For those who work in design and product development, CAD (Computer Aided Design) is nothing new but rather a matter of course. As early as in the middle of the last century, exploration began about the possibilities of using digital systems to facilitate and open new possibilities in design and production; in the beginning, it was very simple programs that could rehearse lines in a repetitive manner, but within a couple of decades they had advanced far enough to leave pure research behind in favor of budding profitability.
This near-experimental development was generally reserved for the major companies in the automotive and aerospace industry, which developed their systems independently of their competitors; it would take time before CAD came to the public market. Senior engineers in the industry can look back to the early 80’s when Dassault and, in particular, Autodesk laid the foundation for relatively simple and applicable 2D graphics through CATIA and AutoCAD which are strong brand names even today. It became possible in the latter half of the eighties to put the drawing board aside for the benefit of the personal computer and slowly large, bulky drawing archives began to fade away in favor of server rooms and storage media.
In the late 80’s came Pro / Engineer, followed a few years later in the mid 90’s by SolidWorks. CAD in the form of 2D drawings was now more standard than exceptions, but both developers and markets were looking higher; why being satisfied with 2D when you can get 3D? In 1999, Autodesk Inventor was launched as a final nail in the 2D CAD coffin, although it still remains in its place where 3D is simply not necessary or profitable. Twenty-some years after the initial CAD revolution, designers and product developers all over the world increasingly had moved to the new technology, as most of us know it today, with solid and surface modeling in three dimensions.
The Third Wave
Today, about twenty years after the last stage of development, the next major stage change is at the door. Sure, it’s good to be able to see the models in three dimensions, but imagine if you could see them instantly, rather than through the screen’s still quite limited possibilities? Several well-known companies have launched VR (Virtual Reality) equipment in recent years, which can be said to bring the user into the program rather than letting the screen bring the program to the user. VR technology is not really new – VR trials in computer-generated environment was done as early as in the late 60’s – but it’s only recently that technology has begun to be practically applicable.
Oculus Rift came first, but was followed shortly by HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Playstation VR and others. Most of these players have initially focused on gaming rather than work-related applications, but slowly both the developer and the clientele are beginning to open their eyes (pun intended) to the opportunities.