Sunglass 3D Cloud Share – A Future So Bright?

by Fred Abler

I love startups with odd names and sunglasses. That’s why caught my eye. Such a unusual name for a cloud-based 3D collaboration platform (including SketchUp).  I still can’t offer any real insights as to the name, but 3D could-sharing could get interesting.

Sunglass was started as a project by two MIT students. Kaustuv DeBiswas was a PhD candidate in Design Computation and his MBA partner Nitin Rao. The pair set up a student research project called dplay. This realtime collaboration environment became the prototype for Sunglass.

As DeBiswas explains in his Ted Talk, Sunglass is a collaboration platform for very early design – something architects call form-finding and conceptual design. It’s also for  extreme multi-disciplinary teams, which conveniently rationalizes the need for collaboration.

Fig 1-’s cloud-share 3D environment – as desribed by CEO Kaustuv DeBiswas in this Ted Talk.

While the proposed use-case  makes for a beautiful and compelling demo, (i.e., muti-disciplinary artists, scientists, and musicians collaborating in a minority-report style visual beat box), it’s all just a bit too idealistic.**

[Purple Comment**   I call this ‘D-School Overload’ – the TED Talk, the affected use of a very heavy neck-scarf indoors, and the X-men style cross disciplinary collaboration. ]

True, things have changed enormously since I studied architecture. Back in the day.. D-school was ‘cardboard-based’. But I’m pretty sure real designers still collaborate conceptually on napkins – and preferably in cafe’s and bars.  Because it’s just more fun.

Is Sunglass serious about reinventing design as a shared hyper-disciplinary electronic dream-space? Possibly. But more likely this is just good marketing. Sunglass’s lofty goals are probably protective cover –  for yet another entry into the $10 Billion CAD industry.

Fig-2. Sunglass allows integration and online sharing of 3D content from SketchUp, SolidWorks, and Rhino.

Sunglass is engaged in mimetic marketing. Just as Sketchup positioned itself upstream and up-process of traditional CAD (i.e. schematic design and 3D for Everyone), Sunglass is one-upping Sketchup… to stake out its claim to ‘conceptual design’.

Thus Sunglass can enter the CAD market, say it’s not in competition, yet provide useful functionality, and all-the-while its development strategy is (or becomes) to develop yet another CAD system..  that will at some point, threaten existing players. [Develop 3D]

If true, has a long way to go indeed. As advertised, Sunglass is clearly not a CAD system. It simply enables users to convert 3D from SketchUp and other modelers into B-rep models, and then display them in online using webGL for sharing.

The roadmap is then to add features and tools that will presumably enable co-creation. However, as it does so, it will become a 3D collaboration portal that by necessity.. will be considerably more mundane, and much more CAD-like than ‘conceptual design’.

In Short – Sunglass is a great idea and its goal of supporting conceptual design online may provide protective marketing cover. Several well considered sources estimate their chances as slim at best.

On the other hand, I like their odds. Sunglass’s recent integration with Box is both telling and promising. I have previously written about Box’s recent foray into peripheral AEC services.

Box could seriously disrupt the “CAD industry” as we know it. It’s ease of file sharing is unparalleled and only getting better and they appear to be making strategic investments and partnerships here.  As the kids say… Bring it!

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