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Tinker With This Toolbox

An up-and-coming CAD program is emerging via the internet. Not a downloadable or updatable piece of software, but a web-based system.

An up-and-coming CAD program is emerging via the internet. Not a downloadable or updatable piece of software, but a web-based system.

Tinkercad allows fresh minds to bring new ideas to the table, and, with its ease of compatibility, makes it easy to get basic ideas into the hands of professionals.

An up-and-coming CAD program is emerging via the internet. Not a downloadable or updatable piece of software, but a web-based system developed by Kai Backman. "The idea for Tinkercad started back in 2009 when I got a MakerBot and started printing with it," Backman explains.

As stock models and pre-canned layouts became tiresome he longed to develop his own things. "Sadly, there wasn’t an easy-to-use solid CAD program available anywhere." The sheer complexity and price of quality CAD software was overwhelming, so Backman set out to create something different. "In 2010 we got together with my co-founder Mikko Mononen and started planning what the product would look like. After a month of back-and-forth we decided to quit our day jobs and start working on the product," and Tinkercad was born.

The shining achievement of this software is the ease of use. Tinkercad gives the access of simple 3D design and CAD to the typical consumer. "We want to make it possible for everyone to learn how to design physical things," says Backman. Indeed, Tinkercad gives anybody with internet access and a 3D printer the ability to create their own toys, jewelry, and fixes for broken household items. Backman continues, "Some analysts have predicted 3D printing will cause a bigger upheaval than the industrial revolution, we want to make sure that power is accessible to everyone."

Professional engineers may find the software overtly elementary, but that is the pinnacle of Tinkercad. Tinkercad is web-based, meaning that anybody can send a link of their design via email, Facebook, or even Twitter. This could open many doors for inventors and artists alike. Sharing ideas instantly and being able to share revisions creates a new world of design. "Being a web native application, sharing is not so much a feature as something that is integral to the product. Humans are social beings; sharing is fundamental to learning about a new subject. You try something on your own and then you look at what other people are doing."

Another advantage is that Tinkercad exports your design in a common STL format for ease of sharing. STL is a standard format that most programs support. Backman says that they plan to get further into the professional design industry by "supporting other formats down the road, especially more CAD-oriented formats for importing into high-end packages."

Traditional CAD and other design software is aimed at professional engineers, and mounts insurmountable complexity on a typical user. Tinkercad gives access to the untrained crowd, and even helps teach them along the way. Quests are a way for users to learn the software without being bombarded with complicated terminology or programming. "They [Quests] are inspired by computer games that are usually superb at teaching pretty complex ideas while still being enjoyable," explains Backman.

"Tinkercad is a great way to get started and learn to design physical things." Backman continues, "We have focused hard on making the barrier to entry as low as possible, which is why we made the application work in the browser without any plugins." The software will keep moving and changing as its user-base grows. Backman says, "Our biggest challenge is making the tool more powerful while keeping the current ease of use."

As the internet continues to open doors to new ideas and products, Tinkercad takes the reigns in hopes of making design accessible to everybody. "We think a revolution in CAD is possible, much like SketchUp revolutionized architectural modeling, there is an opportunity to revolutionize how solid modeling is done," says Backman. Tinkercad is open for engineers at all skill levels to create, share, and print their CAD projects.

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