Kitchen Design Plugin for Sketchup, Sketchup training.

A year with the Nest

If you've followed this blog, my writings in KBDN, or taken one of my classes, you'll know that the smart home is something that I've been working towards building for quite some time. I've been trying out different systems and technologies. Some good, some bad.

I'm here today to tell you about the good: The Nest thermostat.

The thermostat is an ugly, unloved piece of technology that have been in homes for years. Back in the day, they had a mercury switch in them that turned the heat on when it was cold, and off when it got warm. You may remember that big dial you had to turn. Those were only as convenient and energy efficient as the person using them. Then came programmable thermostats. These were ugly, plastic hunks of circuitry that required a NASA engineer or a teenager to setup and install. No one every programmed one of those.

So years later, a former iPod designer quits Apple and decides to reinvent the thermostat. His design? The Nest

First and foremost this is a smart thermostat, but not one that's hard to use. I pulled mine out of the box and had it installed in minutes. They even include the one tool you need to install it. Once installed, it sprung to life and walked my through setup. It was easy. It figured out what kind of furnace I had, asked my for my zip code and my wifi password, and then it was all done.

I know what you're probably thinking, I had to program the thing. Not so with the Nest. All you do is use it for the first week or so. When you're cold, you turn it up, and when you're hot, turn it down. When you go to bed, turn it down, and that's it. After a week the Nest learned my habits. It knows when I get up and the house is warm by the time my alarm clock goes off. When I leave, it automatically turns it down.

They even have a mobile app that lets you check on and change the temperature of your house when you're away.

I've only had it for 12 months, so I can't say that it's saved me money over last year (I lived in a different place) but my instinct is that it has. This thing is very frugal about when it runs your heat, but not in a way ti freeze you out.

Now what the next does from a technical standpoint is really no different than thermostats from years ago. The big difference here is that this is stylish, and brilliantly simple to use. While I do love future tech that shoots lasers and does teleportation, true innovation is when someone can take something and make it so beautiful and functional that you actually love using it. Nest has definitely achieved that here.

Check this out at

Sketchup Import into VCarve

Did you know you can import Sketchup models into VCarve? It's a new feature that they added just a few months ago. I challenged those guys to import and process and entire Wikihouse model, and they did! Check out these videos below on how it works:

And the long version if you want to know exactly how to do it:

Terrain Models

Just the other day I wanted to 3D print, and CNC mill some terrain out onto different materials. The idea here is to use Sketchup to create the terrain, and then send it out to different tools to make the terrain. The vision is to have the CNC mill make large swaths of terrain on foam or wood, and then use the 3D printer for small things like buildings.

To do this effectively I wanted to be able to use Sketchup. Sketchup allows for easy scaling of objects, and also has the "sandbox" tools that allow for roads and buildings to be stamped into terrain.

Challenge 1: Getting terrain models into Sketchup

This was not as easy as I thought it would be. For several versions now Sketchup has had the ability to import Google Earth terrain. While this does work, and you can mill it, you are only allowed to bring in very small plots at one time. This can make it nearly impossible to do a whole mountain at once. Even a state as small as Massachusetts could require 50 imports. I wanted a better way...

Sketchup has a little known importer called DEM. DEM stands for "Digital Elevation Data"

The 7.5-minute Digital Elevation Model (DEM) data files are digital representations of cartographic information in a raster form.

The DEM files can be easily downloaded from this website.

Before you complete the import, click on options:


Set your "points" for import to 9,999. if you don't, the default will be a very bumpy terrain import.

Once you've imported your model, you'll get something that looks like this. This may look a little flat, we can fix that using the Scale tool in Sketchup. Click once to highlight your terrain, and click the Scale tool.


You can see when you scale it vertically you get much more definition in the terrain. A scale factor of 4 can be seen here.

You may notice that Sophie, who is life sized in Sketchup is really small now. That's because this terrain comes into Sketchup full scale. For our purposes here we're going to want to scale this down, a lot. If you bring this into Aspire or MakerWare it's going to be so huge it may be difficult to figure out what's going on. Thankfully this is really easy in Sketchup.

Double click your terrain to enter it's group. Once you do that, click on the tape measure tool and measure from point to point. This terrain is over 35,000 feet on the short side! Once you click for the measurement, just type in how wide you want it to be. In this case I made it 6". You can see after I press enter that the terrain shrinks to a more manageable width.

Once you've done the scaling, you can export the terrain to STL. Now you can bring that file into Aspire for CNC milling. (I did mine on the Handibot). You can also bring that same STL into Makerware for 3D printing.

STL Ready for 3D printing

STL ready for CNC milling in Aspire

The results? Great! You can see in the gallery below I 3D printed, and CNC milled this section of terrain. Having Sketchup as the nexus for this 3D data is fantastic. I could see an architect or a city planner using this method to print large parts of terrain with a CNC, and then doing buildings and other obstacles with the 3D printer. You could make sure they are all scaled properly using Sketchup.

Some considerations:

The way this works is that you start from a full scale terrain model and you shrink it down and then enhance it's elevation. If you were building a large map, and only had access to smaller CNC machines like a Handibot it would be wise to develop some rules for scaling. If you pick a particular scale factor for both the overall size, and the height enhancement you could mill lots of these "tiles" and stick them together for a huge map. Since the initial dataset (the DEM files) is uniform you could potentially farm this work out to something like 100kGarages and quickly get a huge terrain model done.

Visualizer for Sketchup

Visualizer for Sketchup is one of the newest render programs to come to Sketchup. If you've ever looked at rendering programs for Sketchup, you'll know there are a lot. Visualizer isn't going to win as the renderer for the next Avatar, but it certainly wins for being the easiest, most fun, and fastest I've used, by a lot.

Once it's installed, all you do is is just start it up, frame your shot by moving around in Sketchup, and let it run. Most renders take just a minute or two. Below is a gallery if a few that I just did in the past few weeks. 

You may notice that some of the foreground and backgrounds of these renders are blurred. There is no post processing done here, it's all happening inside Visualizer. Just like a normal camera, Visualizer has a "depth of field" adjustment. This is much like an aperture adjustment in a camera. To adjust this, all you do is drag the depth of field slider, and then drag the target to what you want in focus:


Here I have the closest tube in focus. I did this just by adding a little depth of field and setting the target to the front.


In this one I've done the same trick but put the focus on one of the middle tubes.

I love Visualizer, it's fast and downright fun to use. Most renders take just a minute or two. It's my new "screenshot" for Sketchup. At $20 bucks it's a bargain of a renderer. I definitely recommend checking it out.