Think of it as a mouse, extended off the desk plane into a third dimension.
But it looks like a toaster-size construction crane. To use it, you grab the crane arm like a pen, and then wield it like a scalpel. Actually, it's more like using a spoon to scoop bites from an ice cream sundae.
However you describe the tool, the best way to experience SensAble Technologies' (Woburn, MA) FreeForm modeling system is to try it. With commands like carve, smudge, sandpaper, and attract, a CAD-jockey no longer has to translate creative inspiration into precision commands—he can just form the new idea from lumps of virtual clay.
The Phantom force-feedback interface gives the user a direct interface with the model, even to the extent of feeling the roughness of a surface as you brush your hand over it.
In a demo, here's where the difference strikes you—emboss a pattern onto your model, and you don't merely see the difference. It actually deforms the model's surface, so you can now feel the new pattern, like a cross-hatched safety tread on an aluminum bumper, or the rubberized grip on a pair of binoculars.
But it's not solely devoted to organic modeling—the user can also dictate precise lengths and angles. It doesn't yet do rendering or animation, but it can export files to popular packages that do. It can also export to RP or CNC machines.
"It's a tool for the CAD market, specifically for those modelers who haven't gone digital, who are still sculpting with foam or clay," says Bruce Boes, VP of business strategy. "It's for the industrial designer who's not yet automated."
FreeForm versions 2 and 3 found applications in the toy and footwear markets, while version 4—released in July—can be used for constraint-based modeling. This latest package includes Freeform, for sculpting, and Freeform Plus, for modeling with constraints. Neither is yet appropriate for Class A surfaces (such as those used in automotive or aerospace design). A newly announced alliance with PTC's Enterprise Software Program will link the solution more closely to Pro/ENGINEER.
For more information about FreeForm from SensAble Technologies: Enter 543