Take the SpaceMouse Pro manufactured by 3D Connexion. This device is now specifically made to work with 3D models in CAD packages. Instead of a device that has to be moved, a stationary pad houses a control knob that pivots and twists giving the user six degrees of freedom. This innovative design, plus 15 fully programmable buttons, facilitates drawing, manipulating a model, zooming in and out, changing the perspective, and many other functions specific to the design platform.
These types of devices are compatible with a myriad of CAD programs that are commonly used like SolidWorks, Solid Edge, NX, Rhinoceros, AutoDesk Inventor, CATIA, PTC Creo, SketchUp, and others.
A similar degree of control is also being achieved using even simpler devices that use much less hardware than a mouse. The Mycestro is a tiny interface device that is worn on the index finger and can register hand motion, pointing and tapping to perform useful functions. Since it can be worn, the hands are free to type. Cursor movements, making selections, and scrolling are done by gestures or by using the thumb to touch three sensors that represent the left, center, and right click of a mouse. Scrolling is done by dragging the thumb across all three sensors, and cursor movements are only made when the user intentionally touches the Mycestro with the thumb.
Multiple devices can be worn and used on both hands, including the middle finger, and they can share battery life by connecting two on each hand with a short mini USB cable. Each can be programmed to have different functions while designing on a platform like SolidWorks. The device connects to any computer compatible with Bluetooth Low Energy protocol through a dongle and one dongle can support up to four Mycestros at a time. They are charged through USB for about eight hours of use. Android compatibility should be available for the device at the end of the year. Currently it is still being tested before its release to Kickstarter contributors in the fall.
The Leap Motion interface is another control interface that offers 3D manipulation of CAD models but could also replace the conventional mouse and other hardware controllers. It is composed of a sensor bar tethered through a USB that offers a four cubic foot space to use intuitive hand movements to manipulate models. This interface can track all 10 fingers independently with an accuracy of 1/100 of a millimeter. Compatibility is again wide and can be used on Windows and Mac computers.
As CAD expands even further to encompass more users, manufacturers -- especially electronics startups -- find it in their best interest to release software development kits (SDK) along with their devices. This way if any developer has an idea about how to expand the use of a device, they can do it avoiding proprietary hurdles or roadblocks. The Leap Motion and Mycestro are two devices with open-source SDKs.