subnav101a3D Connexion released the newest creation in their line 3D navigation tools, the Space Pilot Pro.  I have always been fascinated by 3D Connexion’s tools, as they clearly are unique items.  However I kept them at a distance because of a few factors: Price, Uneasiness, and Dependency.

If I can’t have it, I usually won’t go play with it.  This keeps my marriage in tact as well.

Price – I believe that at least 50% of the users out there know something about these devices, and know they are fairly expensive.  Well, this is partially true.  If you get in at sale time, you can pickup a notebook model for 80 USD.  I don’t think there are any buttons, just view mobility.  That’s still a nice item for 80 bucks.  The new deluxe model comes in at 500 USD.  That’s pricey.

Uneasiness – Mostly my innate lack of desire to change something that works; namely the way I have been doing it.   The 3 button mouse and an ALT key covers a lot of ground.  I watched some field experts navigate quite well with a 3 button mouse, and there was no lack of speed.  Which brings us to the last item.

Dependency – Ever since Vibrant Graphics dumped us old people, I have been very jaded about dependency on non-OEM functionality.  I still wrote C++/C# code, but usually this was to cover things that were reasonably impossible with other methods.  No odd command aliases, no large menu configurations, mostly out of the box.  This way I would never be bent over the way I was in 2000, when I had to relearn the interface.


These 3D mice have always been super-popular at AU. So I decided to do a few 3D Connexion promotions for the upcoming Tekni Creative Inventor training, and the powers that be agreed to pay for the mice.  I however was not one of the lucky ones that will get said mice.

The curiosity was killing me.  While I’d like to try it in Inventor, my question is how will it work in Civil?

So my associates introduced me to some people at 3D Connexion, and Walt and Company, and they kindly agreed to let me play with one of the new toys.  During the last discussion, they asked what I intended to do with it, and I told them I intended to review the product in different environments, and then publish the results.  A few days later a new Space Pilot Pro ended up on my door step.  Like a kid in a candy shop.

The Box

SNC00002 I told my boys, “That’s Daddy’s, get away!” I threw in the universally understood word: “Mine!”.  They reluctantly backed off.  I told my youngest, “It’s not food, go away”.

What came in the box was a folder from the company, containing some fact sheets, Company Rep contact info, the driver CD, and the Space Pilot Pro….and a note that said basically “If you need any assistance, please call.”

The Unit

The Space Pilot Pro is smaller than an AOTC guide, and a bit lighter too.  I’ll guess at 2.5 pounds.  27 buttons, 1 6-DOF puck, and a LCD.  Just plug it into the USB port, and away you go.  The driver install allows for numerous applications to be supported, including AutoCAD, Inventor, 3DS Max, and Maya.  Once the applications are selected, the install downloads any updates and eventually completes the task.

Anyone can check out the specs and details online, so I’ll just mention the things that get me hot and bothered:

  • Symmetrical layout permits ambidextrous use
  • application and mode detection
  • 2 sets of multi-touch quadrant buttons
  • COMPLETE programmability on the fly
  • the 6 DOF puck
  • the built in RSS reader
  • on the fly sensitivity control

There are 2 sets of quadrant button arrangements (function and view) that are multi-touch activated, meaning that a short press activates one option, and a long touch activates a different function.  While the default arrangement is set as command and view, anything can be programmed in.

The drivers watch which application is in focus, and subsequently where you are in the application.  The configurations change as the user moves from one part of the application to another.  This turns the mouse into a completely configurable power house.

The sensitivity and configuration menu can be accessed through buttons on the unit at any time.  Like I mentioned in my AU article recently, I had one of these reconfigured during a Lab I was attending.  It really is quite simple to configure.

That Display

The display is is broken down into Function Keys, Microsoft Outlook tools, Picture Viewer, and RSS feed reader.  The colors and clarity are really good.

The Outlook functions include previews of mail, calendar, and task items.  Mail and tasks are straight forward, scrolling through the Inbox and task list using the up and down arrows.  Calendar lets you access events a day at a time by scrolling left and right; up and down arrows lets you move from item to item.  Clicking anything will open the item in outlook, and bring it active on the computer.  You don’t actually get to read it on the LCD.

The picture viewer cycles through images in a folder.

The RSS feed reader is a nice touch.  Since I don’t get twitter past my router here in the office, I can subscribe to them through RSS, and read them on the LCD.  Each feed is separated, and can be scrolled through, giving a time and preview of the item.  Clicking again will allow you to read the feed, and another click will open the item in the registered internet browser.


Configuration of all these is minimal.  There is a LCD manager applet that can be accessed through the menu button.  You can turn on or off the items from the LCD display, and subscribe to desired RSS feeds here as well.  The scrolling timer is adjusted through this interface.  No other programs can be added.

The Function Keys display feature is VERY NICE.  2 pages are setup for the Left and the Right multitouch quadrant buttons, and a page for the remaining function buttons is available.  Left and Right arrow buttons take you quickly from page to page.  These are all very easy to read, even at a distance.  As soon as any configuration is done, it shows up in the display.


Configuration is very easy to get through.  Any thing that is keystroke accessible, or command line capable can be keyed into the script builder, named, and added to any key.  The script builder watches any keystoke made, so everything gets picked up, making odd key assignments easy.

I wish that it would….

support more applications directly, like say PDF.  DWF is supported, but not directly.  I’m often moving from Autodesk applications into these, and have found myself trying to zoom using the 3D mouse.  Someone w
ith imagination can figure out button assignments, but for now zoom and pan would be great.

A basic modeless application detection that would allow the user to create scripts.  I envision these to be ‘ALT+’ kinds of scripts.  The biggest thing here is to be able to store things for applications that are not covered by driver interaction.  When a particular shell that is named ‘X’ comes into focus, the button configuration would change to accommodate.

Modal sensitivities – in 3D, the sensitivity needed is usually less than in a 2D environment.  We usually need to get from one side of a border to another fairly quick in 2D.  3D work is treated a bit more delicate.

TWITTER feed – Currently you can read twitter through the RSS feature.  This works great, but perhaps a direct twitter feed would be cool.

I think more use for the LCD would be good.  That’s a lot of money or that gizzie, and we would want to get every ounce out of it that we could.  A text reader would be nice, so that we could read specs, task orders. revisions.  I’m just winging it, but I think we could put an ASCII and HTML reader to work.

A shock resistant case – I went out and bought this case.  I haul it back and forth, and letting it flop around in the laptop bag is not going to get it.  Something formed to protect the puck action would be preferred.  A firm foam/neoprene that would put a few mm of air around the puck so that books and laptops would not jerk he puck action around in transport.


You laugh, but my stuff lasts a long time.

I don’t like…

The RSS feed layout preview area.  The All Feeds header is nice, but give it to me chronologically, not grouped.  I want to see the ALL FEEDS, as a big collection, as each comes in.  They are already grouped individually.  Also the feeds cycle around and around with no apparent end.  You have to stare and read each date to figure where the firs/last item seam is.  Make it ‘last on top’, with a dead end at top and bottom.  This way I always know where the latest posts are.

My overall impression

This unit is great, and I think that a portable unit would be better to tote back and forth.  I love the quadrant keys, and the function display.  The 6 DOF motion still takes a bit of getting used to, but it is so nice.  I can definitely recommend the unit.

I wish that I would have had the opportunity to review the other units, which represent other price ranges, so I cannot say where I think the cost vs. benefit curve lies, but I can say I find myself reaching for the 3D puck more and more.

Coming Application reviews

I’ll go through the use in Inventor and Civil 3D in separate articles.  Inventor is a well covered subject so the article will be fairly simple.  Civil 3D on the other hand is a whole separate matter.  Check back for these in during the following week, I have some more things I’d wish for.