Input Technologies for CAD: What’s the Best Mouse for Your Workflow? Part 2

29 Dec, 2015 By: Alex Herrera

Herrera on Hardware: In addition to the standard and more elaborate models for general use, the market offers CAD users mice designed just for them — and the future holds new possibilities in gesture-recognition technologies.

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. But if you build a better mouse pointer, will the CAD community do the same? It turns out the standard three-button mouse is tough to beat, partly due to its simple yet functional design, and partly because many of us never stop to consider whether we could — or should — look for something better. That’s a missed opportunity, because the right mouse can make a huge difference in productivity: CAD workflows rely on the ability to quickly and accurately select objects, manipulate views, and crank through commands.

In Part 1 of this series, I presented three categories of mouse products to consider for CAD — general-purpose devices with mainstream features, general-purpose devices with premium features, and CAD-optimized devices — and discussed the first two. The first category essentially consists of the wired, optical (LED emitter) three-button mouse that comes free with every machine you buy. The second dials up capabilities with features like wireless connectivity, higher-precision laser tracking, programmable buttons, and ergonomic styling.

CAD-Optimized Design

The first two classes of pointer serve virtually all traditional computer applications. Picking up where those categories leave off is a much smaller group of mouse and controller products specifically designed for CAD users. While occasionally other companies might dabble in 3D CAD mouse products, today the conversation about such products essentially begins and ends with one company: 3Dconnexion.

The 3D mouse. Not a replacement for your regular mouse, but rather a complement to it, the 3D mouse specifically and exclusively controls 3D navigation. 3Dconnexion's 3D mice allow six degrees of model motion, all controlled via the controller's cap (what some might call a puck). Simply do to the cap what you want to happen to the model; push, pull, twist or tilt the cap to intuitively pan, zoom, and rotate the model with one hand, while your other remains on your regular mouse.

In all the talk about hardware and software parallel processing, it's worth remembering that the critical component in the pipeline that can most benefit from multi-tasking is the user. With a 3D mouse in one hand navigating views, and your regular mouse in the other selecting and editing, you've got another avenue to exploit to accelerate your design process. 3Dconnexion's 3D mice range in price from about $99 for the SpaceNavigator, which keeps things simple with just the controller cap and a couple of buttons, all the way up to the $399 SpacePilot Pro, which features wrist rests, 31 programmable buttons, and an LCD control panel.

The ultimate 3D mouse: 3Dconnexion's SpacePilot Pro. Image courtesy of 3Dconnexion.

The CadMouse. Although the SpaceMouse is not a replacement for the primary, cursor-controlling mouse, 3Dconnexion's most recently released product is just that. To design the CadMouse, the company started with the proven three-button mouse design, then shaped the form and function to meet the requirements of CAD applications and workflows. Realizing that CAD professionals — unlike most user types — heavily rely on that middle button, the design team pulled it out from underneath the scroll wheel and gave it a dedicated physical button, nestled between the left and right buttons. And to deliver the precision that designers to confidently and accurately select fine detail in complex models, even on multi-monitor 4K displays, the CadMouse supports up to 8,200 dots per inch (DPI) tracking, sampled at up to 1,000 Hz for quick response.

Mouse feet designed for minimal friction help make the best use of all that precision, while the supporting 3DxWare software can detect the active application and dynamically adjust DPI and button assignment to settings appropriate for the task at hand. For example, if you're doing something that warrants fine control — like modeling — it increases tracking resolution. Conversely, if you're simply reading e-mails and browsing the Internet, you can opt for a lower, softer setting. Finally, the designers threw in a few relatively modest bells and whistles, such as a QuickZoom button (for fast zooming in and out via the thumb buttons), as well as a radial menu button to select commands by swiping the mouse left, right, up, or down.

The CadMouse is a CAD-specific take on the conventional three-button mouse. Image courtesy of 3DConnexion.

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About the Author: Alex Herrera

Alex Herrera

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