A Closer Look

Google Debuts 3-D Drawing for the Masses

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By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 30, 2006

Google Inc. has come out with something that's a bit like Etch A Sketch gone 3-D.

The search giant's latest free software program, called Google SketchUp, allows users to use a basic mouse to drag-and-click their way to recreating their house, erecting a fantastic sculpture or sizing up a potential kitchen redesign.

"3-D is probably one of the most expressive tools to express dreams," said Brad Schell, who founded Boulder, Colo.-based SketchUp in 1999, sold the company to Google last month and still manages the product. Most existing three-dimensional drawing software is highly technical and hard to use, he said, so it limits the audience to architects, structural engineers, graphics artists and the like.

By comparison, Google SketchUp, the free version of SketchUp's software available for download at http://sketchup.google.com/ , consists of less than a dozen basic commands for drawing. Clicking and dragging a line creates a trapezoidal shape; another adjustment to the height creates a box. Using another tool, it's possible to rotate and pan around the created structure, so you can view it from any angle, including from below.

Curves, lines and texture can also be added, and the software comes with stock images of people, benches, trees and more.

SketchUp is linked with Google Earth, the satellite mapping tool that allows a user to surf and zoom into locations around the globe. Using the two tools in tandem, a user can, for example, create a rendition of major landmarks such as the leaning tower of Pisa and share that image with anyone who might be interested in checking out models other users have created for that location.

Developers could use the tool to set up a model of a development that will be completed in three years. Retailer chains might use it to show the floor plans of each store so a customer can check it out beforehand. Family members might use the ability to share images to chime in on various preferences for a home remodel. Hobbyists might try to recreate historic buildings in their original form.

"Our mission here is to empower a whole bunch of people to express themselves on 3-D," Schnell said. Google Maps will still be viewable without all the various creations, as well.

Schnell said he expected people's creations to add more truth than fiction to the mapping database. He said professional architects and the like have said that they will incorporate it into their drawings, so that clients can look at a new doorway, for example, from different angles.

"I've modeled my own house down to the doorknobs and keyholes," which are shaped and sized accurately, based on the real things, Schnell said.

SketchUp has been selling a professional version of its software for $495.

It allows users to transfer images and communicate about them so that an architect can send blueprints to builders and other vendors, for example, or print the models in large form, he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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