Last Friday a few of us gathered around a phone behind the closed doors of one of the conference rooms here at BuildingGreen and had a chat with John Bacus from Google's team of SketchUp developers, and Aaron Stein, one of their PR folks. The supersecret talk was about the next release of that program — SketchUp 7 — which within the last couple hours has gone public. They described it as a major upgrade, 18 months in the making, that improves the core usability and basic capability of the modeler. "Subtle but important" was a phrase that popped up... it may have been an understatement. Some of the improvements are only available in the Pro version, but here's a quick rundown of the ones that made me sit up: The seemingly most simple change from previous versions may be the most significant for most users. Now, when two lines cross in a plane, they both break into separate lines. Before this, they simply overlapped. If the significance isn't apparent, it might not mean that much to you — but folks doing things like facades and floor plans will rejoice. Another potentially big one for the architecture crowd is Dynamic Components. Individual components now have the ability to carry attribute data, like part numbers and cost. The possibilities in this are tremendous — windows can have embedded U-values, transmissivity, etc.; appliances, their Energy Star operating energy numbers; conditioning units, COP; and like-that. Conversely, users can create components that carry the attributes they need — reverse-engineering of a sort. (This is an expansion of the ability to apply attributes to objects like cores or faces, which is what IES is using for their SketchUp plugin.) Wisely, Google isn't prescribing how these data fields should be used, so industries and third parties can devise standards and plugins that utilize the data. This improvement provides a nice incentive to manufacturers to create objects that can be dragged into designs from the online 3D Warehouse. Dynamic components can also be designed to scale in a fascinating way — by automagically adding or removing bits to maintain proper relative size without proportional stretching. To make a simple example, a picket fence object that has 20 individual pickets could be stretched to the full length of a property, resulting in a fence with 200 pickets. Next, imagine designing a high-rise, and stretching windows over it... now hold that thought and read the next paragraph. These two new abilities lead to another exciting one: the ability to generate tabular reports detailing these dynamic components. How many pickets are on that fence, how many windows are on that facade? Click a button, get a report. Further, if component designers attached part numbers, cost, weight, performance data attributes, that info could be included. So, out of the box, it's a way to do a sort of material analysis on a model... but down the road, there's the possibility of basic BIM functions if plugin developers can make hay from standard usages that haven't been defined yet. The Google folks don't claim expertise in things like acoustical analysis or construction insulation — their goal is to provide a design tool that's transparent and usable, but with opportunities built in for people with specific needs to create specific uses of the tool. They stressed that SketchUp 7 is by no means an entrance into the BIM world — it's simply "geometry with attributes on it." This is smart. Oh yeah, these Dynamic Components also have the ability to do simple animations. Click on a door or a window, it opens. Nice to show the clients, anyway. I'm sure the function could be used for something astonishing... I'm just not sure what it is. Maybe the door or window could have different embedded attributes depending on its state. Hmm. There are sharing and collaboration enhancements as well. The 3D Warehouse can now be browsed directly from the program, and there are better permissions in place for objects stored in the Warehouse to prevent or allow sharing and editing. And one more thing — Google's LayOut program add-on for SketchUp (Pro only) is now out of beta — it provides a presentation front-end for SketchUp models, allowing users to make presentation boards, booklets, and slideshows. Google's press release from this morning also says, "have a look at the Official Google Blog and the Official SketchUp Blog for posts from Aidan Chopra, SketchUp Product Evangelist. Happy modeling!"
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