The Cloud After The CAD

Today morning CEO Chris Boothroyd and CTO Kenney Wong of Aftercad Software gave me a sneak preview of their second generation cloud rendering and collaboration technology. Their first generation technology can be seen at renderjam.com, a technology that was recently “handed over” (as Chris put it) to the ODA to be licensed to its members.

As I mentioned before (see “Renderjam and ODA Jam Up“), the Renderjam solution involves hosting the 3D model on a remote server. The end user uses Flash installed on his computer to send across his camera position and orientation to the rendering software running on the server. The sever then renders the scene and sends back a JPEG which is displayed to the user.

AfterCAD’s second generation technology takes it a step further. Here multiple users can interact with a scene in real time. They can simultaneously pick and move objects around. In this case as well, the rendering happens on the server. But apart from a JPEG, the user is also sent a video that shows the movement. So for example, if we have a scene of a room that contains a table and a chair, I can pick a chair with my mouse and move it along a certain direction. Simultaneously, someone else in another part of the world can pick the table and move it in the opposite direction. And while we are doing so, both of us, and anyone else interacting with or observing the scene, will see a movie of the table and chair moving in opposite directions.

This is very different from multi-player online role playing games like World of Warcraft where each user needs to download and install a game which actually does the rendering of scenes. The players merely send their location and action to the server which notifies other players in that scene what everybody else is doing. Each individual player’s computer then renders each scene from the player’s point of view.

Aftercad is calling this the Live Web Platform. The user does not need to download and install anything on his computer. After all he is simply watching a movie in which he is one of many actors. The movie gets “produced” instantly and as he is watching a clip he is also acting in next clip. To make it more interesting Aftercad is also using a physics engine so users can get a more real life experience. For instance, in the scene described above I could run the table into the chair to knock it down.

This is an excellent example of using the Cloud after the CAD. I mean, you first arrive at a CAD model like you normally do and then use cloud computing to do something with it like rendering or analysis (FEA, CFD, etc). People seem to be pretty OK with the concept of using the Cloud after we are done with the CAD. However, using the Cloud to do the CAD is what some are finding hard to digest. And for good reason. We may be close to the hardware required to make it happen. But maybe we are not quite there yet when it comes to internet connectivity.

In my opinion, the Cloud after the CAD maybe just around the corner, if we are not there already. But CAD in the Cloud maybe a bit further away. In fact, this situation reminds is of the time when SpaceClaim first came out with their Direct Modeling technology. A bunch of people (including me) starting saying that this was the way geometry would be created and modified in the future. Then of course, there was another bunch of people who said that we were talking crap, that direct modeling was a gimmick and it would never stick. If you look around today, you will find that parametric history based modeling has “adopted” direct modeling and is actually ending up to be quite a good mix.

I believe we are going to see something similar in the standalone application v/s cloud computing arena. Standalone applications are slowly going to “adopt” cloud computing technologies in their fold and grow increasingly independent of the device that they are running on. The first sign of this is the Cloud after the CAD like the Live Web Platform from Aftercad.

I think most people are turned off by the Cloud because they think that tomorrow their CAD vendor will flip a switch and their CAD system will be in the Cloud. That simply isn’t going to happen. People will first learn to accept the Cloud after the CAD and before they know it, and whether they like it or not, they will find themselves doing CAD in the Cloud.

It is going to happen. The only question is when.