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Creating the Google of 3D Search

What do you get when you combine 3D modeling with Google? According to manufacturing startup 3D (3DI), the answer is, their 3D geometric shape-based search engine.

The company's hope is that their visual component-sourcing platform will help to transform or even disrupt the existing parts sourcing process in the manufacturing supply chain. But on a more basic level their product has been designed to tackle the age old problem of needing to look something up, but not knowing its name.

Currently, searching for 3D data with text requires specialized knowledge of a part's dimensions and specifications, that often limits search capabilities to engineers. writer Jeff Haden explained this problem with the example of a screw:

“You have an idea of the length, but what about the pitch of the threads? What about the thread diameter? What about the head size and type? Unless you already have complete specs, you'll get thousands of search results to sift through—and most of them you won't be able to make sense of.”

So to help this process evolve from a search for a needle in a haystack to one that a non-engineer could perform, 3DI's tool will allow users to upload a design to the search engine, where it will then be matched with designs already in its database. This means that buyers looking to source industrial components can quickly be connected to the right supplier.

“What Google did for words and text on the web, we aim to do for shapes and 3D models,” said Dr. Seena Rejal, founder and CEO of 3DI. “We are ordering the 3D world.”

Whether or not 3DI will meet its goals, the time does seem right for such a move. With 3D printing becoming increasingly accessible to small-business owners and hobbyists, an intuitive search tool could prove to be vital to growing pockets of the industry.

This means that 3DI's original plan to service a business-to-business market is evolving to encompass consumers as well, thanks not only to innovations in affordable 3D printers, but also 3D scanners. Most recently, Microsoft announced an update to the Kinect software development kit that will allow it to scan and generate a model of a 3D object, meaning that even if a 3DI user has a physical object on hand instead of a CAD file, they can still find it through a 3D search.

Rejal says that the ultimate goal is to make 3D databases 'smart' to improve the authentication of 3D content. “This will enhance confidence in online 3D content sharing and collaboration, driving more professional engagement, and underpinning the expansion and growth of the 3D industry and the transition to mainstream mass adoption.”

Having just received its second round of funding from the British government and other investors, 3DI is already on its way. For now, the real question remains whether 3DI will see the adoption it's seeking.

Full story at Forbes

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