- Indian MIT Entrepreneurs Take A Shot At Democratizing Design


The designers among us know the drill: Slave over a revolutionary design that if recognized from the right perspective might just change the game. Submit it with more pride than a 6 year old topping her grade. Receive it a week later with a message reading “Hello guys. As wonderful as your preliminary design was, it’s clear you’ve understood nothing of our requirement ...”Hopes and dreams: Shattered.

That’s where comes in. The days of waiting weeks for client feedback are long gone. Design discussions, rendered ineffective via coordination with teams across borders lie in the past. Utilizing the Lift app framework, is a web-based collaborative design solution offering real time interactivity between designers and collaborators regardless of their location.

Think World of Warcraft but with a 3D modeling screen instead of a monotonous game. Chandan Raj from speaks with Nitin Rao and Kaustuv De Biswas to learn more about

Where did the idea to develop come from?

Not much has changed over the last forty years design computation domain. CAD, invented in the early 60's (incidentally, in MIT) was pioneered by the aerospace and automobile industries for fast efficient assembly of parts and to support the assembly line. This production centric direction seeded some axiomatic deficiencies in the nature of CAD and even today, does not quite support the early stage design where design is conversational and fluid. CAD for most parts, is used as an efficient drawing tool rather than a design tool.

The ambition of Sunglass stems from this frustration. We broke down the issue and realized we needed a robust tool which would enable this design stage. Our fundamental requirements were a tool which could:

  • Start quick with a very low investment.
  • Conveniently change ways of seeing and doing.
  • Quickly acquire feedback so as to make informed decisions.
  • Be conversational and community driven.

With Kaustuv's Ph.D. in the MIT Design Computation Group, experience developing parametric CAD software at Bentley Systems and experience working with the world's leading design firms on projects such as the world's first carbon-fiber penthouse, he recognized the need for a better solution - and teamed up with another MIT entrepreneur and TED Fellow, Nitin Rao. We were very excited by the overwhelming positive response to Kaustuv's talk at TED 2011 on the opportunity to democratize access to design.

Could you explain the overall concept and usage of

Stage: allows any designer to seamlessly share and collaborate around their 3D content. In a familiar WebGL-supported browser such as Google Chrome, they can drag and drop 3D models and share a uniquely generated link to securely share their model with a collaborator from anywhere around the world. Using customer-requested tools such as a broadcast mode, graphic / text annotations and chat, collaboration has never been easier. They can also generate 2D or 3D downloads and session details for anybody who missed attending. Customer stories include the toy designer who was thrilled to get client feedback in minutes instead of hours, the architect who is relieved to make fewer trips to New York, and firms that can use their CNC equipment for mass customization.

'Sim' (upcoming): This includes a suite of pay-per-use apps in the areas of rapid prototyping, publishing and rendering, simulation and analysis as well as optimization and modeling. We're very excited that some of the most prominent software makers in these verticals will be choosing to launch their content on Sunglass as we offer a large number of small and medium firm users the opportunity to transition to an inevitable new business model, and access to certain patent-pending innovations that enhance the performance of their tools in a networked world.

We welcome feedback.

Which file formats are supported?

Designers shouldn't have to worry about file formats. From struggling with file exchange, to coming up with sloppy hacks to managing versioning, we've lived this frustration and are here to eliminate it. Currently, we support obj, dae, stl, blend and 3ds files and this is being expanded to over 10 formats that seamlessly integrate into Sunglass.

Are you seeking funding or closing any investment?

We're backed by top-tier VC investors from theUSand are delighted to have built what users consider a compelling product at the fraction of the resources and time as some of our peers.

Do you have an India office?Most of our team is based out ofNew Delhi. We're lucky to have an amazing set of young and ambitious team members who truly believe that world class products with the potential to become billion dollar companies can be built fromIndia. Further, as India prospers and design becomes a greater imperative, we see Indian design firms being important users of Sunglass. We believe that selling to Indian consumers will not only force us to be aggressive in pricing and hence competitive, but also provide Indian designers with a channel to the global market for architecture and mechanical design projects.

How is the ability to create and share models online changing engineering and design?

Using the powerful Sunglass player, you can embed rich 3D content, and inspired by what YouTube did to video, we hope that the next time you see a 3D model on the web, it's probably Sunglass. This means that you no longer need expensive hardware or software to be part of a global design conversation and to cater to the needs of customers around the world.

What is your long-term vision?Our mission is to democratize design. We're excited that we'll be able to push the boundaries of performance while engaging a global community in creating, sharing and consuming content. From designs to design applications.

I noticed the app store. Is this the revenue model for

We will be announcing a tiered monthly pricing structure that best fits the needs of a designer: depending on both the apps purchased, and storage used for the 3D models. It will be dramatically more accessible than traditional CAD software.

Where does Sunglass fit best in the overall design and engineering process?

Our focus is on the early stage of design, which is conversational and fluid.

What’s with the name, can you please explain?

We named our platform Sunglass to capture our deep belief that design is a collaborative agenda. Any project benefits from multiple users, sound artists, architects or structural engineers to even environmental experts having a conversation early in the design process and in a shared model space. Each person brings their unique perspective or Sunglass. Software should not be about throwing the same set of 100 buttons at every user, but about letting each person dynamically assemble their custom toolkit

Brief about back-end technology?

Back-end is an interesting mix of various technologies which help us achieve our required goals of quick turnaround time with high performance without sacrificing reliability. Our WebServer is written in scala using LiftWeb framework as its base . A fully custom solution written in C++ is used when high performance is required for e.g. supporting file formats, computation (SCP). All these components talk to each other through a ZeroMQ messaging network. Finally for hardware, we use Amazon EC2 servers running ubuntu server as base OS.

Tell us about the challenges you guys faced in developing this solution and how did you overcome them.

It's always hard to build an engineering-intensive product as the cycles demand so much time and you're never as sure as your friend who is selling t-shirts online. Further, CAD is a niche space which very few people truly understand and we have to strike a balance between learning from the people who built the current stack and challenging them with new ideas. This is a work-in-progress and we have some ways to go!

What about Mentors and advisors?

We're fortunate to have veterans from the CAD industry and academic partners from schools such as MIT and Stanford guiding us.

Finally, are you looking at hiring?

Yes! Call our team members in Delhi and ping us if you like what you hear and are up for a challenge.


Please visit their website - to know more and do share your feedback and comments below.