A quick conference call with the Geomagic team last night confirmed that the company is undertaking the acquisition of Sensable Technologies 3D modelling and hardware business (Geomagic isn’t taking on its dental business) – a move which took me by surprise at first, but then started to make sense immediately. For those unfamiliar with the company, Sensable (Pronounced Sense-Able) splits its developments into two key areas. The first is a hardware solution (called the Phantom) that provides haptic feedback to 3D modelling operations. Using a series of powered joints in an articulated arm, fitted with either a ball or a pen, this allows the user to push and pull geometry on screen and have the system feedback directly to your hand. Without being able to sit us all down and show one off, its a little difficult to explain, but once you see the devices, I’m sure you’ll get the gist.
Alongside the Phantom devices, Sensable also develops Freeform, a set of tools that compliment the hardware and all you to sculpt, push, pull and manipulate geometry – without he hardware aspects, Freeform is much like other 3D sculpting tools such as Z Brush, Mudbox or any of the general purpose modelling, rendering and animation systems that support that type of workflow.
Why does this make sense for Geomagic? From speaking to chief operating officer, Tom Kurke, it looks like Geomagic sees a synergy between what it does in terms of processing point data and capturing physic form and the opposite side of the coin – creating or modifying that data. Geomagic’s tools for design, such Studio, allow the manipulation of data from a reverse engineering device, such as a laser scanner. Studio also allows the reconstruction of forms if they aren’t captured, but without specific limitations – its all about taking what’s physically there and repurposing or reusing it. What Sensable allows is the creation of such geometry from scratch – and where there’s common ground is that both organisations excel at dealing very complex, organic datasets.
Another reason it makes sense is that Sensable’s solutions have always been sold as a matched pair. You can’t really buy the hardware without the software and the software can’t really used without the hardware in place. But both can equally stand on their own. Freeform is an excellent package for dealing with those tricky forms that most CAD systems run off and cry about (the exception here is Delcam’s toolset). Equally, the Phantom hardware could just as easily be used to drive Mudbox, Modo or any of the other sculpting tools out there.
For me, this is a smart move by the Geomagic. Sensable, both in terms of its software and hardware (most commonly sold in unison) has been kicking around the periphery of the design industry for some time. Whether it was down to cost, the perception of the hardware being a prerequisite or simply a lack of sales channel outside of a few odd spots, it hasn’t quite captured the imagination of the mainstream. And that’s a shame considering the nature of the system and its ability to create highly complex and highly organic geometry in a manner much easier than other systems. There’s more on what Sensable have been up to with its FreeForm organic modelling tool over at the SolidSmack.com (http://solidsmack.com/design/sensable-puts-the-samurai-kick-in-freeform-design/)
I’ve seen users do incredible things. One that springs to mind is Games Workshop, who’ve been using the system for quite some time. But they’re not just for modelling of its miniature tabletop figures (which I’ll admit a love for in my formative years) and this is where things get interesting. The Freeform system has, for some time, had a wealth of tooling specific tools that allow the creation of not only highly complex split lines and faces, but also to take those forms into production.
So, all in all, there’s huge potential here. It’ll be interesting to see how Geomagic fares in the hardware business. It’s existing parts in the reverse engineering field wont be too worried about this, as Sensable’s hardware is all about creation and editing and not capture of reality. And there’s enough in the Sensable team’s expertise and knowledge to bring some interesting new tools to both the Freeform software and to extend Geomagic’s capability in terms of model editing and creation. Exciting times indeed!