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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 »

AECCafe’s Autodesk University 2015 Report

December 4th, 2015 by Susan Smith

This year software companies are talking a lot about convergence, and Autodesk is no different in that respect. What is different is that the software company is making a significant investment in the “make” side of things, which it has promised for the past few years. This focus is moving into the building side of things with many technologies that we have traditionally thought of as strictly manufacturing.

Autodesk CEO Carl Bass opened the mainstage presentation in Las Vegas by talking about how companies are “reframing” the way they think about their work. “Sometimes we have to reframe our view toward entire industries,” he said.

Apple building in Cupertino

Apple building in Cupertino

He pointed to a big Autodesk building project in Cupertino – the new Apple building, which is shaped like a big donut. The new building will be an open air factory, designed by Norman Foster & Partners of London. He was surprised that a big precast concrete panel was made with super precision, to be part of a parking garage. This was an example of how building and manufacturing are converging, he said.

“Sometimes the convergence is inspired by provocative new data,” said Bass. “In China they are building a mega factory for car batteries.” Looking at the environmental lifecycle of cars, studies found that by the time a car rolls off the assembly line, it has produced 1/3 of the carbon of its lifetime. Divergent Microfactories was created to build a car chassis made of microcarbon tubes, that are energy efficient in the making, not just the running of the car.

Bass also talked about reframing our thinking about people – that there is no shortage of jobs but a shortage of people, as organizations are all competing hard to get the best people to work for them. People want to do meaningful work.

Jeff Kowalski, CTO, spoke about how over the course of the next 20 years, we’re going to experience a more change than in the past 20 years. He said as there were four historical ages that humans had passed through: hunter gatherer age, agricultural age, industrial age, and information age.

“We are on the cusp of the next era of human work – the augmented age,” said Kowalski. “We are radically augmented by the digital nervous system. Augmenting cognition is going to upgrade the way we think. Our relationship with tools has been directive because tools are passive.”

By moving from passive to generative, all is needed are goals and constraints as input. Generatively designed things are making their way into the real world, said Kowalski.

One of the more interesting aspects of the talk was about “Empathic computing” – incorporation of human responses into the system. It remembers your tastes and aesthetic preferences, what you really want and need.

“Computers aren’t just going to be working for us, but thinking with us,” said Kowalski.

While there may be fear among some that robots will take jobs from humans, Kowalski thinks robots and humans will work together, more like they do in Star Wars (a recurring theme throughout the conference.)

storm troopers

Autodesk’s robot “Bishop” is the busiest robot in their lab. It is for someone who has no robotic expertise, and the robot sports natural movement interface and simple gestures. The Hive is a pavilion built at AU under the direction of the artificial intelligence program. It is a multi-disciplinary project that explores future-of-design themes such as emergent design, wearables, internet of things, human-robot interaction and interactive indoor positioning systems. It couldn’t have been designed or built by either humans or computers working alone. Attendees could see the progress of the Hive throughout the week.

The Hive in progress

The Hive in progress

Designer Designing Himself

Dr. Hugh Herr, MIT Media Lab, lost both his legs due to frostbite while mountain climbing. He wanted to return to mountain climbing after this, but the doctor said it was not possible. “He was wrong,” said Herr. “A few weeks after my legs were amputated, he viewed my body as broken. The technology is broken. We can architect a new design world and eliminate disability. That led me to design my own limbed. From this personal experience I realized the ability to heal.”

The designer designing himself

The designer designing himself

Working in bionics, Herr asked himself, how does the body work? “The goal is to create a digital human that informs bionic structures,” Herr explained. “We’re mapping the body, scanning complex tissues, brain scan tissues, and can guide future bionic interventions, to brain circuits. What happens when we work, we are informing the design of bionic limbs. We can understand how stiff we are, build synthetic skins and interface between the built world and human body. We’re advancing extreme interfaces between the human body and built world. This will give us new bodies with new capabilities. We can stimulate the nerve, closing the loop between human and machine.”

Exoskeletal devices are also being built at Herr’s Lab to reduce stress on limbs. Each individual could have a plethora of bionic devices, creating new physicality, new sensory experience and new cognitive capabilities, and adapting the new identity. “The designer designing himself,” said Herr.

“12 months after my legs were amputated I climbed again. 12 months’ prior the world was saying I was weak,” said Herr. “My climbing competitors accused me of cheating and threatened to cut off their own legs.”

It is quite remarkable, while not relevant to AEC, per se, that in this case, technology can overcome disability. With this system, says Herr, “we will develop body platforms that will eliminate disability after disability. With technology I’m free. I dream of world without disability.”

Subscription Program

Amy Bunszel, vice president of AutoCAD products and Subscription Programs, spoke about the subscription program at Autodesk and how the cloud plus mobile gives incredible access. Users today expect access to data that is streamlined and provides continuous updates. The cloud changes the way things are built and managed, and how we use and manage products. The cloud is described as disruption-free with bite-sized, simplified updates that provides a coherent experience on the desktop, mobile or anywhere.

Project Wingman runs alongside A360 and has information on all the products used and who is using them. You can pick and choose updates and other information on the updates. Wingman is designed as an aid for users and a window into the subscription experience, that will be rolled out soon.

All in all, the subscription program is being made to be one training and support destination, with collaboration available across any platform. It sounds like more than what we have thought of as subscription up to now, with its own actual tools to facilitate the process, laying the groundwork for an easier upgrade experience overall.


A number of new solutions or products were announced, among them SeeControl, completely cloud-based, connected to sensors collecting data in real time from products built by customers. This way, SeeControl can predict failures so customers can repair the fixes before they become a problem. This will be sold as a service, and customers will pay for hours used only.

A new product announced at AU was BIM 360 Docs construction management software cloud based service that provides a virtual workspace that allows anytime, anywhere access to project files and data through out the building construction lifecycle. It allows those who are not Revit users to access Revit files in PDFs, with large documents compressed. It also includes tracking and full versioning of files.

Autodesk is also providing an investment fund called the Forge Fund, giving over $100 million away over the next few years, to companies who need capital to fund projects. The Forge Fund is “an initiative to accelerate a cloud connected ecosystem in support of the future of making things. The initiative consists of three major components – a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, a robust developer program, and a $100 million investment fund – all geared toward advancing the next wave of innovative technologies that will transform how products are designed, made and used.”

The Future of the Smart City

Michael Thydell, BIM strategist, talked about the “100 Story Sensor” as the backbone of Smart City. “Our houses and cities are producing increasing amounts of data,” said Thydell. “Cities need to be sustainable, flexible and also producers of resources.”

He talked about the “electric city,” with electric cars that need to be produced locally. He envisions transparent solar panels that will be electrically produced. The city will produce its own food. “Future cities need to be more complex than the cities of today,” he said.

Also biogas and water infrastructures need to be open to constant change.

BIM City

BIM City

One of the exhibits at AU was their own BIM City, which largely focused on the construction aspect of BIM.

Within that display was also the Eco District Washington D.C. City Model using InfraWorks analysis of energy and stormwater flows to meet aggressive sustainability goals. Rapid energy modeling, green stormwater simulation and Autocase triple bottom line automated analyses, giving users a defensible set of figures were used in the model.

According to vice president of Autodesk Phil Bernstein, 13 years ago when they started BIM, they thought basic representation change would occur. Architects and engineers spearheaded all heterogeneous processes.

“We are starting to see more episodic workflows come closer together,” said Bernstein. “We don’t think of BIM as a product but as a mindset.”

It is the most profound transformation in the building industry, and has the ability to rapidly transmit large data sets. BIM mandates in the UK, plus the ability of design and construction to work together have changed the way BIM is being used. Bernstein said the future of making things is linked to this.

Reality Capture

AU was also the scene of a lot of reality capture opportunities such as demonstrated under the umbrella of Autodesk’s LiveDesign, where the Project Expo beta solution puts Revit into an interactive gaming engine, Autodesk Stingray. Stingray can kick out to the Xbox, or other gaming devices, internet or a VR headset. Users can interact with the Revit model that is brought into Stingray with the Oculus VR headset on.

Users can decide what they want to see, as the Revit model is being generated in real time as you interact with it.


While so many of the events and the Autodesk exhibits point quite far into the future, it is valuable to see how the present workflows inform what may be the workflows of tomorrow, complete with new ways of looking at building and integrating manufacturing processes into the mix. Several years ago, the notion of manufacturing as part of the building design process was introduced, and it did not seem feasible. Today, 3D printing and other technologies that were part of manufacturing processes have made their way into the building design world with great acceptance.

The new offerings presented by mobile, phones, and drones have burst on all industries simultaneously, providing a way to access data in ever-increasing and surprising new ways.

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Categories: 2D, 3D, 3D PDF, 3D printing, AEC, AECCafe, Apple, Autodesk, Civil 3D, Cloud, collaboration, construction, display wall, engineering, field solutions, file sharing, geospatial, GIS, greenhouse gas emissions, IFC, mobile, plant design, point clouds, project management, reality capture, rendering

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