3D Dominates the News


Welcome to AECWeekly! The CAD and GIS industries rarely have groundbreaking announcements in common or back to back, but this week they had both. On Tuesday we learned that @Last Software, a company known to CAD users as an easy to use 3D design tool and only recently to GIS users, was acquired by Google, Inc. Bentley had already scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, and the rumor was that they were announcing a MicroStation 2D/3D connection to the Google Earth environment - a rumor that proved true. Read about this exciting news in this week's Industry News.

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Industry News

3D Dominates the News

  • @Last Software sold to Google
  • Bentley Announces Google Earth Tools Integration: Connecting MicroStation to the Google Earth Environment

by Susan Smith

The CAD and GIS industries rarely have groundbreaking announcements in common or back to back, but this week they had both. On Tuesday we learned that @Last Software, a company known to CAD users as an easy to use 3D design tool and only recently to GIS users, was acquired by Google, Inc. All day Tuesday, bloggers were having a field day, but still had difficulty getting much information. Both @Last and Google are traditionally untraditional in their approach, and so did not send out a formal press release, rather, they allowed their blogs and the SketchUpdate newsletter to convey the news. Bentley had already scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, and the rumor was that they were announcing a MicroStation 2D/3D connection to the Google Earth environment - a rumor that proved true.


@Last Software Sold to Google

In August of 2005, I wrote about SketchUp for GISWeekly, as the product had just gained the notice of the GIS industry with its then-newly announced SketchUp ArcGIS plug-in which enabled ArcGIS users who have the 3D Analyst extension to quickly create highly detailed 3D models. In that article I mentioned that Google Earth type technologies had brought home the fact that we no longer needed to spend an arm and a leg to have 3D to view maps and geometric data.

In that moment of lucidity, I saw the two companies--@Last and Google--traveling parallel paths. I also began to wonder what SketchUp would come up with, now that Autodesk was planning to release its competing Vespa product.

Founded in 1999, SketchUp was created by a group of design software veterans who wanted to create a program that would allow design professionals to actually sketch on the computer to develop their ideas. Inexpensive and simple, SketchUp is something that nearly everyone can use, but has tremendous potential for professionals.

I spoke briefly with Jeff Martin, former senior market director for @Last Software, now Product Marketing Manager for Google. Interested parties were directed to the SketchUp website to find out the scoop on the acquisition.

The following from the website blog describes how the acquisition came to be:

“Here's the story. We got to know a bunch of Googlers while we were building the Google Earth Plugin for SketchUp, and it quickly became apparent that we could really stir things up together. At first, it was kind of hard to imagine; after all, we'd been blazing our own trail for so long. But after we kicked it around awhile, it started to seem right. One thing led to another, and here we are. This is one of those wonderful win-win situations; it would have been impossible for us to feel good about this acquisition if we didn't feel our culture, our users and our mission would be in good hands.”

I mentioned to Martin that this industry space has received a lot of attention recently: Autodesk will release their Vespa, a SketchUp-like program later this year, and Bentley is connecting MicroStation to the Google Earth environment.

Where once @Last representatives might have been more forthcoming as employees of a private company, now they are all part of publicly-owned Google. “What I can say is the activity in the marketplace has validated the mission of SketchUp to make 3D easy and accessible for everyone because they are recognizing that it is a valid space to be in,” said Martin.

Future product plans can't be discussed at this time, however, Martin was reassuring about SketchUp development being maintained under the Google moniker. “Our early success has been due to adoption in the AEC market and those people in the AEC market have been our greatest evangelists and our most dedicated users. Going forward, we wouldn't dream of doing anything that would draw away from that. We will continue to develop for and support those guys in the AEC market.”

Although at this point it's uncertain how many AEC guys know about Google Earth, it won't be long before they do. The following are KML links to examples using SketchUp and Google Earth.

Statue of Liberty
SketchUp headquarters
Google Mountain View campus

As reported in the SketchUp blog: “We're bringing the '3D' part; Google's contributing the 'Everyone.'”

@last Software purchased by Google Earth

Google Blog: A new home for @Last Software


Bentley Announces Google Earth Tools Integration: Connecting MicroStation to the Google Earth Environment


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Bentley Announces Google Earth Tools Integration: Connecting MicroStation to the Google Earth Environment.
@Last is obviously not along in their desire to make “3D for everyone” possible. In Bentley's case, they want to provide 3D for their SELECT subscribers to be able to reach a broader audience. Bentley has taken MicroStation and connected it to Google Earth, so that users will be able to navigate high resolution 2D and 3D models of infrastructure in the Google Earth environment.

This integration offers a way to effectively combine CAD and GIS data to enable reliable contextual decisions. In a demonstration, Joe Croser, global marketing director of Bentley platform products, showed a view of the Bentley Exton facility and its surrounds. The model shows a rich collection and the impact of 2D, 3D, civil and GIS information upon the landscape. This model can be viewed by going to the website and clicking on “eseminar.”

An entire design team can access the high resolution contained within the MicroStation environment. But when they want to publish the model to a wider audience and communicate with different people, it makes sense to put the model information into a more relevant file format such as KML. “We've developed the integration and the publishing tools form MicroStation to Google Earth so that we're always just one click away within the MicroStation model and publishing it to the MicroStation environment,” said Croser.

To begin to use the Google Earth Tools, Croser first opened the published file inside of Google Earth, then zoomed in to see the imagery provided by Google Earth. You can also see the MicroStation 2D, civil and utilities information overlaying that imagery. If you zoom in closer you can see some text and links, and can see how the high resolution raster image that came attached to the reference file within MicroStation has been transferred along with the model, along with the hyperlink and the civil and GIS data, to be incorporated with the image data in Google Earth.

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