Slideshow: The Evolution of CAD 2.0

  • zSpace tablet and pen. The user wears special glasses to see the 3D image on the tablet’s screen. The pen interface is how most of the interaction with the digital objects occurs.
    (Source: Infinite z)
  • Early rendering of the Mycestro 3D controller. The introduction of gestures is a key feature. Originally, the Mycestro was invented to use a better controller for tight spaces, such as an airplane seat. It was a Kickstarter success.
    (Source: Mycestro
  • SpaceMouse Pro is a stationary knob-style human machine interface (HMI), providing six degrees of freedom and 15 programmable buttons. It's a popular choice for 3D modelers.
    (Source: 3D Connexion)
  • AutoCAD WS offers an ability to view and edit the industry-standard DWG and DXF drawing on an array of devices and platforms, including smartphones and tablets. Best of all, the app is free.
    (Source: AutoDesk)
  • The Leapmotion controller bar, below the hand, is used to interact with a piece of a digital tower. Although this is being used for a game, it will allow users to interact with digital components in a virtual space just as easily.
    (Source: Leap Motio
  • Ivan Sutherland is seen here demonstrating the first Computer Aided Design software and interface device. Sutherland created a pen style interface. This predated the adoption of the mouse by almost two decades.
    (Source: archive photography)


Most have described their development process as "from napkin drawing to item on the shelf." That phrase is looking dated. It's time for an era-relevant update -- "from CAD sketch to product distribution globally."

Computer-aided design (CAD) is the workhorse behind every single thing made today, but it comes from a humble beginning. CAD has its roots in the 1960s, the decade that saw the development of the first drafting software and the initial commercialization of this technology. This type of software was intended to reduce the amount of repetitive work that was previously done by hand in the now lost art of drafting.

A transition into drafting brought unparalleled precision at a fraction of the time and cost. It could topple many unforeseen complications, it led to the mass manufacturing of electronics we see abundantly today, and also led to innovations that continue to revolutionize industries and society. The software and hardware that built our modern world is evolving.

The first CAD software, developed as the thesis of PhD candidate Ivan Sutherland in the early 1960s, drew lines on a computer monitor using a light pen. By the end of the decade, elite companies expressed much interest in this new form of drafting, and the commercialization of CAD software was underway. Replacing drafting tables, protractors, compasses, and many other tools with computers was much more economical than had been previously thought, due to the steep rise in productivity that these programs allowed. Still, only elite companies and universities had access to this type of software or computers in general.

The 1970s saw the development of the first 3D solid modeling programs, but these were used more for simulation than for 3D design. The relatively small computing capacity of the time constricted many to rely on 2D drawing until processors and innovative computational software caught up. This happened later in the decade with the advent of minicomputers or midrange computers like 16-bit PDP-11 minicomputer and the VAX series, that used processors like the Motorola 68000 and Texas Instruments MSP430, and could run optimized versions of FORTRAN compilers and graphics.

Though technology was becoming more advanced, drawings were made using simple lines, circles, and text overlaid to create and label designs. These designs at best looked like the traditional designs usually drafted by hand.

The accessibility of CAD programs grew so much via the titans of manufacturing, that by the late 1970s, the National Institute of Standards, supported by companies like GE and Boeing, created the Initial Graphic Exchange Standard (IGES) still used today. This agreement standardized the complex curves and designs between CAD platforms. Creation of IGES could be viewed as one of the major events that lead to the birth of CAD 2.0 -- the vast array of co-compatible software we are all familiar with today.

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