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Objects to See vies to become standard object technology for CAD
by Evan H. Shu, FAIA



At only 19 kilobytes—the size of a short e-mail—this o2c model file can still be shown in alternate modes, such as with a transparent roof, seen in the lower view.

For the past few years, objects and object technology have been hot topics of conversation as ways to make CAD drawings more intelligent. Although several object file formats were developed throughout the 1990s, none has yet enjoyed widespread acceptance as an industry standard. This may change with the advent of Objects to See, or o2c, a highly compressed 3D file format developed by the German firm mb Software specifically for Internet-based communication. “More than ever, o2c is making 3D feedback more immediate and meaningful,” says James Horecka, AIA, an architect practicing in Winchester, California.

In the same way that the portable document format (PDF) files have become universal for online viewing of printed documents and forms—such as tax returns and reports with lots of charts and graphics—“o2c will become the 3D PDF,” predicts Richard Morse, AEC product manager of the DataCAD product line.

DataCAD has hitched its wagon to this technology by allowing direct import and export of o2c-formatted files from its programs. While other major CAD vendors have yet to follow suit, free utilities are available to convert Autodesk’s 3D Studio objects to o2c. Similar converters for the DWG format are soon to follow. In addition, a free o2c player for Microstation users was recently released.

But the real beauty of o2c is that it requires no specific CAD program to view, manipulate, or render 3D CAD objects or models. Just as the PDF file format grew in popularity due to the free and widely distributed viewing program Adobe Acrobat Reader, o2c files can be viewed with an o2c Player, a free plug-in utility (only 500 kilobytes in size) for Web browsers that can be downloaded from www.o2cworld.com.

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Although o2c is only one of several object file formats in use—others include VRML, DXF, DWG, and 3D GIF—it has some persuasive advantages over these alternatives. First, it creates extremely compact files that make it very practical to attach to e-mails or post to Web pages for quick download. A full model of a house, for instance, might be less than 100 kilobytes in size (see illustration of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy, left). Second, the user interface for the o2c viewer is easy to use, employing familiar click-and-drag movements. Third, the o2c file is a versatile format that can host a lot of annotated information, such as specification links or display options (e.g., alternate cabinet-finish displays or lighting options for a kitchen design). “Now we e-mail our clients a 3D model of their building so that they can have a real-time virtual walk-through of their new offices—no special software required,” says Warren Payne of Ashton Mitchell Architects in Auckland, New Zealand. He adds, “What’s more, the size of the o2c files is miniscule.”

The file format also has heavy backing from industry leaders. Microsoft has integrated o2c into its Word and PowerPoint programs. Electronic models of Velux and Andersen windows are now widely available in o2c format. And IBM is banking on o2c for its e-commerce applications. These supporters will likely keep o2c in the forefront in the coming years.

The same features that make o2c appealing for e-commerce also make it appealing for architects and their clients. For example, o2c allows people shopping for a Ferrari to go online and view various models of the car in o2c-animated format while choosing an an exterior paint color and interior finishes; in the same way, architects may soon be sending their clients designs with instant-click options such as “View with screened porch option” or “View with brick exterior option.” Architects and their consultants will also benefit by using conferencing software to review o2c models online, with ready tools such as red-lining, multiple design overlays, and dynamic cross sections to facilitate their discussions.

The best news for architects is that o2c gives them another CAD tool for design assistance and client communication—even for smaller firms and solo practitioners whose resources for technology investment are limited. “I’m loving it for quick checks of parts of things as I develop them in 3D,” says Horecka. “Work a little, check it out in o2c, see where improvements might be made, then work a bit more, check it out in o2c— it’s really proving fast and handy.” Fast, handy, and putting the power of object technology to work.

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