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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Autodesk University 2013 Report

December 5th, 2013 by Susan Smith

Robots for the future jobsite, flying drones for delivering packages and reality capture were all part of the show at Tuesday morning’s Mainstage presentation at Autodesk University 2013. The event kicked off with a short little skit by Penn & Teller, who will apparently provide an entire show for AU attendees on Thursday.

Iris the robot

Attendance seems to be up; 9400 on Tuesday, and the throng passing through the hallway en route to the presentation was huge.

Jeff Kowalksi, CTO of Autodesk, quoted Alvin Toffler in saying that the illiterate of the 20th century are not going to be those who can’t read and write, but those who can’t learn. Kowalski said it takes a new mindset to fully unlock the value of any new tool set.  He suggests that we need to be looking for answers outside rather than inside. “The problem isn’t with the toolset,” said Kowalski, “it’s with mindset, humans are wired to avoid risk.”

Also it’s no longer necessary to own all our tools. “Now that you can rent Autodesk software, the ownership model has finally caught up to the agility of the product itself,” said Kowalski. This type of rental model is evident in the leasing of cars, Airbnb, and anything where you don’t need to own something to make use of it.

CEO and president Carl Bass furthered Kowalski’s point  in his keynote, saying, “The best decisions that I’ve made have come from thinking about things differently, breaking the rules and going outside.” He talked about the brothers who started Orphanage Guitars, using Fusion 360, who refer to Autodesk 360 as “like Facebook for engineers.” Autodesk announced CAM 360, the first cloud-based computer aided manufacturing platform.

The showy Aston Martin on display and Bot & Dolly’s “Iris” the robot, as well as the Quadrocopter designed by Frederic Ugugliaro of ETH Zurich, provided wow factors. At first glance, you might think, what does this have to do with the building industry? But robots and drones were deftly woven into the fabric of the Autodesk message as potential tools for building future infrastructure.

Media Day

Chris Bradshaw, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Autodesk, opened the conversation in a Media presentation during that afternoon.

Andrew Anagnost spoke on the topic “Leading the Cloud Transformation” in which he talked about how the Cloud is changing everything, and mainly “we’re looking at new ways that customers can buy.” Those may include desktop rental, cloud services, and consumption. The cloud brings more flexibility and choice to customers.

Big data is changing the way people view projects. Instead of looking at sections they can now look at the whole project with the advent of the cloud. With the addition of mobile computing to the cloud, construction is able to access BIM and capture information about what is going on onsite, according to Anagnost.

Senior vice president of IPG, Amar Hanspal, talked about “Bringing a project from design to reality” with the use of the cloud and social technology. He said the new version of Autodesk 360 “places all data, people and experience at the center.” The project is the center and the tool is tied to it.

This version comes with interactive visualization capabilities so that users can add materials, lights, cameras and generate beautiful visualizations. It opens up the possibility for anyone to create renderings. He recommends that people sign up so that once it is available for broad adoption you can use it.

CEO Carl Bass said that Autodesk 360 really wasn’t designed for the non-Autodesk user, “because the activities you would use: indexing, viewing and searching make more sense if you have a deep understanding of the content you are dealing with on it.”

Customer Experience

This discussion somewhat dovetailed with a lively Customer Panel on Wednesday. John Jacobs: CIO, JE Dunn made some telling comments about the state of interoperability. “Autodesk, Microsoft, IBM, etc. all  talk about interoperability – but they are only discussing interoperability in their own stack. They’re putting all their R&D money into adding interoperability and functionality within their stack. The business problem is cross platform integration.”

“We built a estimating tool on the Microsoft platform called Base that will be available next year. We have involved Autodesk to build those bridges to deliver groundbreaking industry changing stuff. We had to do that leveraging Autodesk consulting.”

Granted, they are involving Autodesk in the process. In their own defense an Autodesk spokesman said that they do much more integration cross platform than this customer suggested, mostly with their cloud-based and open source offerings.

There may be a big gap between some of the technology directions and what most customers do in the trenches, yet there is a profound need for collaboration between companies who are part of a project team and the handling of data.

In a later conversation with Joe Eichenseer, Building Solutions Team Manager, IMAGINiT, a consulting firm, he said projects his firm works on are not yet taking Revit (BIM) into the field. They can view stored PDFs and will be able to access Autodesk 360, which will ostensibly give them the ability to do cloud-based field data collaboration.

Product Announcements

In their effort to extend BIM, Autodesk announced two acquisitions and one collaboration, as well as new launches.

Autodesk Dynamo and Autodesk DesignScript for building designers have been merged. The two products address separate perspectives in the area of computational  design. Dynamo, a standalone product, is an open source visual programming environment for BIM, and allows the extension of parametric capabilities of Revit products. DesignScript is a programming language that allows designers to build and analyze complex geometric models that are not able to be addressed by conventional design software. DesignScript is more fluid and open, whereas Dynamo has a greater integration with Revit and extends that product.

Autodesk FormIt, a BIM-based conceptual design tool, is now including a web based application that runs on numerous browsers for Windows and Mac. Designers can share, create, and collaborate and take their models directly into Revit. New energy analysis features have been included in FormIt for iPad (taking advantage of iOS7).

Autodesk Structural Bridge Design is a new addition to the BIM for infrastructure portfolio, based on the UK-based company Bestech Systems technology assets, which were acquired by Autodesk in August. Another attempt to provide more efficiency for small to medium span bridge designs, by integrating loading analysis and code checking in one single environment.

The acquisition of Graitec’s Advance Steel and Advance Concrete product lines, with employees coming along, expands structural detailing stages in BIM.

Autodesk also acquired technology assets of UK-based Azalient Ltd., an acquisition that will support BIM based workflows for traffic engineers and transportation planners. This technology is a simulation product that allows the simulation of how people travel, by what locom tion, and to predict traffic disruptions from construction and provide alternative infrastructure design options.

Autodesk announced a collaboration with TopCon, which is aimed at improving the integration of BIM workflows  and field layout. This collaboration will also involve a new Autodesk BIM 360 app for iPad to make it easier to locate BIM coordinates precisely on a construction site. The app will control a robotic total station and the new LN-100 3D positioning system from Topcon.

The Future

In a session called “BuildX: Construction site of the future,” Mike Whaley, president of Turis Systems talked about the “scanning revolution” and how “reality capture” is really the new term for it, as that technology has evolved to become more accessible, portable and applicable in myriad ways. He also listed some ways in which this technology could be used onsite, for example, cut fill, storage, waste, capture and monitor during construction, for formwork and concrete reinforcement in structural work.

Whaley stated that “reality capture is not just laser scanning, but blending multiple pieces of technology and putting that into a method that we can do analysis on.”

An even more surprising jump is to the notion of using flying machines to deliver materials and products on the jobsite. In a presentation called “Flying Machines Interacting with the Environment,” given by Federic Ugugliaro, Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, he spoke of the research and development they are doing with “quadrocopters” that can perform many dynamic tasks alone or working together.


These flying “drones” could be used for

  • Research
  • Localization
  • Navigation
  • coordination of multiple vehicles
  • Monitoring and inspection
  • aerial photography and filmography
  • mapping and photogrammetry
  • anywhere where they can sense their environment

We’ve heard of Amazon and UPS considering these machines for delivering packages, but the research is still in its infancy, evidenced by the testing videos Ugugliaro showed where a machine could get caught in a wire or rope and then crash into something or into another machine.

Ideally, Ugugliaro said “we will always know where they are, and are able to control them. We can pick a task and analyze it mathematically.” They have created an algorithm to make it possible for the machine to fly safely after propeller loss.

Here is a video of the quadrocopter after propeller loss.

So what can these quadrocopters do for construction? Ugugliaro said they are in collaboration with architects Mirjan, Gramazio and Kohler to analyze external forces and a sensing environment so people can interact with the copter. This photo is of flight assembled architecture the collaborators have built with the Quadrocopter, a six-meter tower made of 1500 foam elements that is a live installation at the FRAC Centre in France.

Flight assembled architecture used to build a six-meter tall tower using 1500 foam elements. Live installation: FRAC Centre, France.

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Categories: AEC, architecture, AutoCAD, Autodesk, BIM, building information modeling, Cloud, construction, consumerization, engineering

One Response to “Autodesk University 2013 Report”

  1. Landon says:

    Three models to look out for are the X4 H107L RTF, H107C HD and the H107D FPV X4 Mini RTF.
    These props would be the reason for the name “quadcopter” as
    quad means four. The military departments of many countries are
    being advantaged with possibilities of faster transportation with the help of rc propellers.

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