The SpaceNavigator 3D Mouse: Review and How-To

Below is a transcript of this video review of the SpaceNavigator 3D Mouse. Not to be confused with a standard cordless mouse, this really is a professional piece of equipment.
Today, we’re going to install the SpaceNavigator 3D Mouse from 3DConnexion. It’s designed to help you navigate 3D modelling applications like 3DS Max, Maya, and various CAD programs like Siemens’ NX and Solid Edge, Dassault’s Catia and SolidWorks, PTC’s Creo, and Autodesk’s Inventor.
After I install it, I’ll do a quick demonstration using a 3D model provided by 3DConnexion. And since my channel’s focused more on the engineering side of things, I’ll demo some basic operations in some of the CAD packages, and show you how you can use the 3D mouse in conjunction with the regular mouse.
The instructions that come with the mouse are fairly sparse. You get a quick start card that points you to their website, where you can download the drivers. The first thing that’s immediately noticeable is that the mouse is a lot heftier than it looks. It weighs a little over a pound – and it has to be because it has to remain stationary while you push and pull and twist the black cap on the top. When I plug it into the computer, the shiny blue LED light turns on and makes it look high-tech. It doesn’t really make that sound.
As instructed, I’ll go ahead and navigate to 3dconnexion.com/drivers. Here, I’ll download the 64-bit drivers for my Windows OS. I’ll run it as soon as it’s opened. While we wait for it to download, I’ll fast forward the video… OK, I’m going to start the Installer. I’ll select the language… click Next… and accept the license agreement.
Instead of installing the Complete package, let me choose Custom to show you the applications that are supported. If you
had chosen the Complete install, it would have installed all of these plugins, but since my channel’s focused on engineering software, I’m going to take out some of these. We’ll take out the Logitech LCD Manager; let’s keep the demo, and remove
the LCD applet. We’ll keep these guys; take off Acrobat 3D; I do have Photoshop so I’ll keep this. I’m going to remove AutoCAD; we’ll keep NX and Creo; take out inventor and SketchUp; scroll down; and take out Maya, XSI, and 3DS Max.
Let’s continue and Install. As we’re waiting for the install, you’ve probably realized by now that this isn’t a plug-and-play device, as Windows won’t be able to recognize it out-of-the-box until you install the drivers. On top of that, you need to install the plug-in for each application that you intend to use. So after the installation, we have the 3DConnection Home on the desktop, where I’ll show you the basics.
They provide a really nice model of a turbine, which I’ll bring up in their Viewer app. In the lower left-hand side of the screen, I have an overhead view of the mouse, and on the lower right is a side view, pointing to the right side of the device. I’m right-handed, so I’m going to use the 3D mouse with my left hand. In my right hand – off the screen – is my regular mouse. It’s important to note that you’re not supposed to use the 3D mouse as a standalone input mechanism – it’s designed to be used in conjunction with a regular mouse. When you place your hands on the black cap, you’ll want to use your thumb and middle finger to grab the base of the cap, with your index finger resting on top.
With any 3D modelling program, there are three basic ways to navigate through 3D space: those are panning, zooming, and rotating. Of course, you can perform all those operations using some combination of a regular mouse and the keyboard, and I’ll assume you, as a CAD user, know how to do that. Let’s start with panning. You can pan left and right by simply sliding the cap from side to side horizontally. You can see I’m introducing a slight rotation to it inadvertently because I’m probably twisting it ever so slightly. To pan up and down, you simply lift up on the cap like this… or push it straight down. I’ll lift it up again to get it near the centre. Now let’s consider zooming. This took a while for me to get used to, but you basically, slide the cap away from you to zoom out… and toward you to zoom in. So let’s talk about rotation. There’s rotation along three axes, so there are three different operations – one for each axis. One is to simply turn the cap like a knob, which makes it rotate around the vertical axis. Let me rotate it the other way to show you the opposite direction. Then you can tilt it right and left, like a seesaw, which rotates it around the axis coming out of the screen. Here, it’s counterclockwise… and then clockwise. Finally, you can tilt it up and down, again like a seesaw, which rotates it around the horizontal axis. Here, I’m tilting it away from me… and then towards me.
When you combine all of these inputs, you can travel through your 3D model, and it truly feels like you’re manipulating the 3D model in your hand. I’m doing this all with my left hand, without any use of the mouse in my right hand. If there were components in an assembly that I needed to select or a menu selection, then I could use the left click with the mouse in my right hand. Let’s start NX 11 to see the 3D Mouse in action. I’m going to open two different types of toy bricks and place them into an empty assembly.
Let’s open the components first. We have the green base plate, which is thinner than the regular yellow brick. I’ve designed the plate such that I can make it to any size that I want. Let me go into the Expressions, and let’s change the number of studs in the x-direction to eight… and then the number of studs in the y-direction to eight as well… and click OK. I’ll slowly zoom out with my 3D mouse and show you the resized plate. Now let’s go ahead and open the regular sized 2-by-2 brick…
and then create a new assembly from scratch… bringing in the plate… which we’ll just drop into place… and then we’ll bring in the brick.
Here’s where I’ll use the 3D mouse to navigate around the parts to orient them in relation to each other. I want the bottom face of the brick… to mate to the top face of the plate… so that the brick sits flush on top of the plate. There’s still two degrees of freedom that we need to lock in, so we’ll make the side faces to align together, and then the front faces to mate together.
Let’s get these two faces first. It looks like we have to flip this around because it’s an align instead of a touch mate. I can’t remember what NX prefers but we’ll just click the flip button.
Finally, we’ll mate this face with this face, and make those coincident, resulting in a fully constrained brick. This isn’t meant to be a tutorial on creating assemblies – it’s just to show you the 3D mouse in action with NX. It’s a simple example of how you can use the 3D mouse to zoom into your components to make it easier to select your faces and reference geometry when you create assemblies. Here’s another example with Solid Edge. Let’s create a new part… and make it a metric part. I’ll do something simple like a revolve.
Let’s click on the Revolve on the toolbar, select the plane on which to sketch my profile. We’ve got the line selected, so let’s create a polygon, which I intend to revolve around the z-axis. Then I will need to define the axis of rotation, which is… right here… We’ll select the z-axis. So here, so far, I’ve been using the regular mouse exclusively. I control the angle of the revolve with my regular mouse, but I can grab the 3D mouse to zoom into the part to see how far I want to go. So let’s arbitrarily set the angle of revolution, which I set with the left-click of my regular mouse… and then we can click Finish.
Let’s place a Round on some of these edges… like here… and here and here… and here. We can zoom in and make sure that the rounds don’t interfere with each other. That looks too close for comfort, so let me change the radius to five instead of ten, so we’ll preview that… and then finish it. So that is Solid Edge.
Finally, let’s take a look at Creo. I have a hex bolt already open. I’ll show the front view of this guy. What we’ll do is create a simple helical sweep, to etch a thread into the bolt. We’ll use the front plane as our reference plane. We need a centerline, which goes right down the vertical centre of the bolt. And then we need to define a line for our profile, which will be right along the bolt’s edge – and we’ll go up to about that height.
The pitch is 0.07, which we’ll keep as the default. We are going to need to define the cut or the notch profile of the thread.
So let me go ahead and create a small triangular notch here. We’ll hit OK… and then we’ll remove the material, and this is what it looks like so far. Let’s finish it off with the OK button. There’s some material that we need to clean up for the thread here… and at the top as well. Let me rotate it a bit to show you. But again, this isn’t meant to be a tutorial per se – I just want to show you how you can use the SpaceNavigator in conjunction with the mouse in Pro/ENGINEER or Creo.
The SpaceNavigator 3D Mouse can be purchased here:
wireless mouse