Issue: Volume: 22 Issue: 11 (November1999)

Reviews: Cyberpuck

Joe Greco

Ever since 3D programs first appeared over 25 years ago, the question of how to navigate in 3D space while interacting with a 2D screen has been a thorny one. Many solutions, including General Reality`s DataGlove and various stereoscopic displays, have emerged over the years. One of the leaders in addressing this problem has been Logitech, which makes 3D motion controllers that behave somewhat like a combination of mouse, trackball, and joystick. The latest addition to this family of products is the Cyberpuck, with its uniquely rounded, elegantly simple shape.
The Cyberpuck's uniquely rounded design features a cap that users tilt and turn to navigate in six degrees of freedom, plus "buttons" on the surface of the cap that can be programmed to provide custom functions.

The Cyberpuck had its beginnings in the early 1990s, when Logitech formed an agreement with the European company SpaceControl to market its 3D motion controller, the Space Mouse, in the US under the name Magellan. The latest incarnation of this product is the Magellan Plus (above), which features a shape sculpted to support the user`s wrist and a generous allotment of buttons, which are used for speedy access to a variety of application specific commands.

Last year, Logitech spun off LogiCad3D to handle its motion-controller product line, and the Cyberpuck is the first offering from the new company. The Cyberpuck features a unique design at a price of $395--considerably less than the company`s Magellan offerings, and less than similar products such as Labtec`s SpaceBall.

Underneath its cap, the Cyberpuck consists of the same opto-electric and contact-less measuring system on which the higher-priced Magellans are built. But the Cyberpuck`s simple, rounded form, coupled with the absence of raised buttons, has resulted in a device that is less expensive to manufacture. Because it is aimed at the entry-level market, it works only with Windows and has no support for Unix or Linux.

The idea behind the Cyberpuck, or any motion controller, is essentially the same--to allow users to pan, zoom, and rotate a 3D model on-screen, with six degrees of freedom. Resting on top of the internal measuring system is a cap that provides the navigational control--as it is tilted toward one direction, the model on the screen tilts in the same direction. The best way to think of the cap is to visualize it as the model itself, which instead of being on the computer screen, is now resting at your fingertips.

In lieu of raised buttons, the Cyberpuck does have five "virtual buttons" that can be programmed. These respond to fingertip pressure in areas marked on top of the device, allowing users to invoke functions just as with their physical counterparts on LogiCad3D`s other 3D motion controllers. I found accessing these virtual buttons easier than accessing the raised variety on the Magellan series because they are nearer your fingertips--there is no need to stretch over the device`s cap to hunt for them.

According to LogiCad3D, over 70 CAD and 3D applications are supported by the Cyberpuck. Most of the programs I tested with the controller worked the first time around, including Mechanical Desktop, SolidWorks, and 3D Studio Viz. With every application, the "feel" of the device was the same (the cap operated in a consistent manner). This is a plus for users who frequently employ several 3D applications per day.

Besides traditional CAD and 3D applications, the Cyberpuck also works with 3D Web packages such as VisScape from SuperScape. Programs like these are basically 3D browser plug-ins that allow for virtual worlds to be displayed and interacted with on the Web.

The Cyberpuck is easy to install via a 9-pin serial connector. Unlike similar products I have used, there are no adapters included--an inconvenience should your computer have only a 25-pin serial port.

For almost anyone involved in 3D, whether for engineering or virtual Web navigation, LogiCad 3D offers a simple, affordable solution. The Cyberpuck`s price point makes it very attractive, especially to those getting started in 3D.

Joe Greco is a writer and trainer specializing in CAD and 3D products.

Price: $395
OS: Windows 95/98/NT
(Magellan Plus is $745 and runs on Unix and Windows 95/98/NT)
LogiCad3D, A Logitech company
Fremont, CA