Pei Zhan is one of our newer software developers at Autodesk Labs. He has worked on technologies like Project Freewheel and the 3D/2D ShareNow Utility. If someone asked "Is there a doctor in the house?" we could answer "Yes." Pei got his PhD in Mechanical Engineering. During his post graduate studies, his research focused on CAD. Pei filed this report.
During the three days in exhibit hall, I manned a few booths and had numerous chances to talk to different people. Here are some of my feelings:
New Human-Computer Interaction for CAD: Design is a complex activity which takes all different kinds of input and output. Making it more intuitive to let our design software interact with users is always a challenge. Sometimes we assume our users are professionals and the result is something too hard to use for non-professionals. On the other hand, if we make it too easy, the result may not be powerful enough. This sometimes happened because of limited choices of input/output devices such as monitor, mouse, and keyboard. The user interface of our design software sometimes gets too "professional" and not so easy to use; however, with new hardware such as that found in the Labs, we are trying to improve the usability of our software to a new level. I am glad to see it works out very well.
At AU, we had three booths: Boom Chameleon, Digital Pen, and Multi-touch Wall where we tried to demonstrate how we are taking advantage of new input/output devices to give users a totally new experience. These technologies leverage the work of other parts of Autodesk (e.g. George Fitzmaurice and the Autodesk Research team) or partners (Adapx and Perceptive Pixel). I was amazed to see how people are fascinated by them. When I was manning the Boom Chameleon booth, the most FAQ I got was "What is it this about?" After I explained it to them a little bit, everybody immediately started using it without any difficulties since it is so intuitive. Sometimes I didn't even need to explain anything. When I was in the 3D City booth, a lot of people were surprised by seeing the two joysticks there and how we use them to navigate the virtual city. "Is this a game?" "No, it's not a game but feel free to check it out." Here we had a familiar input device, a joystick, in an unfamiliar setting. Perhaps creating a complex design using our software could be as easy and as fun as playing a game!
The Power of Search: We all know the power of search by looking at Google, but how can we search for a design from different standards and find exactly what we want? Google can't do that but can you? I was asked by several people, and I explained that we had an answer in the booths of Visual Search and Content Search. Different from an HTML page, a design can be regarded as consisting of two parts: (1) geometry (form) which is its visual representation, and (2) semantic data such as functions, behaviors, design intent/history etc which can be used to interpret the geometry data. With Visual Search and Content Search focusing on both of these aspects, people can easily envision how powerful it could be with the combination of both search technologies. Of course there are still a lot of improvements to implement in the future, but given time, I believe it could be one of the most useful search tools for people in design/manufacturing community.
Thanks Pei. Imagining a world of possibilities as a result of our Autodesk Labs efforts is alive in the lab.