The other day Arnold van der Weide, the President of the ODA connected me to Chris Boothroyd, the CEO of Aftercad. Yesterday I spoke to Chris. Among other things, we discussed Autodesk’s acquisition of Israeli’s startup VisualTao which resulted in their Project Butterfly, an interesting technology which allows you to view and edit AutoCAD drawings directly in a web browser. Aftercad has a similar SaaS offering for rendering called Renderjam. All you need is a web browser and Flash to help navigate around the model, that’s all. I suggest you take a look the models in their gallery. With a not-so-good broadband connection sitting half way around the world in India, it took about 4 seconds to show me the rendered view after I navigated to a new position. Considering the distance and connection I would say that this is pretty good.
It works like this. You need to choose between one of three plans priced between $39.95 to $599.95 per month which basically decides how much space you can use on their server for your 3D models. You upload your 3D models in COLLADA format and then embed links to them in your web site. Your visitors can then navigate around with the mouse and get a full fledged rendered image. The visitor does not need to install any ActiveX control or something equally scary.
The system is broken down into two parts – the rendering happens on the server while the navigation happens in the browser (client). No 3D data is transferred across the internet. So your models can be as large as you want. Only the user’s camera position is sent across optionally along with other information. The server receives this information, renders the scene and sends back a JPEG image to the client. You can also include an initial rendered view in your models so that the user will instantly see a rendered scene when he first loads the page. Chris tells me that you can even choose which software on the server will render your 3D model.
This technology can be used in a number of places. A while ago I was browsing Dell’s web site to shop for a netbook and realized that I had to make do with static images. The 3D view was simply a continuous rotation of images taken from different angles. I couldn’t take a closer look at the keys or track pad. If Dell had this kind of a technology in place, I would be able to inspect the model more closely. Same goes for just about any other product. Architects could collaborate with clients siting half way across the world in real time. Don’t like the color of your house? The architect could change the color then and there and there and let you walk through. Need more light? No problem. The possibilities are endless.
Now here is the interesting part. Aftercad has applied for a US patent on this technology and it has been accepted. They are now busy filing patents in other countries. Chris told me, “It’s a good thing that we filed that patent. At some point in the future Autodesk and other companies will probably need to have some kind of a technology licensing arrangement with us. But I will not worry about that now.”
But coming back to the ODA announcement, it is heartening to see the ODA morph itself into a organization that enables its members to do far more than just read and write DWG and DXF files. The other day, Arnold told me, “Earlier we used to be an organization that reversed engineered the DWG format. And that was it. Now DWG is just one of the things that we do. The focus has shifted to developing components that our members can use to develop robust solutions. We also partner with other component developers to make it easy for our members to deploy their technologies“. I look forward to meeting Arnold in person at COFES 2010 and learn more about his plans for the ODA.