BlocksCAD is Browser-Based 3D Modeling that Teaches You CAD

Considering all of the projects the Raspberry Pi is used for now, the fact that it was originally envisioned to be an educational tool is sometimes forgotten. One of the tools commonly available with it is Scratch, a programming language that is easy to learn and can be seen as a gateway into other computer science realms. Building on this principle, MIT has come up with a new block-based educational tool called BlocksCAD.

BlocksCAD is essentially Scratch combined with OpenSCAD and allows the user to use blocks (similar to Scratch) to build a 3D model. The interface is fairly intuitive, and with some practice even complex shapes can be created using the tools available. Also, everything runs in a browser like the 3D modeling tool we featured a few days ago, so there isn’t anything to download or install.

The key to this project (like the key to Scratch) is that the user isn’t bogged down by syntax, which is often one of the largest hurdles for anyone who is just starting to learn to program. Since it’s possible to avoid syntax but still develop 3D models, this new tool should help anyone interested in the field of 3D modeling or CAD get a start without getting scared away too easily. Of course, if you do end up deep in the field of computer science and want to learn more about this project, the developers have opened up the source code as well.

Thanks for the tip, [Matt]!

Otherworldy CAD Software Hails From A Parallel Universe

The world of free 3D-modeling software tends to be grim when compared to the expensive professional packages. Furthermore, 3D CAD modeling software suggestions seem to throw an uproar when new users seek open-source or inexpensive alternatives. Taking a step apart from the rest, [Matt] has developed his own open-source CAD package with a spin that inverts the typical way we do CAD.

Antimony is a fresh perspective on 3D modeling. In contrast to Blender’s “free-form sculpting” and Solidworks’ sequential extrudes and cuts, Antimony invites you to break down your model into a network of both primitive geometry and operations that interact with that geometry.

Functionally, Antimony represents objects as a graphical collection of nodes that encode both primitives and operations. Want a cylinder? Start with a circle node and pipe it into an extrude node. Need to cut out some part geometry? Try defining it with one or more primitives, and then perform a boolean intersection operation. Users can even write their own nodes with custom scripts written in Python. Overall, Antimony boasts the power of parametric design similar to OpenSCAD while it also boosts readability with a graphical, rather than text-based, part description. Finally, because part geometry is essentially stored as a series of instructions, the process of modeling the part does not limit the resolution of the output .STL mesh. (Think: vector-based images, versus pixel-based images).

Current versions of the software are available for both Mac and Linux, and the entire project is open-source and available on the Githubs. (For the shrewd-eyed software developers, most of the project is written with Python that interacts with lower-level routines handled in C++ and exposed through Boost.Python.) Take a video tour of an Antimony workflow with [Matt] after the break. All-in-all, despite that the software is still in its alpha stages, it’s highly functional and (for the block-diagram fans) intuitive. We’re thrilled to put our programming hats on and try CAD from, as [Matt] coins it “a parallel universe.”

Continue reading “Otherworldy CAD Software Hails From A Parallel Universe”

Geodesic Structures that aren’t just Domes

Geodesic structures

[Brian Korsedal] and his company Arcology Now! have developed a great geodesic building system which makes architectural structures that aren’t just limited to domes. They 3D scan the terrain, generate plans, and make geodesic steel space frame structures which are easy to assemble and can be in any shape imaginable.

Their clever design software can create any shape and incorporate uneven terrains into the plans. The structures are really easy to construct with basic tools, and assembly is extremely straight forward because the pole labels are generated by the design software. Watch this construction time lapse video.

At the moment, ordering a structure fabricated by the company is your only option. But it shouldn’t be too hard to fabricate something similar if you have access to a hackerspace. It may even be worth getting in touch with Arcology now! as they do seem happy collaborating to make art like the Amyloid Project, and architectural structures for public spaces and festivals like Lucidity. Find out what they are up to on the Arcology Now! Facebook page.

Would this be perfect for what you’ve been thinking about building? Let us know what that ‘something’ is in the comments below. Continue reading “Geodesic Structures that aren’t just Domes”

DesignSpark Mechanical – The Gift of Invention

Ever heard of DesignSpark? They are releasing a powerful CAD package on September 16th — for free!

The company is owned by RS Components, a distributor of electronics and maintenance products. They offer a large library of 3D models of parts that they sell, dubbed the ModelSource. So if you are wondering how they are giving out software for free, that’s how. They also have free PCB designing software, and something called DesignShare which hosts open-source project collaboration, sharing and discussions.

By the looks of the demo video, DesignSpark Mechanical is a well laid out CAD package that is rich in features. The software allows for the import and export of several file types, and it looks like ECAD, OBJ, Sketchup, STEP, DXF and STL are all there, as well as the native file types. While it looks like you can import any files, we are willing to bet adding ModelSource files are by far the easiest and most convenient because of the integrated ModelSource library. But we think that’s a small price to pay for an alternative to SketchUp. After all, the component models will be useful for assemblies, even if you don’t order through them. Oh, and it’s perfect for making free models for 3D printing as it includes the ability to export STL files.

Watch the software demo after the break.

Continue reading “DesignSpark Mechanical – The Gift of Invention”

3-Sweep: Turning 2D images into 3D models

As 3D printing continues to grow, people are developing more and more ways to get 3D models. From the hardware based scanners like the Microsoft Kinect to software based like 123D Catch there are a lot of ways to create a 3D model from a series of images. But what if you could make a 3D model out of a single image? Sound crazy? Maybe not. A team of researchers have created 3-Sweep, an interactive technique for turning objects in 2D images into 3D models that can be manipulated.

To be clear, the recognition of 3D components within a single image is a bit out of reach for computer algorithms alone. But by combining the cognitive abilities of a person with the computational accuracy of a computer they have been able to create a very simple tool for extracting 3D models. This is done by outlining the shape similar to how one might model in a CAD package — once the outline is complete, the algorithm takes over and creates a model.

The software was debuted at Siggraph Asia 2013 and has caused quite a stir on the internet. Watch the fascinating video that demonstrates the software process after the break!

Continue reading “3-Sweep: Turning 2D images into 3D models”

TightLight: A 3D projection mapping assistant


Anyone can grab a projector, plug it in, and fire a movie at the wall. If, however, you want to add some depth to your work–both metaphorical and physical–you’d better start projection mapping. Intricate surfaces like these slabs of styrofoam are excellent candidates for a stunning display, but not without introducing additional complexity to your setup. [Grady] hopes to alleviate some tedium with the TightLight (Warning: “music”).

The video shows the entire mapping process of which the Arduino plays a specific role toward the end. Before tackling any projector calibration, [Grady] needs an accurate 3D model of the projection surface, and boy does it look complicated. Good thing he has a NextEngine 3D laser scanner, which you’ll see lighting the surface red as it cruises along.

Enter the TightLight: essentially 20 CdS photocells hooked up to a Duemilanove, each of which is placed at a previously-marked point on the 3D surface. A quick calibration scan scrolls light from the projector across the X then Y axis, hitting each sensor to determine its exact position. [Grady] then merges the photocell location data with the earlier 3D model using the TouchDesigner platform, and bam: everything lines up and plays nice.

Help computer vision researchers, get a 3d model of your living room

Robots can easily make their way across a factory floor; with painted lines on the floor, a factory makes for an ideal environment for a robot to navigate. A much more difficult test of computer vision lies in your living room. Finding a way around a coffee table and not knocking over a lamp present a huge challenge for any autonomous robot. Researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden are working on this problem, but they need your help.

[Alper Aydemir], [Rasmus Göransson] and Prof. [Patric Jensfelt] at the Centre for Autonomous Systems in Stockholm created Kinect@Home. The idea is simple: by modeling hundreds of living rooms in 3D, the computer vision and robotics researchers will have a fantastic library to train their algorithms.

To help out the Kinect@Home team, all that is needed is a Kinect, just like the one lying disused in your cupboard. After signing up on the Kinect@Home site, you’re able to create a 3D model of your living room, den, or office right in your browser. This 3D model is then added to the Kinect@Home library for CV researchers around the world.