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Input DevicesReview

3Dconnexion's SpaceTraveler

By Elise Moss

October 13, 2004

I am a big fan of 3Dconnexion’s products. I rely heavily on their CADMAN product when I use Inventor in my office.

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If you are not familiar with these devices and you do a lot of 3D mechanical modeling in Inventor or SolidWorks, you really need to check out this hardware. You will find designing much faster and smoother. Before the CADMAN, my left hand was usually lazily hanging on my left armrest…contributing nothing to the design process. Now, with the CADMAN, my left hand is responsible for pans, zooms, and 3D orbits while my right hand deals with the editing and selection functions.

SpaceTraveler is 3Dconnexion
's  motion controller.

However, the CADMAN weighs about two pounds. It is heavy, clunky, and just not suitable for laptop work. When I was on the road, doing demos or working at client sites, I would find my left hand reaching for the CADMAN and grasping air. To say that I was a CADMAN addict, jonesing for a fix when I was traveling would not be an understatement.

Enter the SpaceTraveler, a lightweight, portable version of the CADMAN. When I opened it, I was struck by how much it looks like something out of The Sharper Image stores. The packaging is simply sublime, practically decadent, from the real leather case to the deco styling of the product itself.

The leather case is made in Italy by Fedon <www.fedon.it> – very famous for leather articles – particularly aluminum-covered leather. The designer of the SpaceTraveler (who works for 3Dconnexion) is also Italian so the Italian case an appropriate home for such a stylish product.

When you place the SpaceTraveler on the left side of your laptop, it brings to mind a UFO, especially with the eerie blue lights encircling the space ball. It’s hard to shake the feeling that at any moment it might levitate right off your desk. Once I got used to the otherworldly feel, I found that it works just as nicely as my CADMAN with none of the clunky heaviness. It fit into my laptop case with no problems, plugged in and out as easily as my mouse and installed with absolutely no problems. I barely noticed a weight increase with the SpaceTraveler added in to my case.

The biggest problem I had was getting the orientation right. The device allows you to program up to eight buttons with hot keys specific to your Inventor or SolidWorks application. The correct orientation of the device is with the Logo facing square to you and the cable pointing north. The base of the unit has been machined out of stainless steel to give it weight (as well as its premium look). The weight from the steel helps to anchor the unit. There is a washer at the bottom of the device that helps keep the unit pretty well “stuck” to most normal desk surfaces. The unit also needs very light touch to move the cap – compared to the SpaceBall or SpaceMouse you can appreciate the difference. Light touch on the cap helps to prevent the unit from moving around too much on the desk.

You can purchase the SpaceTraveler separately or with a matching mouse. The cost is $599 for the Two Handed Package including the Logitech MouseMan Traveler. If you are on the road a lot and are expecting to use your 3D Mechanical software, it is well worth it. If you only use it to scroll down your Internet browser, then it is a guilty pleasure. Enjoy it while you surf the Web at your local Starbucks.

Older CAD users may have a problem adjusting to the idea of using both hands to design in 3D, but users, who play video games where both left and right hands are used to maneuver and shoot, will catch on to how the device works and their productivity will increase exponentially as their comfort level rises.

If you are one of those people who just must have the best toys to play and work, you are missing the boat if this device is not sitting in your laptop case. Go to http://www.3dconnexion.com/wheretobuy.htm to order yours.

About the Author

Elise Moss owns Moss Designs <www.mossdesigns.com>, a consulting firm for Autodesk products. She is the author of several textbooks, including the “Conquering the Rubicon” Inventor series available from Schroff Development Corporation. She can be emailed at elise_moss@mossdesigns.com.

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