Holiday Gift Guide: Make Your Workstation Smile

19 Oct, 2006 By: Sara Ferris

It's been with you through thick and thin. Show your gratitude this season by bestowing some nice accessories.

It's not even Halloween yet and already public relations people are going door-to-door, promoting products for inclusion in annual holiday gift guides. Cadalyst has never published a holiday gift guide, in the firm belief that our readers deserve something more fun than a new block library.

However, I got to thinking about the growing popularity of 3D modeling across all disciplines. 3D software requires more computing horsepower, so right off the bat adopters are looking at workstation and graphics card upgrades. Indeed, a recent survey by Aberdeen Group lists willingness to spring for new hardware as one of the key factors in gaining maximum benefit from 3D modeling in the manufacturing market.

Beyond that, working in 3D opens up many new possibilities for accessorizing. Here's a sampling of some of the 3D-related hardware add-ons on the market today. Think of it as a gift guide for your 3D workstation.

Easy-Bake Oven for Engineers?
At any trade show you'll always find a crowd around the 3D printing booths. There's something satisfying about seeing a model go from screen to little plastic prototype. Several vendors now offer 3D printers that start at less than $30,000 and can work in an office environment -- that is, no nasty smells or chemicals involved. Check out Dimension, Z Corp. and Objet, among others.

Look, Mom -- Two Hands!
Working with 3D models is much easier using a SpacePilot 3D navigation device ($499) from 3Dconnexion. Your left hand uses the SpacePilot to manipulate the model (pan, zoom, rotate) while your right hand takes care of modeling chores with the mouse. It comes with an assortment of programmable buttons, the function of which changes depending on what you're doing at any particular time. 3Dconnexion also offers the SpaceBall device for those who prefer trackball to puck. Users who travel frequently might want to opt for the SpaceTraveler ($199), which could serve double duty on an air-hockey table.

The SpacePilot puck (right) moves in six degrees of freedom for more intuitive navigation of 3D models. Its companion, the SpaceTraveler, can take road trips.

On-Screen Virtual Reality
If you're designing in 3D, why not view what you're doing in actual 3D? Sharp's Actius AL3DUnotebook computer ($3,499) implements 3D display technology that doesn't require special eyeware. You can switch back to 2D for applications such as e-mail that don't require the 3D treatment. Actius 3D works with only those applications that have partnered with Sharp to implement the technology.

If your software isn't on that list, or if you need more horsepower than Actius provides, the Monitor ZScreen ($2,045+) is available from Real D (successor to StereoGraphics). Monitor ZScreen will turn your 19"-21" monitor into a stereoscopic display. It works with any stereo-ready (Stereo3D) software, but does require groovy polarized glasses that are included with purchase.

Space-Age Topographic Modeling
The Terrain Table from Northrop Grumman brings topolographic maps to life. It uses vertical pins beneath a 52" x 40" silicon sheet to create actual curved surfaces on a tabletop display. The pins extend as high as 6". A synchronized overhead projector overlays terrain features and other data. It's compatible with ESRI's ArcGlobe software for use in applications such as civil engineering. This product is a derivative of the company's Touch Table, which displays an 84" image that users navigate by moving their hands across the tabletop.

Show Your Workstation Who's Boss
Once you trick out your 3D workstation, you'll want to spend as much time as possible modeling away. The V1 chair ($1,950+) was designed by Nex-sys for comfort, ergonomics and the "feel of being in an exotic car/motorcycle/helicopter" while you work. You can even specify a custom paint job and automobile-style seat. Heat and massage available too -- all for a price!

Work in style with a V1 chair, designed to fit in the space occupied by a traditional desk.

What Does Your Workstation Want for the Holidays?
Send us your wish list, or those accessories you can't live without. We'll publish the best suggestions in an upcoming edition of Cadalyst Daily and will send one lucky workstation its own SpacePilot 3D navigation device, courtesy of 3Dconnexion! E-mail

About the Author: Sara Ferris

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