SpacePilot PRO 3D Mouse: New Software Updates

3Dconnexion recently announced another free software update for the new SpacePilot PRO 3D mouse.  The most visible portions of this upgrade include new functions called Model Properties Applet and Intelligent Function Key Notification.  Both of these new functions add functionality to the SpacePilot PRO’s LCD.  If there ever was a device feature that needs added functionality, it is the LCD on the SpacePilot PRO.

Model Properties Applet

This new applet enables engineers to quickly view supposed key model information on the SpacePilot PRO’s LCD.  The claim from 3DConnexion is that this somehow increases productivity and makes things easier for workgroups to collaborate. I’m not sure how this applet makes collaboration easier.  The applet just displays fundamental document information on the LCD.  It doesn’t transmit this data or pull information from my PDM.

For a drawing, the function is very basic, indeed.  The applet tells me that I am looking at a drawing (go figure), and shows the computer network name of the drawing’s author, file size, file creation date, file last saved date, and the computer network name of the last person to save the file.  There is nothing particularly “key” or “vital” about any this information.  The applet would be far more useful if it allowed the user to modify the information on the display.  For example, for me key information from a drawing would be a list of particular custom property names and their values, and the name of the model in the dominant pre-defined view (the view from which the part custom property values are derived).

Slightly more useful information is available for models, including mass, volume, material and density.  This same information is displayed for assemblies, though I’m not sure why.  Wouldn’t it be more useful to show me the total number of parts in the assembly, or an estimate on how many seconds would be required for a force rebuild (CTRL-Q)?  My suggestion to 3DConnexion is to completely dump the file information and add these kind of data for all document types.

Intelligent Function Key Notification

This is a fancy name for the fact that the LCD now displays a quick pop-up window which shows the user which button command they activated.  It does this regardless to the applet that is running on the LCD.  This way, the user will always have visual confirmation as to which command they just executed.  This is a moderately useful function for someone who has just finish mapping their programmable buttons and needs queues to help reinforce the memorization of that mapping.  If the user has already memorized their button mapping, this function provides little benefit. For now, I like this function, but I can easily imagine that I will ignore it eventually.

“S” Shortcut key

One bonus for SolidWorks users is that 3DConnexion recently added support for the “S” shortcut key.  It can now be added to the programmable buttons directly without having to create a device macro.  This function was secretly added to the previous software upgrade for the SpacePilot PRO, but 3DConnexion is now bragging about it.  They also stated that this “S” shortcut key support has been added for SpaceExplorer and SpacePilot Speed Keys. My only criticism here is that any key and key-combination should already be supported by the software for these devices.  My 1990’s programmable keyboard supports any key combination in its “PF” keys.  Why are these not fully supported by 3DConnexion’s 21ST Century product offerings?


Having just recently updated my SpacePilot PRO drivers and software with this new announced version, I can say that installation was easier this time around.  In the past, installation has been a bit of a pain.  One problem plaguing the SpacePilot PRO is that its software and drivers need to be the last item installed on your computer.  This means that if any supported application is installed after the SpacePilot PRO software, the SpacePilot PRO software needs to be reinstalled afterwards.  Crazy, huh?  Anyway, this upgrade was pretty painless this time, and I didn’t even lose my programmable key mappings, unlike previous upgrades and re-installs.   New 3DConnexion 3D mice shipped in September 2009 will have the new version of the software and drivers included.  Otherwise, for Windows, download them from this location here.

SpacePilot PRO (overreaching? a short Part II)

I recently wrote a review questioning the fact that the SpacePilot PRO is a control device with an LCD screen.  As noted by my fellow blogger Jeff Mirisola of Jeff’s Tool Shed, 3D Connexion recently updated their drivers and software for the SpacePilot PRO.  This update fixed a few bugs in the software related to the saving of settings.  It should be noted that the problem I had with saving settings does not seem to be the same as others, and was minor by comparison.  The problem I found was with my programmable key maps being saved.  This issue was not fixed with the recent upgrade, but I’m not concerned because the workaround is already built-in.  The possible cause of all this is the strange fact that there are more than one program used to control the key mappings. Since I know which program to use to save my key maps, I’m not terribly concerned with it not working in their second program.  The second program doesn’t allow for as many functions to be assigned to the buttons too, which I find odd.

OK, back to the point.  As said, I criticized the existence of an LCD screen on the SpacePilot PRO.  I wondered why the device had one.  It didn’t seem to be of much use.  Well, with the recent update of the 3DConnexion drivers, I take this back.  The LCD screen is now very useful to display key mapping in a very clear and much better organized method.  Now obvious is the function programmed for a particular button.  With this, I’m now able to get use out of the LCD screen, and I am more comfortable with the use of the programmable buttons too.  It really expands the device’s user-friendliness.  So, the only question left (besides making the secondary key mapping program work 100% as expected) is whether this device is worth the $500 price tag.  The price does seem to be pushing the upper limit of what one might expect to pay for a control device, particularly one that doesn’t replace any other control devices (you’ll still need a mouse).

OK, I think I beat this dead horse long enough.  I’ll just close with saying, if you have the need for a 3D mouse, then this is certainly the king of them all!

SpacePilot PRO (overreaching?)

There’s a Simpsons‘ episode where Homer discovers he has a successful half-brother named Herb Powell.  Herb runs a car company.  Herb is convinced that Homer represents the average American and is therefore the perfect person to design a new car for his company.  Herb introduces Homer to his company’s design team.  The design team ignore Home and instead use their experience to design perfect vehicle.

Homer is at first intimidated by the design team, but Herb feels that Homer is not being forceful enough with his ideas.  Herb invigorates Homer.  Homer then rejects the designers’ ideas and instead implements strange ideas like dual bubble domes, fins and several horns that play “La Cucaracha”.  At the unveiling of new car, dubbed “The Homer”, Herb is horrified to discover that the car is a monstrosity that costs $82,000.  Herb’s company goes under and he becomes broke.

What’s the lesson here?  Have a focus when designing the next hot gadget.  The design of the 3DConnexion SpacePilot PRO isn’t like “The Homer” in that it is sleek and functional.  However, there does not seem to be a strong focus for the device.  Is it a 3D mouse, or an Outlook companion, or a keyboard replacement, or an RSS feed reader?  Right now, it is all of these things.

First, why does a control device have an LCD screen?  If there was a need for me to see a status of something, then I can see why some sort of visual feedback would be necessary.  There isn’t much of a need for that with this device, however.  (Please see P.P.P.S below for notice of an update to this criticism.)

Second, on that LCD, I’m given the ability to open Outlook email, appointments and tasks.  Given the fact that I have two monitors, this functionality is not needed for me.  I keep Outlook open and in view on my second monitor all day anyway.

Third, why does this device give me RSS feeds?  In my mind, the goal of a control device should be to not require the user to look at it while it is being used.  That LCD screen bags to be looked at.  Sometimes I feel bad that I’m not using it.

My criticism of the LCD is based solely on the fact that I have two monitors.  For someone with a single monitor, I can see why this functionality would be useful and a real time saver.

I think that a future device that 3DConnexion should develop is a more compact version of the SpacePilot PRO without an LCD screen.  Then bring in all the buttons closer to the control knob and place them under the most likely locations where one’s fingers will naturally land.  Make sure all of the buttons are multi-function programmable (just like the SpacePilot PRO).

My bottom line, this device is worth the $499 price tag if there happens to be a need for an LCD screen with the ability to launch Outlook tools and read RSS feeds.  I’m sure this device will save someone time and money (such as users with only one monitor).  However, if I were to spend my own money, I would want a simpler device that is geared towards controlling my views within the model and shortcuting tasking within the 3D CAD environment.  The SpacePilot PRO is a strong step in that direction, but it overreaches in other areas where there doesn’t seem to be much of a need (at least for me).  When I am in the market to buy another 3D mouse, I would be interested in the hypothetical SpaceExplorer PRO with a more compact design, more multi-function programmable buttons, and better placement for the buttons.  My price range would be in the area of $300, though 3DConnexion might hafta bring the price down to $199 (twice the price of high-end standard mice) to help sales take off.

I don’t represent the average American, nor do I feel I am the average 3D CAD user.  I like my SpacePilot PRO, and will likely continue to use it.  However, I can see where this might be a case of less is more.  I’ve looked at the current generation of the SpaceExplorer and I actually think that it would be more ideal for one’s home office.


P.S., why hasn’t the 3DConnexion control knob not been turned into a gaming controller yet?  This seems like an obvious application for 3D mice.  Speaking of other applications, this might not be a bad idea as a control mechanism for a navigation and center console control system in a car.

P.P.S., this device works awesomely in the main mode of Google Earth (though it would be nice for it to work in all modes withing Google Earth).  They should really make a driver for Celestia.

P.P.P.S., I originally wrote this article before the recent update to the drivers for the SpacePilot PRO.  With the recent update, my opinion about the LCD has changed a little bit.  I’ll address this in a future article.