Autodesk University 2014
Each year thousands of AEC nerds head to Las Vegas for the annual Autodesk University (AU) conference. Kicking-off the conference was the opening keynote by Autodesk’s CEO, Carl Bass and CTO, Jeff Kowalski. (Watch the full version online here). While no specific software updates were mentioned, the two speakers gave a vision of the future of the AEC industry. It was clear that Autodesk sees this future as one of generative design and cloud computing.
Jeff Kowalski proclaimed that everything we design is dead: Bridges, buildings, objects – they are all inanimate objects. This parallel reality that we have created known as ‘technology’ has been working in opposition to our design problems. Autodesk’s solution to this issue is to look at design through the lens of nature.
It was claimed that by starting from scratch on each new project, one ends up with small, incremental improvements to the design. Conversely, by accessing all the designs that have already been created, new designs can emerge, which can radically improve the outcome. This data mining of ‘every’ design is presumably where Autodesk’s cloud software becomes integral. By data-mining all of the models within its cloud, Autodesk hope to be able to classify the taxonomy of elements and component as well as the relationships between them. Once these relationships are understood, possible optimized solutions can then be computed. This methodology entails telling the computer what to achieve, rather than how to achieve it. Arup’s recently completed 3D printed stainless-steel structural joints were cited as an exemplar of this process. Autodesk termed this ‘Generative Design’, but it is unclear whether this will be the name of the new software or just a general description of the design process. By harnessing the cloud’s computational power, Autodesk clearly aims to take generative design mainstream. Beyond Autodesk’s vision of generative design, several trends flowed through the nearly 800 classes on offer:
- Dynamo, which is Autodesk’s response to Grasshopper, is a graphical scripting language able to run over multiple software including Revit, Maya and Inventor. While still in development, Dynamo’s major advantage over Grasshopper is that it is based on a BIM platform (Revit), as opposed to a CAD platform (Rhino).
- AutoCAD, which is Autodesk’s bread and butter, still seems to be going strong. For a company so focused on the future of the industry, it is surprising that so many classes focused on AutoCAD. Out of the 799 classes on offer, 214 classes, or 26%, featured AutoCAD is some manner.
- 3D printing is continuing to develop at a rapid rate. Autodesk announced Spark, its 3D printing software geared to connect to Autodesk products. They also announced Ember, their open-sourced 3D printer which can print very fine filament. It is due to go on sale in early 2015.
- Real-time visualization was attacked on many fronts from the integration of real-time rendering software such as Unity and Fuzor, to hardware such as the Oculus Rift. All allow for a more immersive and responsive integration with the design.
- Cloud computing we’ve briefly discussed already. However, in addition to this, Autodesk also announced that soon, they will go down the path of Adobe by creating a subscription-based cloud software set-up. It is still unclear whether the traditional stand-alone, perpetual license will still be made available.
- Data management continues to be a big talking point. There was a strong presence of companies such as dRofus and Newforma, which adds an extra dimension to the BIM process.
To cap off the week-long events, Autodesk hosted the closing party. Held at the Palms casino, the comic-book-themed party provided an outlet to unwind and network with other like-minded industry leaders. I guess what stood out for me the most about the conference was the vast array of software Autodesk produces. But this is not necessarily a good thing. Take, for example, the multiple Environmental Sustainable Design (ESD) software currently on offer. Autodesk has Ecotect, Green Building Studio (GBS), and Vasari, none of which are really heavy hitters or a ‘complete’ program in itself. This makes things difficult when deciding which software to learn/teach. If one compares Autodesk’s “more is more” approach to say Adobe, this desire to expand, rather than consolidate their products become clear. Adobe has a suite of software: Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign amongst others. Each software has a very clear and well-defined scope: Photoshop is used for raster images, Illustrator for vector images and InDesign to compile it all together. Each software is separate but linked together. Autodesk would be well advised to look at Adobe’s approach and apply the same methodology. For a company promoting BIM, we need a much more integrated software eco-system.