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The Shape of Things to Come - mobile CAD in the Post-PC era (Part 2)

This article was published in issue 4/2011 of ArchiMAG magazine

The evolution of tech is always difficult to predict, I mean who’d have thought 10 years ago we’d be using Tablets and Smartphones that mimic tech we’d only ever seen on Star Trek! But it’s always fun to dream, and there are loads of great ideas for future products and technologies, plus some hints of what's just waiting over the horizon. These are some of my favorite rumors and concepts of the future of CAD and 3D technology.

3D Head Tracking Technology

It seems that 3D movies are all the rage again, not since their introduction in the 1950s, with their snazzy blue and red stereoscopic glasses, has there been so much interest in them, a fact most probably due to the success of James Cameron's "Avatar".

Apple 3D Head tracking

Ok, there might be a theme here, but some of the most interesting patents are surfacing from Apple, including this one that has to do with 3D head-tracking technology, basically Glasses-free monocular 3D on a display. The logic is that an embedded front-facing camera (like on the iPhone 4 / iPad 2) with face-detection would be able to track the user’s movement and adapt accordingly, creating a sense of even more 3D realism for objects and spaces by adding spectacular virtual depth and enabling more possibilities of interaction.

Autodesk Homestyler for iPad

Homestyler on iPad

Homestyler is Autodesk’s very simple 3D home, interior & garden design web app, meaning that it all runs in your browser. Seen as Autodesk has had so much success with their other web app, Autocad WS, why not do the same with this one? The only hurdle to overcome is that it’s a Flash-based application at the moment and, therefore, cannot run on iPad.

Using it online though, it’s very simple to create spaces and fill them with furniture, add doors & windows, rearrange layouts and add landscape without any CAD knowledge necessary, making it a great tool for CAD newbies or non-professionals, though architects and interior designers will find the ability to export to Autocad and Revit very useful; this creates the ability to quickly conceptualize in Homestyler and then develop the design further in CAD + BIM apps.

Imagine having this ease of designing directly on an a Tablet while sitting in the room you want to develop or decorate, render it in front of your clients, and then sending it to your laptop to finish up the technical details.

What about Autodesk Photofly for iPad?

If you’ve seen what
Project Photofly can do, you’d think as I did the first time, “awesome piece of software, but how is it possible it isn’t already in phones and tablets?!”. The app allows anyone with a digital camera to create near accurate 3D models from photographs using the web, harnessing the power of Cloud computing to translate photos into detailed 3D models. It currently can export the models to iPhone/iPad, to be viewed with Autodesk’s Inventor Publisher Mobile Viewer. If a complete creation & viewer app could be developed, what more perfect tool to hold in your hands while on site; to make a detailed scan of the surrounding area, or even make a quick 3D survey model of elaborate structures.

Photofly on iPad


A 3D sketching system being developed at the University of Toronto is described as an “as-natural-as-possible sketching system for creating 3D curve models”.

A while before all the hype of mainstream Tablet Computers, some great minds over at the Department of Computer Science of Toronto University developed a system giving the ability to “sketch” in 3D space while using a tablet-type device. “ILoveSketch” is a 3D curve sketching system that brings the benefits of drawing like pen on paper, while automatically creating a concept 3D curve model. It’s a really clever system integrating traditional sketching techniques and user interaction with a 3D model in novel ways.

ILoveSketch from Seok-Hyung Bae on Vimeo.


This isn’t just two-dimensional sketching, but an evolution of a kind using NURB-based geometry to create freeform shapes via curves of high precision and great ease. ILoveSketch takes advantage of multi-stroke sketch techniques and gesture-based functions to create groups of these curves while drawing with a Stylus-type pen.

“I Love Sketch” could become a great asset to industrial designers to rapidly draw up 3D concepts , though you can easily see it being used for conceptualizing architectural forms and complex designs before moving onto CAD or BIM apps. As SketchUp revolutionized quick & easy modeling to a point where nearly anyone can draw in 3D, this kind of system could do the same with virtual sketching methods, as sketching is more natural than using a mouse and requires less training to get the hang of. If this sort of system could become integrated somehow into a powerful multi-touch surface like the iPad, it could change the designer’s workflow dramatically.

Even more Augmented Reality (AR)

AR has already begun to infiltrate our lives through interactive games and more impressively advertisements at bus stops, train stations and even magazines. Fans of the Gadget Show UK might remember Hidden Creative’s massive AR project on an episode where presenter Suzi Perry was “virtually” all over Manchester city centre, wearing her famous cat-suit on billboards, bus shelters, phone booths and more.


The Hidden Creative has envisaged many more ways of how the future will be flooded with Augmented Reality, and have conceptualized how a Tablet device may be used to help architects, interior designers, or even realtors and furniture stores. Imagine an IKEA catalogue app that lets you place virtual furniture directly in the room you’re redecorating, change colors of the walls, and add light fixtures that interact with the virtual objects and the physical space.


Holographic 3D Interaction with tactile feedback


Ok so it’s not exactly an iPad concept, but this could be rather revolutionizing, and plausibly integrated into future releases.

The industrial designer Tommaso Gecchelin (
tinyurl.com/mac-2020) has envisaged a future Macbook, which takes advantage of the progress of nano-technology, photovoltaic power, and ultrasound waves to provide tactile feedback, as well as holographic technology which captures & emits 3D images. It's a brilliant concept, which could really bring digital images to life, and the ultrasound feedback could let you literally feel the holographic objects in front of you.


Hopefully in the not so far future we’ll see what some of these guys can come up with - though one thing’s for sure, CADmonkeys of the world are itching more than ever to see what’s boiling in the iPad pot and what new concepts Apple’s future releases will spark, as the iPad evolves into a serious companion tool in business.

Check out Part 1 of the article > “the archiPad : mobile CAD in the Post-PC era

Check out the full article on my Portfolio site

Apollo Spiliotis


Apollo Spiliotis is a Part II Architectural Assistant (Junior Architect), founder of archiCADmonkey, part-time web designer and Mac / tech geek extraodinaire. Check him out on Linkedin at

For more information about archiCADmonkey visit the blog
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