The history of the 3D mouse started in the late 1970s at the German Aerospace Research Centre (DLR). In 1993, a 3D controller was used for the first time on the Space Shuttle Columbia, manipulating a robotic arm. In the same year, 3Dconnexion was formed and its 3D mouse journey began.
The device has since grown through multiple iterations of form and functionality design making 3Dconnexion one of the sole providers of hardware devices specifically aimed at interaction with the 3D modelling process.
3D model manipulation
For the uninitiated, the company’s devices all focus on one thing: 3D model manipulation. The central ‘Controller Cap’ has internal sensors that track rotation, lift/push and zoom. The computer mouse is used as normal with one hand, while in the other, the user has the 3D device.
Depending on the model, the devices also have shortcut keys arrayed around the central cap. In short, they enable the user to focus on the job at hand and not keep moving to the keyboard. The current range begins with the SpaceNavigator at the entry level, up to the all singing, all dancing SpacePilot at the high-end.
Into this mix comes the SpaceMouse Pro. It follows styling cues from the high-end device, but does away with some of the features that could be considered superfluous. And it’s all packaged in a very slick, black exterior.
As with all products in the range, it’s built around the motion cap, with QuickView keys to the right (such as front, right, top, fit and a rotational lock) and the keyboard modifiers to the left. Along the top of the device are four function keys. This is a good configuration and the user will get used to it pretty quickly.
Those that have used these devices before will know that they’re highly configurable, both in general and per application. The function keys can be customised to suit the user’s workflow. In terms of the function keys specifically, they’re assigned general functions but anything from the CAD system can be added in, whether that’s Save, Open, Edit or something more specific.
What’s more, the latest set of drivers allows the user to press and hold the button which causes an on-screen graphic to pop up showing what those assignments are. Also, as default, pressing the ‘1’ button will bring up an onscreen calculator, something I’ve found very handy indeed.
3Dconnexion has been developing these products for over ten years and that development work is really paying off – it’s near perfect. Yes, the SpaceMouse Pro isn’t massively far removed from previous generations, but the ergonomics have been refined to the point where this is as good as it can be. Everything is there. There are no additional features you think “huh?” about. The driver support is also growing with almost every CAD system is supported in some way or another.
So, if you’re a power CAD user, one of these could really help speed up your workflow. Well recommended.