Start-Up Sunglass Sets Out to ‘Disrupt the CAD Industry'25 May, 2012 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson
One of six finalists in this week’s TechCrunch DISRUPT event, the company is launching what it calls the first cloud-based, interactive 3D CAD file viewer.
New company launches to disrupt the $10B CAD industry. That was the subject line of the message that arrived in my inbox this week. Next, I noticed the headline on the included press release: Sunglass officially launches to democratize design by turning ideas into products through first-of-its-kind collaborative environment for sharing and creating 3D files across any format.
We’ve seen these bold promises from software developers before. Game-changing technology, democratized design, collaboration across any file format. Still, this wasn’t something I could ignore, so I had a chat with Sunglass founders Nitin Rao and Kaustuv DeBiswas. They explained the Sunglass technology -- and the strategy behind it -- that they hope will change the way we do CAD.
Sunglass aims to break down traditional barriers common to CAD workflows, “to democratize access to design,” Rao said. “Converting file formats, working through FTP servers … not communicating in real time — these things are not design. They are barriers to design.” CAD is such an essential tool to the productivity of mankind, he continued, not just for traditional applications but also for pursuits such as sustainable design. “We wanted to make that happen by making design tools more accessible. How could we make 3D tools fast and easy?” Sunglass was the answer.
Anyone who works with 3D CAD data could use and find value in Sunglass. Is it solely for professionals? In a post on TechCrunch.com, Rao answered, “This spans from kids playing with [models of motorcycles] to professionals who are modeling fluid dynamics. Starting off, it’s aimed at professional designers, but it’s easy enough that you don’t need complex training.”
In private beta mode since early this year, Sunglass is currently accessible to users who request an invitation and get on a waiting list. It will open to the public and become freely accessible to all on June 6.
How It Works
Sunglass is free software as a service (SaaS), 100% web-based, and built with HTML5 and OpenGL. Sunglass.io, the web site that is the center of all the action, works in Chrome and Firefox web browsers, as well as in Safari with OpenGL enabled. “And you need a relatively new computer,” Rao added. No plug-ins or Adobe Flash are required.
Getting started is as easy as creating an account, then dragging and dropping a 3D CAD file from your desktop or Dropbox onto the Sunglass Stage. Sunglass supports 3D CAD file formats including 3DS, OBJ, STL, Blend, DAE, SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, CATIA, Creo, I-deas, IGES/STEP, IFC, JT, Parasolid, PRC, Pro/ENGINEER, Siemens PLM/NX/Solid Edge, VDA-FS, and VRML. Currently, the system works best with files of 200 MB or less; the developers are actively working to improve that.
At this point, you can invite any number of collaborators (using their e-mail addresses) to join you in real time. “Once models are in the Stage, Sunglass becomes a rich environment for social design,” the press release stated. Collaborators can discuss the model via integrated text or voice chat; rotate, flip, and scale the model; mark it up using a sketch tool; save views; and even drag and drop any number of additional models into the original design to explore ideas.
This YouTube video demonstrates the basics (3:07):
Sunglass can save and store modeling sessions for later access and can save geometry in tessellated formats including OBJ, STL, and STEP (with support for BRep formats such as IGES and ACIS coming soon).
With one click, the Sunglass Player transforms large 3D models into code that can be used to display that model anywhere on the web, much like you use can use YouTube embed code for displaying videos.
Here is an example of a model streamed directly from Sunglass:
Sunglass API: Build Your Own Software
For its next stage of development, the company will launch an open-source community where third-party developers, using the Sunglass API, can create open-source and pay-as-you-go software modules that extend the functionality of the Sunglass Stage. The Sunglass app store would allow users to select from a variety of options for rendering, analysis, publishing, and other tasks -- each priced from $25–$100 per month. An individual module could be purchased and used at the moment needed -- for example, to conduct analysis on the fly. Combined, modules could become a “custom” software solution that presumably lets the user do exactly what he or she needs without paying for anything he or she doesn’t. To demonstrate the potential value of these tools to come, the Sunglass site currently features a home-grown utility that reportedly can render 3D objects in about 45 seconds.
Although he can’t yet divulge details, DeBiswas said, “You’ll see some fairly recognizable names in terms of the app developers.” The app store should launch around the end of this summer.
This week’s press release stated, “The Sunglass API will eventually eliminate the need for an architect or engineer to ever purchase an entire software suite again when they only need a few specific tools for a project.” But the developers clarified that in its current state, Sunglass is intended only for collaboration, and users cannot yet use it to create models from scratch, modify geometry, or analyze designs.
The CAD market has no shortage of tools for file-based collaboration, so what’s so unique about Sunglass? For starters, Rao said, “Sunglass is designed to work with your workflow, not change behaviors.” DeBiswas added, “This is the first ‘Google Docs in 3D.’ No other software allows multiple users [to collaborate simultaneously] in the 3D software space. Most other 3D viewers on the web are one-way, not collaborative.”
Rao summed up, “We support large groups of people [working with] any file format that can be dragged and dropped into the collaborative space.”
Looking Ahead -- and Going Mobile
Rao and DeBiswas are focusing most of their effort currently on shoring up the core collaboration functionality of Sunglass and optimizing how it manages very large data files. In addition to building out the app store, the next phase of development will extend Sunglass to mobile devices. “The current version is designed for the web browser,” Rao said. “We’re working to make it mobile-ready by the end of summer. We’re very excited by the mobile space.”
OpenGL applications have an inherent bias toward the Android OS but, Rao said, “As customers make specific requests, we’ll respond.”
Sunglass has raised $1.8 million in seed funding to date. DeBiswas said, “We are backed by people taking a long-term view of creating a modular tool [and helping us achieve] our goals in design.” This week at the TechCrunch DISRUPT event in New York City, a competition in which tech start-ups compete for a $50,000 prize, Sunglass was named one of six finalists from a pool of more than 600 entrants.
About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson
Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's Tips & Tricks Tuesdays free e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is available. All exclusively from Cadalyst!