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Archive for July, 2013

Kickstarter Showcases Real Innovation

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Although it’s not perfect, and certainly has its detractors, I’ve been a big fan of Kickstarter since the beginning because of the innovative projects that have emerged from it. A little over four years ago Kickstarter was founded as a private for-profit company, providing tools to raise funds for creative projects via crowd funding through its website.

Since its inception, Kickstarter has funded a diverse array of projects, including consumer products, films, music, video games, and even food. You do not and cannot invest per se in Kickstarter projects to make money. You can only back projects in exchange for a tangible reward or experience, such as a custom T-shirt or initial production run of a new product.

One of the projects I’m following right now is the myType Keyboard, a foldable Bluetooth keyboard that wirelessly pairs with smartphones and tablets, and fits in your pocket for touch typing on the go. According to the creators, while most folding keyboards on the market today have small keys and reduced spacing that result in cramped hands and frequent spelling mistakes, the myType Keyboard’s patented interleaving key design allows you to carry around a (nearly) full-sized keyboard.

Features and specs include:
• Rechargeable Lithium Ion battery
• Micro USB charging
• Durable: can be dropped and is splash resistant
• Available in five colors: Kickstarter green, black, white, blue, and pink
• Works with Bluetooth 3.0 HID supported by the following devices (with the latest iOS available version for Apple products); iPhone 3GS and later, iPad incl. iPad Mini, iPod Touch 2nd and later, Android (with HID support), and Windows 8 Tablets.
• Dimensions: when open: 12.5” x 3.6” x .3,” when closed: 6.8” x 3.6” x .35″
• Weight: Approximately 122 grams/4.3 oz (just the keyboard, not including packaging or charging cable)


The myType Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard

The team behind myType has raised almost $80,000 from over 1,300 backers, and will continue to do so for the remainder of their campaign that ends August 1. Looks like this project will make it to production. I think I want one.

I really like that the team behind the myType keyboard is honest about the project’s risks and challenges and make the following disclosure statements:

“We have followed many projects on Kickstarter, and have seen many of them struggle to deliver on time – or at all. We know, first hand, how frustrating this is for the backers, so we made a strategic decision to launch only after we had worked through the challenges most likely to cause delays.

For us, this meant securing and building relationships with suppliers, finalizing the product design, securing proof of concept beta run in each color giving us confidence that this process is repeatable.

That said, there are still risk factors that could impact our ability to complete our project, but we have identified alternate manufacturing channels, and are confident that we will be able to deliver our rewards on time.

If the project substantially exceeds expectations, it could introduce some delays in fulfillment and potentially manufacturing. We have identified fulfillment partners, and are confident that we can get rewards shipped out in a timely fashion. The factory has assured us that they are equipped to handle large order sizes into the 10,000+ range quickly and efficiently.”

We wish them the best since they’ve been working on this for quite some time. It’s also a good concept that looks like it will be well executed.

Love it or hate it, Kickstarter has been the springboard of many innovative design projects. Some will succeed, some won’t, but the spirit in which the endeavors are created is always fascinating to follow.

For more information: myType Foldable Keyboard

Reusing Common CAD Parts

Friday, July 19th, 2013

A good friend of ours at MCADCafe, Jennifer Herron, owner of Action Engineering, a company that specializes in the promotion, process development and standardization of 3D CAD Model-Based Design (MBD) just released a new video on reusing CAD parts.

In the video, Action Engineering calls a catalog part, a part or subassembly used more than once in a family of products. It may be a bearing, motor, bolt or washer. In a 3D model-based environment a catalog part model should be assembled into your organization’s native CAD assembly models and includes accurate geometry (as specified from the supplier), attributes (Material, Color), metadata (Part Number, Description, Supplier) and annotations (Dimensions and GD&T). A single catalog part model is the single authority for each catalog item used in your organization.

For more information regarding CAD reuse, contact:
Action Engineering
jennifer@action-engineering.com
303.903.7744

Arduino Workshop: Getting Started With Microcontrollers

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Being a mechanical design kind of guy, I’ve had to pick up a lot of electrical/electronics information on my own over the years since I graduated from college. I came through the mechanical design education system with a “classical” curriculum — statics, dynamics, materials, thermodynamics, and maybe one basic AC/DC circuits course.

Today, a lot has changed. Mechanical engineering curricula at many colleges and universities seem to be divided roughly and equally between mechanics, electronics, and software.

As I said earlier, my educational background has made it necessary to learn more about electrons and code, in addition to atoms from my traditional background. Over the years I’ve worked with programmable logic controllers (PLCs), but wanted to get down to a more basic level of understanding, so I started thinking microcontrollers, but where to start?

As it turns out, there are several microcontrollers on the market for beginners like me, but the one that really intrigued me was the Arduino, an open-source, single-board microcontroller. The single board designed around an 8-bit Atmel AVR microcontroller, though a new model has been designed around a 32-bit Atmel ARM. The software consists of a standard programming language compiler and a boot loader that executes on the microcontroller.

Sounds simple, right? Well, yes and no. I needed the hardware and software to get started, but I also needed a good educational resource. While there are tons of Arduino resources, I’m a good book learner, so that’s the route I took.

I’ve checked out several Arduino “primers,” and found the best one for my purposes to be Arduino Workshop: A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects by John Boxall. This well-written book is a comprehensive tutorial that will have even rank beginners (like me) quickly building devices that are actually functional.

The book digs into basic electronics and the Arduino’s sensors, motors, displays, and software. You learn about these hard and soft components hands-on by using them to build projects that include:
• A digital thermometer that displays temperature changes on an LCD
• A GPS logger that records travel data for display on Google Maps
• A tester that checks the voltage of batteries
• A keypad-controlled lock that requires a secret code to open
• An electronic version of the classic six-sided die

As the book progresses, the projects build on the basics, and by the end of the book you’ll be able to make relatively sophisticated projects, such as a motorized remote-control tank.

Each project is broken down into easily understandable units:
• A statement of what the completed project is supposed to do
• An algorithm that outlines the steps for solving the project “problem”
• The hardware required to build the project
• A schematic for building the circuit
• A sketch of the software code for making the project go.

By the time you build some of the 65 of the projects, you’ll be ready to build your own—and that’s the fundamental idea behind the Arduino open-source philosophy.

I’ve got a long way to go in microcontrollers and electronics, but feel I’ve gotten a solid start with Arduino Workshop. You have to start somewhere and this is an excellent place to start on the road to understanding microcontrollers. Go ahead, challenge yourself, learn something new!

Arduino Workshop is available for $29.95 in bookstores, from http://www.oreilly.com/nostarch, or directly from No Starch Press (http://www.nostarch.com, orders@nostarch.com, 1-800-420-7240).

Where’s SolidWorks?

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

I know we’re in the midst of the dog days of summer as far as the season goes, but we’re also in the dog days as far as the MCAD industry goes, as well.

Historically, this time of year things are relatively slow for business in general, and the CAD industry is not immune to this phenomenon.

However, one CAD vendor in particular has been uncharacteristically quiet since well before these dog days of summer — SolidWorks, or more properly, DS SolidWorks.

Most of SolidWorks’ competitors have made announcements the past few weeks — some relatively major, some relatively minor — but they have made at least some announcements. Not so, SolidWorks.

For example, Autodesk announced some new cloud-based offerings, Solid Edge announced ST6, and PTC announced new versions and products in its Creo line. The most significant bit of news coming out of SolidWorks during this time period has been the release of its 2013-2014 Education Edition.

I can remember a time, and not all that long ago, when a virtually continuous stream of news was coming out of SolidWorks — new software products and services, products designed with the software, new customers, and so on. Periodically, a SolidWorks staffer would even reach out to me to see if there was anything I needed from them, or would discuss future developments and industry trends off the record.

I realize that things can’t stay the same forever, and CAD vendors are no exception, but those days of candidness with a relationship that fostered goodwill between a vendor (in this case SolidWorks) and a member of the industry press are no longer. It’s become more of a “What have you done for us lately?”

Not only are a lot of good folks I’ve known over the years gone from SolidWorks, so is much of the excitement within the company that translated into positive energy for customers, as well as members of the media. In years past (starting in 1995), development managers, technical staff, inside and outside PR/communications, and executives were always approachable and available. These days, I can’t get a phone call returned or a response to an email. Things have changed, and in my world, not for the better.

Although not totally groundbreaking technology, check out SolidWorks’ “Next Big Thing” — Mechanical Conceptual — that was announced in January 2013 at SolidWorks World:

Exactly where is SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual that was announced in January? Where does the next version of the SolidWorks product line stand? Where is the old SolidWorks customer and user community excitement? I ask the question, “Where’s SolidWorks?”

Nothing stays the same, but SolidWorks, c’mon back, you’re missed. Get over the dog days and back in the game that for many years and on many levels made you one of the very best players in the game for mechanical design.

Future Vision: Google Glass and CAD From IMSI/Design

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Although I’m gradually coming around, I still personally find the Google Glass technology/device concept intrusive and a bit creepy, but have to admit it is innovative and possibly inevitable. Google Glass is still being tested by its “Explorers,” and has received mixed reviews, but relatively few warm feelings from them. Even though not generally available until late this year or next year, there are already several places and events where Google Glass will be banned.

According to Google, “Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that is being developed by Google in the Project Glass research and development project, with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer.” Like all things Google, Glass runs under Android, and this might be a good thing for wide acceptance.

The show of negativity toward the device, however, has not stopped many companies from exploring the possibilities of Google Glass. In fact, a CAD company recently announced an app for Google Glass — TurboSite from IMSI/Design.

The video that follows is Sergey Brin discussing Google Glass in general terms:

NOTE: To address comments about Sergey’s poor delivery, I want to emphasize that this is NOT a “TED Talk”, despite it being recorded during TED conference. It is pretty much a spontaneous appearance to show the latest technology and wasn’t prepared or rehearsed. Google Glass is also not available for purchase yet so it is not strictly speaking a product promotion either. This video is posted mostly because it has details about Glass that were unknown or unconfirmed before.

With its other mobile CAD apps already in the marketplace, notably TurboSite for tablets in the AEC industry, IMSI/Design announced at the 2013 AIA National Convention that TurboSite will be available for Google Glass when it is launched.

“We think Google Glass is a terrific platform for a site evaluation and field reporting app like TurboSite,” stated Royal Farros, CEO of IMSI/Design.

Historically, documenting walk-throughs and creating punch lists have been  physically-demanding processes, because site inspection requires carrying a full set of building plans and cumbersome digital equipment (camera, computer, etc.).

“Using Google Glass and TurboSite, we’re literally letting someone to walk onto a job site carrying [virtually] nothing,” said Farros.

That is, carrying nothing but wearing the smart device glasses and running TurboSite — theoretically, you will see building plans directly in front of you. GPS will track your movement through a drawing. The built-in eye glass camera will let you take pictures and record video, and TurboSite will automatically insert these into a markup layer at the exact physical location. When the field report is finished, it is automatically distributed to an entire design and construction team.

Although it’s obviously very early in the wearable computer game, I’m not totally sold on the idea for a number of reasons — practicality, quality, integrity, security, and privacy. However, Google Glass is totally new, and not just a paradigm shift, it’s a total game changer. In kind, TurboSite for Google Glass is also totally new and promises to be one of the first enterprise tools for Google Glass. It’s really a natural outgrowth for TurboSite, an app developed specifically for mobility, and is taking it to the next level.

And, OK, at this stage TurboSite for Goggle Glass is an AEC application, but you have to believe it could also be used in plant design and verification, as well as facilities management.

As for MCAD, I envision that it could be used in automotive, aerospace, consumer product design sectors, and shipbuilding (after all, a ship is just a horizontal building that floats). Who knows? This marks the dawn of a new age of design with hardware shrinking from yesterday’s main frames to today’s wearable computers that will only continue to get smaller as their utility becomes bigger.

In speaking with IMSI/Design’s CEO, Royal Farros, he’s very enthusiastic about the potential of TurboSite for Google glass, but also forthcoming and honest about it — traits that we seldom see from an executive discussing technologies as significant as these. These evolving technologies  are going to be ones to watch closely.

SolidCAM: Program your CNCs directly inside your existing CAD system.



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