Configurable controllers speed design

Tom Shelley reports on a gadget for the left hand that almost eliminates use of the keyboards

Tom Shelley reports on a gadget for the left hand that almost eliminates use of the keyboards By putting most of the functions needed by 3D designers in a device for the Left hand, it is usually only necessary to move hands to the conventional keyboard when logging on and entering numbers. It groups useful buttons and keys round a 3D hand controller, but more importantly, works with software to intelligently change the functions of six keys across the top according to the task the user is engaged in. The SpacePilot from 3D Connexion builds on the capabilities offered for two handed mouse use by the CadMan, Space Traveller, SpaceBall and SpaceMouse. While these provide more intuitive and faster ways of manipulating 3D models than just moving a conventional mouse about in 2D, the latest devices enhances that capability by intelligently interacting with the CAD software. The push, tilt and twist control cap is still there in the centre, but around it are keys that can be reached merely with a slight stretch of the fingers. To the upper left are duplicate 'Alt', 'Ctrl', 'Esc' and 'Shift' keys. To the lower right is a 'Fit' key that sizes the 3D model or scene to the centre of the screen. To the right is a group of keys to access traditional Top, Right, Front and Left views with 3D lock/unlock in the centre. To the upper right is a key to adjust input speed, and a small key beneath it, 'Dom', short for 'Dominant', which allows the movement of one axis at a time. Above the cap are the six configurable keys, and above them, a small LCD screen that shows their current function. Unlike the usual user configurable keys, these are normally configured from software within the application according to the task the user is found to be engaged in. Tapping on the 'Config' key beneath displays additional functions, and the user is able to add their own. The device was demonstrated to Eureka working with SolidWorks. Niraj Swarup, vice president world wide marketing said that the company now has implementations that work with more than 100 applications, including all the CAD majors and many of the minor ones. Much effort has gone into making the design as ergonomic as possible. He said that his company was reluctant to claim that it would reduce the risk of RSI - repetitive strain injury because it could not be guaranteed to eliminate it, leaving them open to lawsuits from RSI sufferers. They do claim, however, that it can be used to, "Reduce strain and repetitiveness associated with 3D design", and gives a "30% gain in efficiency over just using a mouse." The device requires a USB 1.1 or 2.0 interface, an Intel Pentium 4/111 or AMD/Athlon processor based system and Windows 2000 or XP. It requires 20MB or free disk space for driver and plug-in installation. It weighs 0.85kg and measures 236 x 143 x 53mm. The palm rest can be flat, or optionally sculpted (included). Interested potential users may wish to consult for a current listing of all supported applications. 3D Connexion Pointers * The device includes various frequently used keys around the control cap * The top six keys can be configured by the application according to the task the user is engaged in. An LCD screen indicates their current function at any one time. Others my be called up by tapping the 'Config' button