and other disciplines. New version 5.5 offers a Dymola component based on the Modelica language. http://simulia.com/products/isight.html
And finally, Luxology announces modo for SolidWorks Kit, for importing SolidWorks models into modo while maintaining the SW UI. http://www.luxology.com/store/modoforsolidworkskit
Letters to the Editor
Re: Intel's New Xenon E3 Gets Built-in Graphics
"Wow. Xeon, srsly."
- Peter N. Glaskowsky
"Why is it that so many people struggle to get the name of Intel's processor right? Its Xeon and not Xenon. So many people make the same mistake with the same two words I am wondering whether Intel should launch a Xenon brand!"
- Richard Thwaites
The editor replies: "I got the name wrong, consistently. The chip from Intel is named Xeon, not Xenon. And, it's it's, not its."
Re: Programming Languages and AutoCAD
"The author has a good point, but a bit wordy. Autodesk does not ship in the AutoCAD box a programming language it intends to develop, or has done anything with for the last 10 years. The out-of-box solution is nearly beyond the abilities of amateur programmers."
- Terry Priest
Re: Transmagic, ITCA, LTI hauled to court for "blackmailing" architect
"Shame on you for believing and perpetuating this disgusting untrue story without verifying the facts."
- Todd Reade, president
The editor replies: "I worked from court documents, so the story must be true; whether the facts are true is up to the court. I used the word 'allegedly,' as required by Canadian law. I noted that TransMagic might not be involved. http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com/blog/2011/04/hauled-to-court.html "
Re: Michigan Police Search Cell Phones During Traffic Stops
"Reading today about phone security, and ran across a remarkable article. Considering how many companies and CAD users are slobering all over themselves for CAD on IPhones, IPads, and all with super-duper connectivity over their cell service, I find the article remarkable [as titled above]. So, now we add just another breach in security and proof to the idea that the only secure data is that which does not go online or over the airwaves."
- Dave Ault
"What if tablets are just this year's Tamagotchi?"
- Matt Rosoff, Silicon Alley Insider
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Entire contents copyright 2011 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $250 and up. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "On your desktop every Tuesday morning" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.