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3Dconnexion Invasion of Planet Revit

The SpaceExplorer, SpaceNavigator and SpaceNavigator for Notebooks _ a multiple products review by Michael Anonuevo

It has been two months now since I started using 3Dconnexion’s SpacePilot PRO. Without a doubt, 3D navigation devices are definitely here to stay.

For those of you who just happened to stumble on this article, please read my previous review of the SpacePilot PRO at : http://clubrevit.com/2011/06/15/will-revit-users-fly-with-this-device/.

The way I use Revit has completely changed. I’ve incorporated the SpacePilot PRO and its powerful programmable buttons in my daily work. I am now automatically reaching for it with my left hand. I’ve also learned how to configure the buttons to my advantage. You’ll find out all about this at the end of this article with my follow-up review of the SpacePilot PRO.

I’m happy to tell you that I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of good feedback from readers saying how helpful my article was. And just as I had anticipated, I’ve gotten inquiries about 3Dconnexion’s other models. Well, after communicating with 3Dconnexion, they sent me the rest of their product line. And so guys, here’s the lowdown on the SpaceExplorer, SpaceNavigator and SpaceNavigator for Notebooks…

Before I start, let me make a few things clear:

  •  A 3D navigation device is not replacement for a regular mouse
  • All 3Dconnexion devices are supported in the current 2012 Revit release (Architecture, Structure, and MEP). They will not work in the old versions of Revit.
  • A 3D navigation device is also referred to as 3D mouse (plural: mice), 3D device or 3D controller
  • I am not connected with 3Dconnexion. I wasn’t asked to write this review nor was I compensated for it.

How I evaluated the devices:

I’ve been using the SpacePilot PRO since May of 2012 in a couple of projects. While doing so, I observed and noted down settings, configurations and how the device responds inside Revit. While waiting for the rest of 3Dconnexion’s product line, I read reviews in the internet written by people who bought these devices from retailers. I also visited websites, blogs and forums that reviewed and discussed 3dconnexion navigation devices. These are sites dedicated to product design, manufacturing, animation and specialized 3D programs. The information I gathered proved to be invaluable. I’ve gotten a lot of tips and techniques on how to properly use these 3D devices. The negative reviews were also worthy in that I was able to look into the reasons why some users were not happy about their purchase. Then there’s YouTube. This site has always been a good source of product reviews and demos. It’s so amazing to watch how other applications are taking advantage of 3D devices and what they are using them for. I’m like, why did it take us this long to jump on this bandwagon?

After I got the shipment, I immediately went about testing each device just like I did with the SpacePilot PRO. Unfortunately, I only have two computers. And so for comparison, I had to constantly swap them in my USB ports. Plugging them all in a USB router is not supported using the current driver. It will, however, be supported in an upcoming driver release. Here is my computer setup and the applications I used for testing:

HP Pavilion Elite HPE-270F Desktop PC with:

  • Intel Core i7-930 Processor (2.8 GHz, 1 MB L2 Cache + 8MB Shared L3 Cache, Intel X58 Express Chipset)
  • 16 GB PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM Memory
  • Miscellaneous: 1 Terabyte (7200 RPM) Serial ATA hard drive; Blu-ray player & SuperMulti DVD burner with LightScribe Technology; ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics card with 1GB DDR5 dedicated graphics memory, HDMI, dual-link DVI, display port, and VGA capabilities; Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Dell Studio XPS 16 Laptop with:

  • Intel Core Duo T9550 (2.66 GHz/1066 Mhz FSB/6M L2 Cache)
  • 4 GB DDR3, 1067 MHz 2 Dimm Memory
  • Miscellaneous: ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 – 512 MB; 500 GB 5400 RPM SATA Hard Drive; Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit Edition

Two Monitor System:

  • 24” LG Flatron W2486L Monitor
  • 24″ BENQ EW2420 Monitor

Software Used for Testing

  • Revit Architecture 2012
  • AutoCAD Architecture 2011
  • Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011
  • Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended
  • Google Earth

Outline of this article:

  1.  A Few Facts About 3Dconnexion
  2. The Controller Cap and the Six Degrees of Freedom Sensor
    • This technology is incorporated in all of 3dconnexion’s product lineup. So rather than repeating information about it for each device, it will be explained here.
  3. The SpaceExplorer
  4. The SpaceNavigator
  5. The SpaceNavigator for Notebooks
  6. 3Dconnexion Options Available in Revit
    • Regardless of the model, they all incorporate the same 3D modes in Revit. This will be explained here.
  7. Which Model is Right for You?
  8. Conclusion
  • Follow-Up Review of the SpacePilot PRO

1. A Few Facts About 3Dconnexion

Until recently, 3Dconnexion was a subsidiary of Logitech. The company was acquired by a private investor on March 31st of this year.

Formed in September 18, 2001, 3Dconnexion combines the resources of two giants in the 3D motion control technology: LogiCAD 3D and Labtec®.

  •  LogiCAD 3D is famous for its Magellan™ controller. This product is widely used in the automotive design and aerospace industry. At one point in time, the original Magellan was used in a NASA project where it controlled a robot in space.
  • Labtec’s 3D peripheral business was bought by Logitech in 2001. Its Spaceball 3D controller supports leading 3D application and workstation vendors that put their names on it such as Silicon Graphics, Intergraph, IBM, HP, and others companies in Europe and Japan. Like the Magellan, the Spaceball has a history of being used in space to remotely drive the Sojourner robot on Mars in 1997.

In April 2009, 3Dconnexion established a benchmark in 3D mice technology with the introduction of the SpacePilot PRO. As of March 2, 2011, they have shipped over one million 3D mice which supports over 200 popular 3D applications. 3Dconnexion’s headquarters is located in Munich, Germany. Its US office is located in Boston, MA.

Here are a few images of old models that evolved into the SpacePilot PRO:

 

2. The Controller Cap and the Six Degrees of Freedom Sensor

The controller cap is the round protruding part located on top of each model (see fig. 1).


Figure 1

It is the heart of all these devices where the six degrees of freedom (also known as 6DoF) are apparent. This is made possible through the adaptive micro-precision sensor technology developed by 3Dconnexion. The technology features six high performance optical sensors which react to the controller cap’s movements in the micrometer range (see fig. 2).


Figure 2

Six Degrees of Freedom: This refers to the motion of a rigid body in three dimensional space. These motions are the ability to move forward/backward, up/down, left/right combined with rotations about three perpendicular axes known as Pitch, Yaw and Roll. Here is an image to give you a better understanding of these motions (see fig. 3):


Figure 3

Applied to the controller cap, here are the movements you get from a 3D device (see fig. 4):


Figure 4

With the exception of the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks, the controller caps in the three other models have the same feel. In other words, they have the same resistance when you move them. On the other hand, the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks has less resistance. According to 3Dconnexion’s product manager, the springs on this model are lighter to make the device weigh less. This and the smaller design adds to its portability. Here are the dimensions of the top part of the controller cap on each model (see fig. 5):


Figure 5

The SpacePilot PRO has a metal ring on top of its cap. The caps on the SpaceExplorer and SpaceNavigator are identical. The cap on the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks has a smaller diameter and features a V-shape scalloped surface. All of these caps are sensitive and requires a light touch. If you want to zoom in or out, you have to push or pull the cap as straight as possible. A slight angle deviation will cause your 3D model to change its direction. Although using any of these models is highly intuitive, you have to practice how to use it.

All caps have four vertical orientation ridges on its sides (see fig. 6).


Figure 6

These are ridges that act as grips and guide you as you maneuver the cap around a 3D model. Your thumb and middle finger would be resting on the right and left ridges. Your index finger would be resting on the top edge of the cap closest to your screen. Depending on the model, your fourth finger and pinky can either rest on a surface or suspended while you hold the cap. To tilt the cap forward, you press your index finger downward at the cap’s top edge. To tilt it backward, you can either use your index finger to hook the cap backwards or you can use your thumb to press the back side of the cap downward. Pushing, pulling or twisting the cap is accomplished with the thumb and middle finger.

3. The SpaceExplorer

The SpaceExplorer is 3Dconnexion’s mid-priced navigation device. This model won the iF Product Design Award in 2008 at the CeBit Trade show in Hanover, Germany. It features an ergonomic design which provides users with maximum comfort.

Packaging

The SpaceExplorer was packaged in a black box (see fig. 7). The unit itself was encased in a molded hard plastic clamshell that snap-fits to a bottom shell. These two plastic parts are secured with two-2″ round transparent tapes for easy access to the device (no power scissors required!). It came with a catalog, a setup manual and a CD containing the driver. When you install the driver, you will be asked if you want to check for the latest update. After you click OK, you are taken to 3Dconnexion’s website where you can download the latest driver.


Figure 7

Here is the SpaceExplorer, side by side with my full size wireless Logitech M310 mouse (see fig. 8):


Figure 8

The size and feel of the controller cap is identical to the caps in the SpacePilot PRO and the SpaceNavigator. It has a blue LED light coming from the cap’s bottom (see. fig. 9). This can be turned off from the Tools menu of the 3DxWare software accessed from the system tray, Revit’s navigation bar or by clicking the Panel button from the SpaceExplorer.


Figure 9

Having used the SpacePilot PRO for almost two months now, I already have experience in using the controller cap. And so after I opened a Revit 3D model, I was smoothly navigating around it. It felt as if I was using the SpacePilot PRO. The SpaceExplorer, however, has only 15 programmable buttons. It came preset with commands assigned by 3Dconnexion (see fig. 10).


Figure 10

The buttons are placed strategically around the controller cap (see fig. 11). The left cluster contains the four modifier keys (SHIFT, ESC, CTRL and ALT) which can be reprogrammed. The CTRL key has a small indent on its middle surface that you can feel. The SHIFT key has a different shape and located near the edge of the body. The right cluster contains five QuickView Navigation keys that can also be reprogrammed. It has a small round scalloped middle button labeled as 2D. The rest of the buttons are above and below the controller cap. The shapes of the buttons help you locate them by touch while you’re looking at your screen. The body has a semi-gloss bluish metallic finish. The wrist rest is made of a soft rubberized-like material which is really comfortable. The overall shape is ergonomic. Its sculpted body is designed symmetrically. The design is ambidextrous, meaning it can be used by left-handers or a right-handers.


Figure 11

The bottom of the body has six rubber feet which prevents it from being moved while in use (see fig. 12).


Figure 12

Specifications

Here are the technical specifications:

  • 3Dconnexion patented 6DoF technology
  • Four QuickView Navigation Keys
  • Two Navigation Settings Keys (Speed, Rotation)
  • Two Intelligent Function Keys
  • Keyboard Modifiers (Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Esc)
  • Total of 15 programmable keys
  • Mid size advanced wrist rest design
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 194mm x 139mm x 58mm / 7.6” x 5.5” x 2.3”
  • Weight: 600g / 1.32lb

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Windows XP Professional SP2 (x86), Windows XP Professional x64 Edition
  • Windows Vista (all editions)
  • Windows 7 (all editions)
  • Mac OS X 10.4.6 or greater
  • Linux Redhat Enterprise WS 4, SuSE Linux 9.3
  • Sun Solaris 8 (SPARC), Sun Solaris 10 (x64), AIX 5.2 ML04, HP-UX 11
  • USB 1.1

The Controller Cap

The controller cap is identical to the SpaceNavigator’s cap. The base of the SpaceExplorer though, has a metal ring instead of the SpaceNavigator’s black glossy bezel.

The Programmable Buttons

Here is how to configure the buttons to access your favorite tools and commands:

1. Make sure the keyboard shortcuts of the commands you want to associate with the buttons are assigned in Revit (Views>Windows>Keyboard Shortcuts or just type KS).

2. Open the 3DxWare software from the system tray or from the navigation bar. In the 3Dconnexion Properties dialog box, click Custom Functions (see fig. 13).


Figure 13

3. In the Custom Functions dialog box, click New (see fig. 14).


Figure 14

4. In the User Macro Editor dialog box, type a descriptive name for the command on the Macro Name text box (see fig. 15). In the User Macro text box, type the keyboard shortcut you assigned in Revit. Click Save.


Figure 15

Click Done in the Custom Functions dialog box. Back in the 3Dconnexion Properties dialog box (see fig. 16), the name of the keyboard shortcut you just added will be available from the bottom of every drop-down lists.


Figure 16

5. Choose a button where you want to assign the command then slide down to the command you want to add. Click OK.

6. Finally, save your configuration ( Options>Save As).

Here is the button configuration I assigned for the SpaceExplorer as I was testing it. They are geared towards family creation (see fig. 17).


Figure 17

The recommended location of the SpaceExplorer is to place it on the opposite side of the keyboard from where your mouse is located. In this setup, you will be engaging your left hand to navigate your 3D model while simultaneously using the regular mouse to select, edit or create a component.

Using the SpaceExplorer with Revit Architecture 2012

The nice thing about the 3DxWare software is that you can have more than one button configuration in Revit (or in other supported applications as well). For example, you can have a button configuration for the project environment where you assign the SpaceExplorer’s buttons to access tools such as Wall, Floor, Ceiling, Door, Window and your most commonly used Modify tools. Then you can have different button configurations for creating families and conceptual massing. When you switch button configurations in the middle of a Revit session, they are applied right away. You don’t have to restart.

One button configuration I find useful is to assign the ALT key to invoke the Esc key twice. Then a single click would be the equivalent of pressing the Esc key a couple of times to completely exit from a tool.

In the video clip you’re about to watch, you’ll see how the programmable buttons can make your work easier. As a bonus, it is a tutorial on how to create a parametric pyramid mass. There are no video software zooms on this clip so as not to confuse you with the SpaceExplorer’s zoom. As a result, the clip appears tiny. However, I annotated the whole procedure. I suggest you watch the clip in its entirety first to see how I use the programmable buttons. Then if you want to follow the short tutorial, write down the steps. You might have to pause several times because a lot of segments happen fast. Here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofvAA582LHY

Pricing

  • 3Dconnexion Shop: $299.00
  • Amazon.com: $271.56 (free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member)
  • Educational Resellers (if you’re a qualified student): $185.00

4. The SpaceNavigator

This is 3Dconnexion’s entry level model. It has all the navigation functions as the higher end models. It is a desktop device with two programmable buttons located at its black glossy bezel ring.

Packaging

The SpaceNavigator was packaged in a 6″ x 5-3/4″ x 3-5/8″H white box (see fig. 18). It came with the usual CD containing the driver, a catalog and a setup manual. The device was contained in a hard plastic clamshell that snap-fits to a bottom shell and secured with two-2″ round transparent tape. When you install the driver, you will be asked if you want to check for the latest update. After you click OK, you are taken to 3Dconnexion’s website where you can download the latest driver.


Figure 18

The SpaceNavigator has a small footprint and perfect for tight spaces. Here it is, side by side with my wireless Logitech M310 mouse (see fig. 19).


Figure 19

Like the rest of 3Dconnexion’s product line, it has a blue LED light coming from the cap’s bottom (see. fig. 20). This can be turned off from the Tools menu of the 3Dconnexion Properties dialog box accessed from the system tray or Revit’s navigation bar.


Figure 20

The SpaceNavigator has a rubber ring base. That and its hefty weight keeps it from moving when in use (see fig. 21).


Figure 21

Specifications

Here are the specifications:

  • 3Dconnexion patented 6DoF technology
  • Two Standard 3D Mouse Keys (Fit / Menu)
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 78mm x 78mm x 53mm / 3.1” x 3.1” x 2.1”
  • Weight: 479g / 1.06lb

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Windows XP Professional SP2 (x86), Windows XP Professional x64 Edition
  • Windows Vista (all editions)
  • Windows 7 (all editions)
  • Mac OS X10.4.6 or greater
  • Linux Redhat Enterprise WS 4
  • SuSE Linux 9.3, Sun Solaris 8 (SPARC), Sun Solaris 10 (x64), AIX 5.2 ML04, HP-UX 11
  • USB 1.1

The Controller Cap

Although it’s an entry level model, the feel of the cap is the same as that of the SpacePilot PRO and SpaceExplorer. The only difference is that this model is stripped away of a body that houses more buttons. The base is made of brushed stainless steel.

The Two Side Buttons

This model is meant mostly for navigation. There are, however, two programmable buttons located in the outer perimeter of its black glossy bezel. In Revit, I have the Left button set as Fit. I then assigned Default 3D View to the Right button. This way, whenever I’m in any 2D view (plan, elevation or section), pressing this Right button will take me to the default 3D view instantly.

The recommended location of the SpaceNavigator is to place it on the opposite side of the keyboard from where your mouse is located. The cord will be facing your screen with the 3Dconnexion logo facing you. You might want to get yourself a soft wrist rest pad with a nonskid base for comfort. In this setup, you will be engaging your left hand to navigate your 3D model while simultaneously using the regular mouse to select, edit or create a component.

Manipulating Revit 3D models inside Photoshop CS5 Extended using the SpaceNavigator

In certain situations, rendering a Revit 3D model can alternatively be done in specialized applications. You’re able to add custom textures and materials which would be difficult to create in Revit. One such software is Photoshop. Starting with Photoshop CS3 Extended, users are able to take in a 3D model and edit it like a photo. This awesome feature has been continually refined and improved all the way to the latest version: Photoshop CS5 Extended (PCE). This is one application that can greatly benefit from a 3D device. PCE can import 3D content in the following formats:

  •  3D Studio (*.3DS)
  • Collada (*.DAE)
  • Google Earth 4 (*.KMZ)
  • U3D (*.U3D)
  • WavefrontOBJ (*.OBJ)

Here are the steps on how to take your Revit 3D model in PCE:

  1. Export your Revit file as FBX (Application button>Export>FBX)
  2. Import the FBX file into 3DS Max (Application button>Import)
  3. Export the 3DS Max FBX as a *.3DS file
  4. In PCE, create a new document then do the following:
    • Click the 3D menu
    • Select New Layer form 3D File
    • Locate and open the .3DS file

To give you a better idea, take a look at this clip and watch how the SpaceNavigator can be used to manipulate a 3D model in Photoshop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b9myYAgXOk

Pricing

  • 3Dconnexion Shop: $99.00
  • Amazon.com: $88.06 (free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member)
  • Educational Resellers (if you’re a qualified student): $75.00

5. The SpaceNavigator for Notebooks

The SpaceNavigator for Notebooks (SNN) is a compact and light version of the desktop SpaceNavigator. This device is meant as an accessory to your laptop. It’s particularly useful for those who attend meetings or visit jobsites regularly to coordinate with the contractor. With this device, you can forget about the clumsy fingers/trackpad combination to show your 3D model. It will fit in your laptop case or even your briefcase.

Packaging

Despite its small size, the SNN was packaged in a bigger white box measuring 8-7/8″ x 5-3/4″ x 3-1/2″ (see fig. 22). That’s because it came with a travel case. As with all of 3Dconnexion’s models, it came with the usual CD containing the driver, a catalog and a setup manual. The device was contained in a hard plastic clamshell that snap-fits to a bottom shell and secured with two-2″ round transparent tape. When you install the driver, you will be asked if you want to check for the latest update. After you click OK, you will be taken to 3Dconnexion’s website where you can download the latest version of the driver.


Figure 22

Here is the 3D device side by side with my wireless Logitech M310 mouse (see fig. 23)


Figure 23

Of course there’s a blue LED light coming from this model’s base (see fig. 24)! But this time, it’s coming from between the bezel and the brushed metal base. Nice touch. I kind of like this model for its design and portability. The cap’s resistance is less than the three other models. However, the only way you’ll notice the difference is if you own another 3D device to compare it with. But being an experienced user by now (sort of), I easily adapted to it quickly. The blue LED light of course can be turned off from the 3Dxware software.


Figure 24

The Base and the Case

These two items deserve its own heading. In some reviews I’ve read, some users complained about the material of the base. Other users hated the travel case. Here’s what’s happening and a few things to consider:

Take a look at the SNN’s bottom first (see fig. 25).


Figure 25

The soft rubber-like material is made of an adhesive-free sticky pad. It’s similar to the material used in cell phone lanyards (Clingo), but not that sticky. This type of material sticks to smooth surfaces and stays put. To take it off, you simply wedge your fingertips at the bottom and lift it up.

The problem is that it easily collects dirt and dust. In time, it will get dirty, especially if you’re taking it with you to jobsites. Here’s how to keep it clean all the time: put a plastic sheet on it before you put it inside the travel case. A good material I found is the plastic side of a CD sleeve (see fig. 26).


Figure 26

The plastic sheet sticks well to the base material of the SNN (see fig. 27). After you take it off, make sure the surface you’re putting the SNN on top of is clean. If you want to clean the base, get an old clean t-shirt, wet it with water then wipe the dirt off.


Figure 27

The outside skin of the travel case is made of a smooth leather-like material. The interior part is made of a velvet-like material. One user complained that the interior material sheds fabric that sticks to the base of the SNN. Well, the plastic cover suggestion I mentioned above should solve that problem!

Another user complained that the cord is too long for laptop use and difficult to put inside the travel case. He also mentioned that the case is a little bit tight when you put the SNN inside it. In the case of the cord, the SNN can also be used with a desktop computer, which is why the USB cord is 4 feet long. When properly put inside the case though, the SNN fits well. You stick the plastic sheet at the bottom and put the base in first. Then you wrap the cord around the controller cap just like you’re winding a string to a guitar tuning post (see fig. 28).


Figure 28

You can also buy a camera lens case if you really want a looser fitting case. They’re about twenty bucks. Other than that, you can use the clamshell container that the device was packaged in. The plastic is hard and sturdy but bulky. It might not fit in your laptop case.

Specifications

Here are the specifications:

  • 3Dconnexion patented six-degrees-of-freedom (6DoF) technology
  • Two Standard 3D Mouse Keys (Fit / Menu)
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 68mm x 68mm x 46mm / 2.7” x 2.7” x 1.8”
  • Weight: 250g / 0.55lb

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Windows XP Professional SP2 (x86), Windows XP Professional x64 Edition
  • Windows Vista (all editions)
  • Windows 7 (all editions)
  • Mac OS X 10.4.6 or greater
  • Linux Redhat Enterprise WS 4
  • SuSE Linux 9.3, Sun Solaris 8 (SPARC), Sun Solaris 10 (x64), AIX 5.2 ML04, HP-UX 11
  • USB 1.1

The Controller Cap

The springs used for this device is lighter than the other models. That and the size of the base cuts the SNN’s weight by about half of the desktop SpaceNavigator. The effect is less resistance when you move the cap. It really does not affect navigation and in fact, has a nice feeling to it.

The Two Side Buttons

Just like its desktop counterpart, this model is meant for navigation, although it has two programmable buttons. I reprogrammed the panel button as Default 3D View and left the Fit button as is. This way, whenever I’m in any 2D view (plan, elevation or section), pressing this button will take me to the default 3D view instantly.

If you’re using a regular mouse with your laptop, the SNN should be placed on the opposite side of the keyboard from where your mouse is located. The cord will be facing the screen of your laptop with the 3Dconnexion logo facing you. You might want to have one of those disposable Swifter cloths in your laptop case all the time. This cloth attracts dust and dirt like a magnet and good for wiping surfaces clean before setting down the SNN.

Using the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks with Laptops

Except for its size, the SNN’s controller cap has the same navigation features inherent in other 3Dconnexion models. It’s a whole lot easier to show a 3D model to a consultant with a laptop using the SNN. Take a look at this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2uLE8JN6UU

Pricing

  • 3Dconnexion Shop: $129.00
  • Amazon.com: $112.91 (free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member)
  • Educational Resellers (if you’re a qualified student): $110.00

6. 3Dconnexion Options Available in Revit

After you install the driver and connect any 3Dconnexion device, Revit 2012 recognizes it and adds additional icons in the navigation bar. Depending on what view you’re on, here are those additional icons and navigation bar configurations (see fig. 29):


Figure 29

  2D Mode: This is just an indicator letting you know that you’re in 2D mode (plan, elevation or section view). The check mark is always displayed even if you try to clear it. It becomes dimmed if you switch to 3D view.
  2D Zoom Direction: This option allows you to choose between two zoom directions. If you select it, the zoom is accomplished by lifting the cap up or down to zoom in or out. If you clear the check mark, the zoom is accomplished by pushing the cap forward towards the screen to zoom out or pulling it towards you to zoom in. The direction of the axes can be reversed from the 3DxWare software.
  Object Mode: In this mode, the controller cap behaves like your hand, as if you’re reaching into your screen and holding the 3D model. If you push the cap forward towards the screen, the 3D model zooms out. If you pull it towards you, the 3D model zooms in. Push it to the left and the 3D model moves to the left and so forth. The direction of the axes can be reversed from the 3DxWare software.
  Walk Mode: This is the default setting when you’re in perspective view. It simulates walking through a 3D model. The height and orientation of the eye is maintained as you move the cap. The view of the 3D model moves in the opposite direction of the cap. The movement of the 3D model is just like what you see in a movie camera. When you move the camera to the left, the view moves to the right and so forth.
  Fly Mode: This simulates flying through a 3D model as if you’re in a helicopter. The view of the 3D model moves in the opposite direction of the cap. If you lift the cap up, the view of the 3D model zooms out and so forth.
  Keep Scene Upright: As the name implies, selecting this option keep the scene upright all the time, regardless of how you maneuver the cap. If you clear the check mark, the spin and roll movements are enabled. Then you can spin and tumble your 3D model like a ball.
  Center Tool: When you select this option, the icon in the navigation bar changes to a circle with an X in it. This tool allows you to specify the location of the orbit pivot point. A message appears below the 3D model (see 1 below).
Then when you click and drag the cursor on top of the 3D model, an orbit symbol appears at the tip of the cursor with the word “Center” above it (see 2 below). When you release the mouse, the pivot point is set at that location.
  3Dconnexion Properties: When you select this option, the 3Dconnexion Properties dialog box pops-up. This is where you set speed, rotation, direction and button configurations.

7. Which Model is Right for You?

3Dconnexion categorizes their products into two series: Standard and Professional. The following are their recommendations on which model is best suited for a particular user. I’ve added my own recommendations in Red.

A. Standard Series:

  • SpaceNavigator: Optimal 3D mouse for occasional use. Minimum space on the desk.
    • This model is suited for Project Architects, Project Managers and Project Coordinators who are not directly involved in the 3D modeling process but occasionally has to navigate and check the project. It’s also a good model for 2D drafters.
  • SpaceNavigator for Notebooks: Two Thirds the size and half the weight of its desktop counterpart (SpaceNavigator).
    • This model is a perfect laptop accessory for users who attend project or jobsite coordination meetings. It’s also a good 3D device for home and personal use.

B. Professional Series:

  • 1. SpaceExplorer: Optimal 3D mouse for daily work – the 3D mouse workhorse. Ergonomic, powerful and easy to use.
    • I would highly recommend this model for the production team. These are 3D modelers who are directly involved in creating the 2d and 3D content of a BIM project. It’s also a good device for designers.
  • 2. SpacePilot PRO: The 3D mouse for enthusiasts. Offers everything you can think of when it comes to 3D navigation, comfort and getting the most from your applications.
    • If budget is not a consideration, this model is excellent for the production team too as they spend a majority of their working hours in Revit. Otherwise, it is suited for the following positions:
      • Revit guru of the firm
      • person in charge of organizing and creating families
      • the job captain or supervisor
      • the person who operates the computer during client presentations

All 3Dconnexion devices work on either desktop computers or laptops. For example, you can use the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks on your desktop computer. Or you can use the SpacePilot PRO on a laptop.

In 2008, the Technical Assessment Group, an independent product consulting firm, conducted a study on the economic payback of 3D mice. You can download the white paper from this page (when you get there, click the link at the bottom right of the page):

http://www.3dconnexion.com/products/what-is-a-3d-mouse.html

8. Conclusion

After trying out all of 3Dconnexion’s products, I only have this to say: I’m hooked with 3D navigation devices! No matter which model you choose, you’ll get the same smooth navigation motions that you’ll never get from a regular mouse. You only have to try it once to experience its advantages. For any serious 3D modeler, a 3D device is a must. Your mouse clicks are reduced and the workload is distributed to both your hands. The intuitive navigation allows you to concentrate more on your designs.

Now is  a good time to upgrade to Revit 2012! It is a stable release that has tons of features. Plus, you’ll be able to able to enjoy the benefits of using any 3Dconnexion device. If there is a retailer close to your area that carries these devices, I urge you to try them out.

Thanks and have a great day!

by Michael Anonuevo
Certified Autodesk Revit Architecture Professional

 Follow Up Product Review of the SpacePilot PRO:

There is something inherently gratifying when you’re using the SpacePilot PRO (SPP) or any other model reviewed above. The smooth and fluid motions you get while navigating a 3D model is just breathtaking. You become totally immersed and connected with your 3D model. Over the course of six weeks, I continually reprogrammed the SPP’s buttons to suit my needs. Here is my latest configuration based on the type of work I do (see fig. 30). They’re shown on top of an SPP’s image so you can see where I located them:


Figure 30

Here are a few things I observed and some changes I made while using the SPP:

  1. When I tilt the cap forward with my index finger, sometimes I have a tendency to push the cap down when my thumb and middle fingers are resting on the cap’s ridges. This tilts and pans the 3D model down simultaneously. To avoid this, I simply press with my index finger while the rest of my fingers are suspended.
  2. An effective way for me to tilt the cap backwards is to just push the back edge of the cap with my thumb.
  3. Although you can simultaneously zoom and pan to zero in on an element, sometimes I find it faster to zoom in first then pan accordingly.
  4. Another fast method to zoom in on a target is to use both the 3D mouse and the regular mouse. For example, I would be zooming in with the SPP and at the same time panning with the regular mouse.
  5. In my configuration above, I have the draw tools programmed on the left cluster of buttons. This way, the modifier keys (as in the Esc key) are right above it.
  6. Since I don’t use the Alt key, I reprogrammed it as the Modify key (Select panel) which I named Esc_Twice. This is equivalent to pressing the Esc key a couple of times to completely exit from a tool. I think it’s a perfect location for this function since the draw tools are right below it.
  7. I find that there’s no need for me to adjust the speed or navigation settings while I’m modeling. And so I reprogrammed the buttons that invoke those functions to other Revit commands. You can access the 3Dxware software anytime from the system tray.
  8. You don’t want to throw away the clamshell container. They’re thick and durable and a perfect case for the SPP should you need to take it to another location. I advice you do the same with the other models.

Programs that came with the CD:

  •  Collage: This is an image viewer application that allows you to assemble pictures inside its window using the 3D mouse. You can manipulate the pictures individually as if they are 3d models. You can save the file in jpeg, bmp or png format.
  • Trainer: This is an interactive application that instructs users how to use a 3D device. There is a tab for each movement. The instructions are computer spoken.
  • Demos Applications:
    • Chicken: This is an abstract 3D model of a chicken head that moves when you manipulate the controller cap
    • Cube 3D: This is a floating square cube with different colors on each side. It reacts to every movement you make on the controller cap.
    • Jet: This is a variation of the Cube 3D. In this demo, the object is a wireframe 3D model of a jet that can be moved and manipulated with the 3D mouse.
    • Puzzle: This is a 3D puzzle where you put and fit multicolored pieces into a wireframe cube.
    • Viewer: This is an application that lets you open a Wavefront OBJ (*.obj) file. You’ll be able to manipulate the imported 3D model with the 3D mouse in a mechanical CAD viewer setting.
  • Documentation: Readme, manuals
  • 3D Mouse Home: Clicking this opens the 3D Mouse Home window where you can access the Trainer, Manual, Properties Dialog Box, Viewer, Collage, and Puzzle. Clicking the Registration button will take you to the 3Dconnexion registration page.
  • Driver: This is the 3DxWare software/driver

One final note: As of the date of this publication, the price of the SpacePilot PRO at Amazon has gone up to $377.50.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article.

by Michael Anonuevo
Certified Autodesk Revit Architecture Professional

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