Google skp files

I went to a little promotional seminar in Denver for Google Enterprise. The seminar was mostly marketing Power Points, but the coffee was good and the demonstration pods afterwards were interesting. I have not played much with Sketchup since it was first introduced. The demo overview got me interested again. Once I got back to the office I downloaded the most recent trial version for some experimenting. Sketchup is really an easy to learn tool, at least compared to AutoCAD. It would probably take a week or so to get very proficient but that is really a short time considering the hastle of entering 3D models.

Fig 1 – WPF XBAP version of a Broadmoor Sketchup Model


Sketchup is oriented to the Architectural community more than tools like Blender or MS Expression Blend which appeal more to graphics designers and animators.

Sketchup is Google’s tool for populating their globe data spaces with building models. It has many more uses than that, but I think they were hoping to get a community going to populate Google Earth with models. I notice Microsoft in usual form doesn’t attempt to develop a community but invests money to model whole cities en mass. Google’s recently announced licensing of auto modelling algorithms may help get their city models going faster. Darpa also seems interested in harnessing drive through point LIDAR for creating virtual cityscapes in a more or less automated fashion.

It is always interesting to see how GIS, CAD, and Facility Management tend to blur at the edges. These building and city models are at the crude edge of the technology curve. I predict it won’t be too long before we start seeing full models with interior spaces and walk through capability available on the web.

Sketchup has a generous set of import/export options. I was able to load a model of the Broadmoor Hotel here in Colorado Springs. I then exported to several of the different formats available, including Collada DAE, KMZ , and DXF. DXF is the most accessible and I quickly converted the model to a XAML version to see what could be done. DXF does not preserve the rich material textures and photo overlays in the Sketchup model so the result is rather drab by comparison. However, the fun is that it can be done at all. Once in XAML the usual WPF tools are available to do a bit of manipulation.

Collada DAE appears to be a richer xml based interchange format that includes references to all of the jpg photo and material overlays. The kmz format also identifies these jpg/png overlays but does not automatically export them for reference. Somehow a KMZ/KML to XAML translator has more appeal since it would be useful in other areas. However it would require getting hold of all the jpgs from a different export. I will need to look at the skp apis and see what they offer for helping with various exports.

The building model can be part of a WPF enhanced browser which makes it a part of the web instead of a parallel world like Google Earth or Sketchup. The Google Earth viewer is more focused and in a narrow way much richer, while WPF is a broader approach and gives more freedom to the developer. I have wondered what Google might come up with if they created their own browser. It could obviously include capabilities like Google Earth and Sketchup as well as the usual html/javascript. I’m sure it is something Google has thought about.

It was fun to see what can be done with these kinds of models and Google’s openness to innovation is refreshing. It reminds me of the earlier John Walker days of Autodesk. At that time Autodesk was very community friendly creating portals to their basic CAD functions through DXF, AutoLisp etc. I think it was 1988 when I made my first wire frame earth globe with AutoLisp functions using the old World Data Bank I vectors. A lot has changed in the intervening decades.

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