3D Interaction Controls Revisited
Is it time for new interaction controls in 3D modeling applications such as Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) analysis tools? Interacting with 3D models on a 2D screen has always been less than intuitive. However, a recent flurry of innovation in human-computer controls holds out much promise for the future of 3D model control.
The Nintendo Wii game console and its associated position-aware controller (Wii Remote) has popularized an intuitive, motion-based interaction control. Interestingly, Apple recently filed a patent (thanks to Manufacturing Software Advice for bringing this to my attention and creating the video mockup below) that describes a Wii-like 3D control system, but without the controller. Apple's design uses a standard camera to sense the motion of the user and then interprets that motion to interact with a 3D model.
Similar to Apple's patent is a system being developed for the next generation of games by Microsoft called Project Natal, that uses a special camera-like sensor.
The popularity of Apple's iPhone, with its intuitive finger-based multi-touch interface, has sparked renewed interest in touch-based laptops and monitors. For instance, SpaceClaim are experimenting with multi-touch controls in their CAD application.
There have been many predictions of the imminent doom of the mouse-driven controller, yet it is still the primary controller for 3D applications - "rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated." Given the flurry of innovation currently focused on human-computer interactions, maybe control evolution is now imminent.