Computer-aided engineering (CAD) is a $9 billion industry, and Onshape wants to shake it up. So the cloud-based CAD tool maker is using Magic Leap’s augmented reality glasses to enable engineers to collaborate when designing products in 3D.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Onshape showed a demo of the tech at the L.E.A.P. Conference in Los Angeles this week. It was one of the few non-entertainment applications at the event, and it helps prove Magic Leap’s point that “spatial computing” could modernize a number of enterprise industries. As Microsoft has found with its HoloLens mixed reality headset, enterprises don’t mind paying high prices (the Magic Leap glasses cost $2,295) if they can save a lot of money through efficiency.
By spatial computing, Magic Leap Rony Abovitz said in his keynote speech that you’ll be able to blend the physical environment with virtual animated objects. It could be transformational for engineers who are still working with relatively primitive visualization software. That’s why Jon Hirschtick, CEO of Onshape, has worked with Magic Leap closely for a few years on the technology.
“This is our first venture into AR/VR,” said Onshape engineer Evan Nowak, in a demo at the event. “For us, there’s a lot of potential here. Having the ability to manipulate 3D CAD objects with your hand makes a lot of sense. You can do this today in a browser, but it’s a little clumsy in a 2D space.”
Onshape is making its CAD app for the Magic Leap One Creator Edition, a lightweight, wearable computer that allows digital content to step out of the screen and into the real world. Engineers will be able to bring life-size 3D CAD models into their surroundings and collaborate on design changes. I tried out the software with the Magic Leap glasses. I was able to grab a mechanical part and resize it so it was smaller. Then the other guy in the demo with me grabbed the part and made it bigger. I could see the part in three dimensions, and I could walk around it and see it from different angles. In the long term, the idea is to get CAD model changes to be visible in real time.
The demo was a little janky, and they had to restart it once. The Magic Leap computing puck, which hangs on a wire on your belt or pocket, started feeling a little warm. It was the same sort of demo that I’ve seen in virtual reality, except you can rest the part of top of real furniture and see the people you are collaborating with while you are sharing the same 3D space.
Through Magic Leap’s glasses, Onshape wants to make designing things as simple as working on a laptop or smartphone. And engineers can now see what their designs really look like from all angles, before they commit to manufacturing.
Onshape users in 170 countries have logged over 5 million hours modeling advanced robotics, biomedical devices, industrial machinery, agriculture equipment, and consumer products.
The company has about 100 people. Founded in 2012, Onshape has raised $169 million from Andreessen Horowitz, NEA, North Bridge, and other leading investors. The Onshape leadership team includes the original creators of SolidWorks, the most popular CAD software. Onshape decided to take the visualization and design tool to another level, creating a kind of Google Doc for engineers, who can collaborate using a cloud-based CAD tool.