Investigations of collaborative design environments : a framework for real-time collaborative 3D CAD
This research investigates computer-based collaborative design environments, in particular issues of real-time collaborative 3D CAD. The thesis first presents a broad perspective of collaborative design environments with a preliminary case study of team design activities in a conventional and a computer mediated setting. This study identifies the impact and the feasibility of computer support for collaborative design and suggests four kinds of essential technologies for a successful collaborative design environment: information-sharing systems, synchronous and asynchronous co- working tools, project management systems, and communication systems. A new conceptual framework for a real-time collaborative 3D design tool, Shared Stage, is proposed based upon the preliminary study. The Shared Stage is defined as a shared 3D design workspace aiming to smoothly incorporate shared 3D workspaces into existing individual 3D workspaces. The addition of a Shared Stage allows collaborating designers to interact in real-time and to have a dynamic and interactive exchange of intermediate 3D design data. The acceptability of collaborative features is maximised by maintaining consistency of the user interface between 3D CAD systems. The framework is subsequently implemented as a software prototype using a new software development environment, customised by integrating related real-time and 3D graphic software development tools. Two main components of the Shared Stage module in the prototype, the Synchronised Stage View (SSV) and the Data Structure Diagram (DSD), provide essential collaborative features for real-time collaborative 3D CAD. These features include synchronised shared 3D representation, dynamic data exchange and awareness support in 3D workspaces. The software prototype is subsequently evaluated to examine the usefulness and usability. A range of quantitative and qualitative methods is used to evaluate the impact of the Shared Stage. The results, including the analysis of collaborative interactions and user perception, illustrate that the Shared Stage is a feasible and valuable addition for real-time collaborative 3D CAD. This research identifies the issues to be addressed for collaborative design environments and also provides a new framework and development strategy of a novel real-time collaborative 3D CAD system. The framework is successfully demonstrated through prototype implementation and an analytical usability evaluation.