The SpaceNavigator may be the coolest piece of computer hardware I own. Available from 3Dconnexion, a Logitech company, it’s a 3D mouse that allows 6 degrees of freedom, for fast, fluid movement in applications like Google Earth and SketchUp.
I think I paid $70 for mine, the SpaceNavigator PE (personal edition). It feels quite substantial, with a heavy, weighted metal base. Use is quite intuitive; I’ve showed it to a number of people, and after the initial “wow”, they quickly pick up how to pan, zoom and rotate a basic SketchUp model. My favorite part about it is the increased sense of the dimension and volume of 3D models. There is something about the continuous movement that really enhances my ability to hold the shapes in my head.
Now I’m quite excited about increasing my skills in SketchUp. I haven’t been able to find a direct reference, but SketchUp looks to be descended from the upFRONT software developed at the University of Minnesota years ago. I never used it for more than 3D sketches, but remember it fondly from my days as a CAD administrator at the Minnesota Historical Society. I’m looking forward to getting to know this modern relative. It looks to be a very useful addition to the design toolbox.