Industry group wants 3D Web standards

A new effort to standardise 3D image formats could bring the world's immense library of CAD images online

A consortium of hardware manufacturers and software developers has banded together to establish a standard for bringing the world's library of computerised 3D images to the Web.

The CAD (computer-aided design) 3D Working Group, which includes Microsoft, Intel, ATI Technologies and Dassault Systems, is working on a technical standard that will let furniture designers, car manufacturers and other companies post their CAD drawings to the Web, as well as permit software developers to create standardised software browsers that will let customers read those images, according to Rick Benoit, a technical manager in Intel's Microprocessor Labs.

The group, which does not yet include CAD tools leader Autodesk, hopes to have an initial version of the standard out by 2003. The group does not intend to collect royalties on the standard, he said.

Virtually every product sold today -- from paper cups to refrigerators -- is rendered somewhere on a CAD file. By making these files more Web-friendly, customers considering a kitchen remodel, for example, could experiment with how different ovens would look in their homes.

Unfortunately, the effort to bring 3D to the Web has been fairly scattered. Competing projects have been launched but have largely stalled out. Potential customers have also balked at some of the costs involved in bringing 3D to their databases.

"There is not a lot of 3D on the Web," Benoit said. "The return on investment is very, very closely scrutinised with the enhanced and elevated costs of 3D."

By standardising, the group hopes to lower the costs of implementing 3D.

While Autodesk has yet to join the group, Benoit said that the consortium has been in discussions with Autodesk. General Motors may also join.

"We've been pursuing GM too," he said. "They have been trying to tackle this problem for three to four years."

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