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Group Drafts First Spec for 3D CAD

A group dedicated to creating standards for the communication of computing systems in real-time 3D XML has completed its first draft of a specification to render secure, 3D computer assisted design (CAD) content on the fly.

The Web3D Consortium, whose members include HP , Sun Microsystems and 3Dlabs, said the CAD Distillation Format (CDF) is geared to help drive productivity, cut costs and raise revenue streams in sales and marketing departments that desire to use CAD graphics without exposing sensitive design information.

A royalty-free file format, CDF, enables portions of CAD designs to be integrated into desktop applications, making it possible for end users to easily repurpose design data, according to Neil Trevett, president of the Web3D Consortium and senior vice president of 3Dlabs.

Trevett told internetnews.com evolution in the way data is being exchanged -- from simple Web browsers a few years ago to Web services in the present -- is applying pressure for new standards for 3D data exchange, leading the way to specs like CDF.

For example, he said the CAD data from the development of a aircraft at say, NASA, can be transferred via CDF into PowerPoint for interactive presentations. The CDF data can be used by the marketing department to add visual effects for pre-sales brochures. Customers might also take an online walkthrough of the aircraft before the actual jet is released.

CDF is based on X3D, a 3D file format proposed in 2002, which is now in the final stages of ratification by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and has been adopted by MPEG, according to Trevett.

XML-encoded data enables 3D to be added to Web Services architectures and other distributed computing environments. It helps shuttle 3D data between applications. Web3D hopes X3D will soon weave 3D graphics into applications for wireless devices, set-top boxes, gaming consoles and all manner of computing devices.

CDF is the CAD instantiation of X3D and serves a valuable purpose for businesses because many government and defense industry programs have huge inventories of CAD models.

In coming up with CDF, Trevett said he and his colleagues at Web3D asked themselves how they could enable the use of CAD data outside CAD engineering firms by non-CAD experts, and make it talk to end users.

"What it comes down to is taking essentially parts out of CAD data, distilling it down into a format that is useful throughout the organization," Trevett explained.

At the same time, the group had to do it in such a way so as not to infringe on proprietary rights of CAD engineering firms.

"Billions of dollars are invested in CAD data, but that data is trapped within proprietary formats and specialized CAD systems which prevent it from enabling an entire organization," said Trevett. "CDF unlocks this huge untapped resource while protecting proprietary design information and complementing existing design-oriented CAD formats."

By adding content protection specs to the CAD industry, which is what CDF promises to deliver, the Web3D Consortium hopes to both allay end users' fear of using open technologies and free the industry from the proprietary chains that typically binds 3D CAD computing formats.

Web3D said a second working draft of the CDF specification will be available this summer as part of Amendment 1 (AMD-1) to X3D, which could enable better content delivery and security. Both will be submitted to the ISO for standardization later this year.

The CAD 3D group, established by Intel under the auspices of the Web3D Consortium in July 2002, is generating a set of software tools and documentation to help the CDF file format come to fruition.



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