Cadsoft Introduces Envisioneer Online
Roopinder Tara posted on March 08, 2019 |



The town of Guelph in Canada, not far from Toronto, does not appear on lists of tech capitals of the world. It is home of Cadsoft, a smallish company that, if successful with its next project, could put Guelph on the tech map. Cadsoft has long punched above its weight among BIM vendors with

Envisioneer, which is very popular with builders and contractors. At the International Homebuilders Show Las Vegas, it was debuting the fundamentally different and thoroughly modern Envisioneer Online: totally online and browser-based, and it works on mobile devices.

Envisioneer Online concept shown at IBS 2019 in Las Vegas. The BIM model is stored in the cloud, allowing collaboration between builders and homeowners.
Envisioneer Online concept shown at IBS 2019 in Las Vegas. The BIM model is stored in the cloud, allowing collaboration between builders and homeowners.

In a joint research program with 2 universities, aims to develop a tool that not only works online but adds a collaborative environment using artificial intelligence. For Cadsoft, smaller than companies such as Onshape that made the leap online for MCAD, this would be a big accomplishment. Ray Groothuizen, Director of Development for Cadsoft, credits the Universities and his team of experienced developers for making the project come to life. Moving the project forward will require outside funding and additional talent.

The iPhone Gets Useful

Where do I sign? A immersive view of a remodel is simulated on an iPhone for a mind boggling presentation to a prospective client. The full 3D (360° by 360°) model is created on the desktop version of Envisioneer and then viewable by anybody who downloads the free HomeViewVR. 

The main appeal of the current Envisioneer VR and the future online version is that builders and contractors will be able to communicate their residential design concepts on an iPad, as well as iPhones and Android mobile devices. 

“Here’s what the gable roof will look like on the outside, and what your ceilings will look like,” said Chantale Pitts, Cadsoft director, almost matter of factly, at a presentation at IBS. Pitts used Envisioneer’s free viewer on an iPhone to show a photorealistic 360° image. It may have taken a couple of hours to generate on the desktop version of Envisioneer, but it was shown instantly and smoothly at the show. 

The effect on the crowd of builders was electric, generating a buzz in the audience. “Did not know you could do that?” Even on the small screen, you could tell it was a wraparound, color view of the whole room—your next project come to life, the client’s dreams come true. Moving a finger around the touchscreen changes the view so you can see all around the room, up to the cathedral ceilings and down to the wood-paneled floors. It was so much better than unrolling blueprints of floor plans over the dining room table and hoping Mom and Dad imagine it.

With Envisioneer, 2D to 3D is seamless. Draw a house in 2D and a 3D model is automatically created. The gabled roof is generated with a few clicks or add a deck from a menu. You can even slope the ground under it and adjust the height of supports.
With Envisioneer, 2D to 3D is seamless. Draw a house in 2D and a 3D model is automatically created. The gabled roof is generated with a few clicks or add a deck from a menu. You can even slope the ground under it and adjust the height of supports.

You can’t expect the typical homeowner to imagine even simple 3D structure from a drawing, much less something complicated like the intersections of the flat sections of a gabled roof. Experienced builders have trouble communicating designs to their clients. Most will not try, often unable to picture it themselves. “You can visualize it after I make it,” they often say. You could lug a laptop to the client’s house. That would let the clients see a 3D model, if everyone crowds around the screen. Or you could show them in full virtual reality, a total immersive experience. Envisioneer has been able to do that for years, but who has a VR headset? The best way right now is to click on the link you have sent them so they can see, in brilliant and high resolution, a full 360-degree view of their dream house, including the cathedral ceiling in the open area, as if they were standing in middle of it. 

“Where do I sign?” might be the client’s next words, after they got their speech back.

The creation of the all-around view is a compute-intensive operation. It’s the calculation of ray tracing algorithms that determine color and brightness pixel by pixel. Think of it as 3D illustration. Cadsoft stores the model on the cloud, and then the homeowner accesses it on the portable device of their choice using a free viewer. The concept is universally accepted for documents, thanks to Adobe, where content generation is paid but content consumption is freely available with a PDF viewer. 

New for the Show

IBS takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the third biggest convention in the U.S.—only McCormick Place, Chicago and Orange County, Orlando are bigger— and is attended by over 100,000 people. It was well stocked with a thousand building material and parts suppliers. Never have so many faucets, sinks, restaurant-quality gas ranges and slabs of granite been gathered in one place. Nested between them were a handful of CAD vendors, including Cadsoft and its chief competitor, Chief

Architect. Conspicuously absent was big AEC CAD vendors like Autodesk, Graphisoft and Bentley.

Many might wonder, “Why would the industry giant, Autodesk, turn its back on so many potential customers? Wouldn’t they want to use AutoCAD LT, AutoCAD or even Revit?”

“Cadsoft focuses on the home building market and their related exhibitions whereas Autodesk attends other AEC exhibitions.” Chantale offered. 

Indeed, builders may have a friend who understands them in Cadsoft. The company’s products, while technologically advanced even by Autodesk standards, speak the language of builders and the construction trade. Envisioneer alone can spit out all the lumber, cut to size, that goes in a house. It can even split the load on palettes to be loaded on trucks. Draw a wall as a line in a plan view and you get the sheets of drywall, studs, etc. Drag into place, and it is positioned between studs, just like you would have built it. Doors maintain a minimum offset from the corner. It’s like having a framer in the software.

Techie Little Company Up North

Like the iPhone itself, where the most easy-to-use device belies an underlying complexity, Envisioneer Online wants to be so simple everyone can use it, even homeowners, builders and product suppliers.

When Onshape launched its MCAD modeler for MCAD in 2015, the idea of an online, mobile CAD for AEC lodged itself in the head of Ray Groothuizen. A 25-year veteran of Cadsoft, he also thought it was time to modernize AEC tools and make them simpler so they could be used on an iPad, without a keyboard and mouse, with nothing but your fingers. 

“That is what the new generation expects these days,” he said. “If we don’t make the tools for the way they use them, what hope do we have?” 

While veteran CAD users feel secure about having their models and precious data reside right next to them, where they can keep an eye on it on the hard disk, the next generation doesn’t care if it’s on the cloud. 

Tools for the New Generation

Millennials are cloud native and mobile friendly. That is the only world they know, according to Groothuizen, who learned this from his own kids. It’s doubtful that they ever refer to remote storage as the cloud or consider a world that is not online all the time. It’s a world where computers are tablets. Sometimes a keyboard gets attached, but it all folds up flat so you can work anywhere, whether it’s an open office arrangement or coffee shop. The world we Dads live in is strange to them. It is a world of updating software every year or different builders having different design versions of a home—one on the desktop, one back at the house that you forgot to bring back to the office or the one you sent to the client a week ago, which is now quite out of date. A generation has grown up using Google documents, which you can share live with their friends, classmates, professors, etc. It is a capability CAD user have just recently started to explore.

Drawings Are So Yesterday

Want to share the latest version of a remodel with your client. Send them a link to it. That’s what Onshape does. Don’t email them a copy of the 3D model. It’ll be a huge attachment. Don’t send floor plans. The plan view, just lines on the page, do not do your brilliant design justice or explain it. And 2D is so yesterday. You’ll have to send new copies every time something changes. You hope they delete the old version. And PDFs are the worst. Not only are they static images, they’re 2D.

Best method, and what Envisioneer is shooting for, is one model in the cloud and granting access it to every stakeholder. In short, offering a single source of truth.

In their very stylish 20x60 foot booth, the little CAD company was showing how it could change the trajectory of AEC CAD. But instead with legions of developers, the top graduates Stanford grads or a treasure chest filled with VC money, it is doing it on the strength of character and the proven ability to do a lot with a little. If successful, Cadsoft has a good shot at modernizing the way residential design/building is done.

It is still in the early days. A concept, made public at the builders show, is being floated to potential investors. We need more development before it’s ready for real use, said Groothuizen, who may have thought the hard part is over. 

“Envisioneer Online has been in the making for nearly four years, and we started coding with a very smart team just over a year ago” he said. “Management is convinced how much the building and renovation industry needs it and has committed to making the vision a reality.”

Full disclosure: Cadsoft is directed by Frank Baldesarra, also the Co-Founder and CEO of engineering.com.


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