Autodesk Buys TinkerCAD To Expand It’s 123D Porfolio

On March 26th, in a blog post titled “Announcing Airstone and the closure of Tinkercad“, Kai Backman, founder and CEO of Tinkercad, announced an “updated roadmap” for his company involving two things: (1) development of a new simulation environment called Airstone, and (2) shutting down of Tinkercad, their browser-based easy to use 3D geometry creation tool. This weekend, in a blog post titled “Tinkercad has found a new home at Autodesk“, Kai announced a deal where Autodesk would purchase the Tinkercad site and its core technologies.

Some think Tinkercad is merely mesh objects being created and moved around in a WebGL browser window. Which is why many wondered why Kai and his team couldn’t simply open source Tinkercad instead of killing it. Tinkercad is actually much more than that. Take a look at this simple Tinkercad design I created using primitives.

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When I go to save this as a file for 3D printing Tinkercad actually does a boolean union of all the mesh objects and spits out a STL file, as you can see from this Rhino screenshot.

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Rhino reports no naked edges indicating that the model is watertight and suitable for 3D printing.

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This boolean union operation is a computationally expensive one and doesn’t happen in the web browser. It happens on the Tinkercad servers (actually a high performance cluster of servers) running a proprietary modeling kernel called Gen6, which happens to be a key piece of Airstone. Gen6 is the reason Kai and team couldn’t open source Tinkercad and had to take the decision to shut it down.

So Autodesk is not just buying a pretty web site with some nice WebGL stuff on it. It is also acquiring the Gen6 modeling kernel or at least parts of it that are required to keep Tinkercad running. Autodesk intends to add Tinkercad to its 123D portfolio of easy to use CAD products, which makes perfect sense.

I wish Kai Backman and his team the very best with Airstone. Something tells me that Tinkercad won’t be the last thing Autodesk will be buying from them. ;-)

  • bausk

    >This boolean union operation is a computationally expensive one and doesn’t happen in the web browser.

    I don’t see how the former follows from the latter. It looks more like a deliberate architecture feature to keep the code proprietary and locked to their servers.

    http://badassjs.com/post/13788484076/csg-js-constructive-solid-geometry-3d-modeling-in

  • http://www.deelip.com/ Deelip Menezes

    Boolean operations being computationally expensive is just one reason for doing it on the cloud. Another one is not giving away their modeling kernel as javascript.

  • http://twitter.com/kaibackman Kai Backman

    If you want to keep the latency of complex operations low, as was our explicit design goal with Tinkercad, then you need to move the computation to the server side.

    Some approximate numbers will illustrate this. There is about 100x more CPU cores in our cluster working on each boolean operation compared to a typical client machine. The hand optimized assembly and C code is about 100x faster than the corresponding Javascript code would be, mainly because numerical computation in Javascript is slow.

    To summarize, an operation that takes 1 second on the server side would take almost 3 hours when executed in Javascript.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nikolay.snytnikov Nikolay Snytnikov

    Hello Kai,

    am I right that the Gen6 kernel is based on voxel representation (not B-Rep)? So this is another major reason to keep all the computations on cluster?

    Nikolay Snytnikov
    http://www.ledas.com

  • bausk

    Kai, thanks for the reply.
    I looked up the information and the TC kernel seems to actually use the whole cluster for a single user for short amounts of time? This is really impressive.

  • http://twitter.com/kaibackman Kai Backman

    Thanks! That’s correct, Gen6 was designed to burst single operations lasting just a few hundred milliseconds to the whole cluster.

  • CAD Guy

    Very Interesting !! So Autodesk missed the opportunity to acquire SketchUp but grabbed the next best one. If Autodesk can attach a “Tinkercad like” Front-End to its desktop products which can then run at the server side, This could accelerate Autodesk transition to the cloud based SaaS business model. I believe Autodesk would be more interested in the front end, JavaScript (ShapeScript) and the Design Tree more than the Gen6 modeling kernel.




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