Computer-Aided Design

Golden Gate Bridge modeled in AutoCAD

AutoCAD demonstrations often involved the modeling of well-known objects, including portions of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Computer-Aided Design

Design begins with a sparkling idea…followed by a methodical process of drafting and engineering. Computer-aided design (CAD) eases the drudgery, improving speed and accuracy.

CAD evolved through university experiments and collaborations with industry starting in the 1950s. As small computers became more powerful, sophisticated tools became available even to small firms and individuals.

Operator working with early CAD program

The DEC Type 340 display could draw dots, straight lines, curved lines and characters, and read the position of the lightpen.

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Wireframe image of sports car, one view

At first CAD was simply a better drafting tool, but it soon became a way to model complex surfaces.

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House blueprint

Both 2D and 3D renderings of designs are possible with Computer-Aided Design, allowing designers multiple views of their work.

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Drafting for All: AutoCAD

Most computer drafting systems required expensive graphics terminals and often specialized workstations—until AutoCAD.

Able to run on personal computers, AutoCAD revolutionized the drafting industry, becoming the top-selling drafting program for PCs. Released in 1982 by Autodesk, AutoCAD’s popularity also helped to make Microsoft Windows dominant in industrial design and architecture despite Apple’s foothold in design industries and visual arts. (Versions developed for Macintosh and Unix fizzled.)

Built on many concepts pioneered by IBM’s DAC-1, AutoCAD eventually provided both 2D and 3D modeling.

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Graphics Tablet

Tablets allowed an artist or draftsman to draw with a stylus rather than using a mouse. Taped to this Summagraphics tablet is a paper template for the popular drafting program, AutoCAD.

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AutoCAD demonstration

This drawing of an injection mold was created and plotted as a demonstration using AutoCAD.

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AutoCAD rendering of a ship

Complex shapes in three dimensions were particularly well-suited for CAD modeling.

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Telesis Drawing System

Telesis Systems made computers for laying out printed circuit boards. The Chelmsford, Massachusetts-based company merged with the much smaller California-based Valid Logic Systems in 1987, in part because of the Boston computer industry’s slow deterioration.

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AutoCAD AutoDesk software

AutoCAD became the dominant PC-based computer-aided design program. Company founder and AutoCAD co-author John Walker also helped fund Ted Nelson’s work on the Xanadu hyperlinked information system. Walker later moved to Switzerland, pursuing interests in artificial life and techno-social activism.

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Pistol Grip AutoCAD drawing

Computer-generated drawings were often not as elegant as those produced by professional draftsmen, but they served the purpose.

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Hydraulic jack assembly

Industrial design in every field benefited from CAD software running on inexpensive PCs.

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Circuit board layout

An early application of computer-aided design software was designing the next generation of computer circuit boards.

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HP 7586B graphics plotter

Plotters created large-scale prints for architecture or other design applications. These plotters often had carousels holding pens of different colors and line thicknesses.

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AutoCAD release 13

AutoCAD release 13 was the last version to run on UNIX or MS-DOS. After that, Microsoft Windows running on a PC was the only option.

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