If you have ever used SketchUp, you probably really like what it does, which is basically allowing 3D viewing and modeling of everything from furniture to cities, as the website declares. At the University of Washington’s [design machine group], researchers in Computer Science and Architecture have decided that SketchUp needs some additional functionality. Why? Because, as they say, while “SketchUp may displace the use of physical models in design, [it] has not eliminated difficulties in the ad-hoc navigation of digital models by non-experts, which often occurs during design reviews.” In fact, as they see it, SketchUp’s mouse navigation requires a great deal of skill. Keyboards and mice are clunky and difficult to use when examining 3D computer models, especially for non-designers, i.e. those who are unfamiliar with using the software frequently.
Enter Gizmo and WiiView, two freeware programs that make navigation and general interaction with a computer easier. They do the same thing—navigate 3D models more easily than with just a keyboard or mouse—but they are based on different principles.
Gizmo, whose name reflects the idea of a specially-purposed device, is based on a “six-degree-of-freedom” Bluetooth device. That means moving and rotating a “rigid body” three different perpendicular axes. Installation is easy and the program integrates into existing SketchUp architecture. By seamlessly combining the Gizmo tool palette into SketchUp, users can travel through 3D space. What’s more, there are two different modes. The first is orbit, in which perspective is turned on a central, chosen location. Roll mode allows viewers to examine the 3D model from a chosen height.
WiiView is based exactly on what it sounds like: Wii gaming hardware. Using the Java Wii Remote Library, this plugin also offers two different viewing modes. One is walk through, which rotates around a central viewpoint. Orbit mode rotates the viewpoint itself around a targeted view. Both are accessed with the Wii remote. That makes it infinitely easier to navigate than using a combination of mouse and keyboard, because while most designers are familiar with this type of navigation, casual and neophyte users are not.
Both of these plugins are Mac-only compatible, so if you’re running Windows, you are out of luck. For the moment. But perhaps the researchers will continue developing these products so that Windows platform users can also benefit from their research.