Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 161 / FEBRUARY 1994 / PAGE 90

Kid CAD. (computer-aided design) (CAD package from Davidson & Assoc.) (Software Review) (Discovery Choice) (Evaluation)
by Carol Ellison

Children can populate cities with dinosaurs, demolish buildings with bubbles, and have a blast as they design, build, and decorate with this remarkable CAD package.

Remember the hours you spent with Tinkertoys? The Erector Set you busied yourself with one Christmas morning long ago? Or how about the Kenner girder and panel set or your first big canister of wooden blocks? These days, Lego sets are the top choice among junior architects. But they'll soon be supplanted by the next-generation building set if Davidson & Associates has its way. It gives us Kid CAD, a new program that, well, is a little hard to sums up in a single phrase.

Engineers in the audience will recognize the CAD in Kid CAD. It stands for Computer-Aided Design and is a label reserved for advanced design packages.

Kid CAD is a CAD program specifically designed for youngsters, but it will be appreciated by anyone who finds pleasure in whiling away hours creating, populating, and electronically demolishing everything from livestock barns to skycrapers.

Kid CAD would be impressive evne if it weren't the only CAD program designed for children. As the first of its kind, this Windows-based program does for computers what building blocks did for the living room rug when we were young: It turns the screen into a landscape where kids can create whimsical structures on a space that's all their own. Best of all, it's electronic. Translation: There's no mess to clean up, and the skyline isn't damaged if the dog runs through the room of a sibling zaps a dream house with a rubber band.

With Kid CAD, any sort of architectural creation is possible. "It is exciting to see the many different ways that kids can be creative. And because they haven't necessarily known construction as adults have, kids come up with new ideas for how buildings could be used," says Bob Birdsell, a sixth-grade teacher at Juarez-Lincoln Elementary School in San Diego. "If they like the sun in the house in the morning, they'll build a whole wall of windows."

Kids can be as imaginative in demolishing their creations as they are in building them. The program includes a set of demolition tools that bring their own kinds of joy to the construction site. For instance, children can make holes in buildings with bubbles, a laser beam, and blobs. They can implode an entire structure using a squasher, a wiper, a mower, or a dozer. And because the program features sound, the children will hear things crashing as well as being constructed.

They hear slurping noises, for instance, when they drop a blob on a block to destroy it.

Because demolitions are so much fun, you'll want to remind your junior architects to save their work before destroying it. By doing so, they'll have buildings to demolsih another day. Children enjoy recalling saved files over and over again to test how many different ways they can knock down a building.

The program allows children to design structures for any of three landscapes: a farm, a town, and a big city. When they start the program, they can see all three scenes in panorama views. If they aren't ready to out on their thinking caps and begin construction, they can play within the panoramas, clicking on buildings, trees, and people. Behind each object waits a little surprise, an animation that makes a chimney puff with smoke or pine trees sparkle as if it's Christmas time, for example. Although Kid CAD is recommended for kids seven years and older, even very young children will enjoy exploring the panorama.

When they're ready to begin construction, the children select the Design Studio, the place where they actually build a structure to add to the selected landscape. The Design Studio presents a closeup of the construction site. It's surrounded by the tools needed to build the structure, including building blocks of various sizes and shapes to ereck the walls, furnishings and wallpaper to decorate with, and colors and textures to upholster the furnishings. There are even people, pets, and other animals (such as barnyard friends) that the kids can select to inhabit the houses and office towers.

Just as if they were using wooden blocks, children can build their constructions block by block in Kid CAD. The program places a grid over the objects on the site to help kids position the blocks. When children hold down the mouse button, they see a shadow of the block; this makes it easier to determine how to place it.

To simplify things, children can select completed windows or stairs or even fully constructed houses rather than assembling them piece by piece. They can then concentrate on filling the buildings with furniture, people, and animals, as if they were playing with dollhouses. Younger children who have short attention spans or are unable to manipulate the blocks will fare well and have fun with these prefab homes.

One of the problems in designing anything on a computer screen is that the scree is two-dimensional. You can't walk around a structure to see how it looks from all angles. Kid CAD addressed this limitation and is even billed as "the amazing 3-D building kit." It uses a kid-sized version of computer tools--in the form of a camera view--to let children see their designs from a variety of angles. It even zooms in and out so that it seems as if the children are actually walking arounbd and through the structure. This feature lets them pretend to be the construction site superintendent, who walks around and inspects all design elements to make sure each detail is just right. It's a great feature, but one that's a little tough for young children to master. Birsell suggests pairing younger children with older kids until they're about nine; at that age, they're better able to grasp spatial relationships and see how to manipulate the camera and understand what things look like from various angles.

The program presents the designs in a wireframe view. This means that all of the constructions are rendered in black-and-white line drawings, making them appear as if they were wire structures awaiting surfaces.

There are also a number of tools that help children alter the images and objects. Among them are a rotate tool, which allows objects to be placed on their sides or even upside down; a linking tool, which joins or separates objects to include them in the changes or ensure that they won't be affected; and a hide feature, which makes objects disappear, so children can see what's behind them.

If there are several children in your house, it's easy to come up with game ideas that will encourage them to work in teams or as competitors. Challenge them to construct imaginative designs. Suggest that they hide an object for each other and then demolish structures piece by piece to find it. Tell them to keep score to see who finds the hidden object in the fewest demolition steps.

A bonus: Reptile and amphibian monsters--such as a giant Tyrannosaurus rex and similarly cuddly creatures--are included in the program. If dinosaurs are as in vogue at your house as they are at mine, your children will be happy to find and use these.

This program is the perfect challenge for all who like to build--adults and kids alike. There's just something incredibly fun about building an improbable suburbia. Give your children free rein with Kid CAD, and who knows? You may discover an engineer or architect in the house.