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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 »

The Human Experience and Technology: AECCafe’s Autodesk University 2016 Report

November 17th, 2016 by Susan Smith

The Autodesk University 2016 keynote kicked off this Tuesday morning at the Venetian Congress Center, Las Vegas, with some rousing state-of-the-art rock and roll, followed by an introduction by Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski.


Kowalski spoke about “generative design” embodied in their Dreamcatcher product in the making, promising a new way to approach design. “We don’t tell it what to do, we tell it what we need,” he said. “we let it explore the entire solution space on its own.”

While this may seem very futuristic, Autodesk’s vision is that we are moving into an era of considering the needs of people, and letting the human experience drive the use and development of software.


I thought that was already happening, and the computer was already augmenting natural talent, but this appears as a stronger message along those lines. Dreamcatcher will be released early in 2017.

Dreamcatcher is designed to expand users’ perspective and elucidate their ideas. They might decide to use it with Fusion or other tools, so they won’t be dropping other products to use it.

A next step in this process is the introduction of virtual reality. “You as designer need to experience the thing while creating it,” said Kowalski. “By immersing in VR, you’re more connected to your data, and it becomes more detailed and emotionally meaningful. You interact the way an occupant of a building does.”


African Design Centre

Speaker Christian Benimana, director of African Design Centre in Rwanda, spoke about his experiences doing architectural design and building in his country. He talked about going to college in China, where he had to learn Chinese, let alone learn architecture. “China needed to design with the environment in mind,” Benimana said. “It has a massive population. It needed to develop the talent needed to design and build contextually appropriate infrastructure.”

Population growth and urbanization, which Benimana said are Chinese problems, are not exclusive to China however. They are also the problems of Rwanda. The population of Africa as a whole is predicted to be 2.5 billion by 2050. That is the current population of China and India combined.

“We will need to have built 300 million housing units, 850,000 schools and 400,000 hospitals,” said Benimana.

He proposes that we must leverage the design and building process to adopt a new model of equitable and sustainable development. #beyondthebuilding

Rwanda didn’t have a single doctor until recently. Instead of building buildings to house a hospital, Benimana said they looked at the issues and tried to address as many of them as possible. The threat of airborne disease is huge in Africa, so a failsafe air system throughout the hospital was put in place. It is a patient-centric hospital, where the beds are flipped so patients can see the beautiful views outside. Solar ventilation is another feature that made its way into the hospital design.

They are working with the governments of Rwanda and Liberia to redefine the establishing of rural hospitals. This was the first hospital to be built in Rwanda carrying these design standards and now they are completing a city hospital design, that needs to also be scaled in a systematic way. From this work Benimana established the African Design Centre.

“On the continent of Africa, there are 35,000 architects,” said Benimana. “Italy alone has 125,000 architects. To empower this new generation of architectural designers, (#LoFab), we have noted these key principles:

  • Hire locally
  • Source regionally
  • Train where you can
  • Uphold dignity
  • Learn to understand the link between decision making and delivery.”

Throughout the design there is a need for architects/designers to understand project delivery process, to change and affect human life.

The production of working drawings is paramount, and the Centre wants to master the skill of delivering good designs. By doing research they can understand the potential of human talent. With advocacy, they can give designers tools for communications and improve the fabrication process and the teaching of human skills.

“We also want to empower the leaders who will design a more equitable, just and sustainable Africa,” said Benimana. Issues such as continued education, climate change and cultural maintenance are all top priority.

Robot Designer Anna Nixon

CEO Carl Bass introduced the most extraordinary 16-year-old high school junior from Oregon, Anna Nixon, a robot designer with First Robotics.

She began by quoting John Dewey who said, “We only think when confronted with a problem.” She said most students don’t recognize the value of the subjects they study in school because they don’t know how they will use them in life.

Nixon is supporting girls in science, technology and math in a STEM program. Students need to be able to apply skills, she said. The First Robotics program can apply their skills in robotics, and their goal is to get that robot working. Kids learn how to use CAD and robotics and can begin at a very young age.

Driving into the Future

Bass said that many customers are now doing things with technology that once we only dreamed about and it seems like science fiction. Zaha Hadid is constructing a building that’s being manufactured, not built.

Auto executives are anxious because the world is changing and these three things are part of the change: autonomous systems, ownership and powertrains.

Self-driving cars are about creating a great experience for the drivers, so that it becomes more of an “ultimate passenger experience.”

Dreamcatcher - Generative Design

Dreamcatcher – Generative Design

“Cars will need software that responds to the world in milliseconds,” said Bass. “These companies can’t just be building cars; they need to build drivers.”

Bass also added that we may not own our cars either. “Under 30s don’t own a car. They don’t want to. They have kickscooters and Uber and car sharing.”

He pointed out that for a hundred years, car ownership influenced everything the industry did. Americans spent over $6 billion at car dealerships.

The companies that are embracing this change from ownership to access are going to win.

Makers of powertrains are dismissive of electric cars. Companies that have spent 100 years learning how to make transmissions have a hard time seeing a new thing about to become essential. Regardless of the scale of your company, you still need to innovate, be proactive.

Disruption can be the source of new value, and it might be what makes your company great in the future. One of the disruptions in Autodesk is machine learning. What about using machine learning to design new software?

“Software can customize itself to become the tool you need,” suggested Bass. “Tools learn from your experience. We’re also not building tools for you anymore, we’re building tools for your teams.”

Panelists: Randy Swearer, vice president Education Experiences, Autodesk; Ryan Kelly director of business ops, MakeTime; David Ian Weightman, University of Illinois, professor; Erin Bradner, senior principal research scientist, Autodesk; and Mike Haley, senior director, Engineering Platforms and Technology, Autodesk.

Panelists: Randy Swearer, vice president Education Experiences, Autodesk; Ryan Kelly director of business ops, MakeTime; David Ian Weightman, University of Illinois, professor; Erin Bradner, senior principal research scientist, Autodesk; and Mike Haley, senior director, Engineering Platforms and Technology, Autodesk.

The Future of Work

A panel discussion for media and analysts entitled “The Future of Work,” featured panelists: Randy Swearer, vice president Education Experiences, Autodesk; Ryan Kelly director of business ops, MakeTime; David Ian Weightman, University of Illinois, professor; Erin Bradner, senior principal research scientist, Autodesk; and Mike Haley, senior director, Engineering Platforms and Technology, Autodesk.

Weightman said that in the past, experience and seniority were more valued, but now when he talks to students and professors, it’s the opposite. Employers are looking for young people who can adapt to the speed, and think in new ways, and are more flexible.

Bradner sits with customers in front of technology. “I’ve seen a change in the demands technology is putting on our customers,” said Bradner. “In AutoCAD the question might be, how do I use the dimensioning tool? Where are the tools and how do I use them? In the era of Revit, users needed an increase in abstract thinking – how do I understand families of objects? In Generative Design it is, how do I reverse engineer this algorithm so I understand how it’s thinking?”

“HR is changing, teams of humans will be replaced by machines, and there will be high performance team issues also, as they are changed,” said Kelly.

“We have adequate point solutions for most problems out there, after 30 years of making solutions,” said Carl Bass in summary. “Most of the issues I see with productivity are transmission of data from place to place in incompatible formats. The way we get people productive is to work on the team aspect and try to bring more tools together. The biggest problem is communication. This is the twist we’ve taken; it’s almost entirely around the cloud based platform.”

Forge is Autodesk’s development platform product for creating apps and services. Autodesk plans to use Forge as its common data environment and engine for simplifying its own product offerings.

“One of the benefits of moving to the cloud is we don’t have these monolithic deliveries,” said Bass. “Fusion and the microservices platform will make their way to core cloud platform, for tiny as well as big industry.”


Wednesday Morning Product Keynote with Amar Hanspal

Senior vice president Amar Hanspal delivered what he called “the first ever product keynote,” about everything going on with Autodesk products. Well, not quite everything, but he talked about the improvements in certain products this year.

Dynamo player is now in Revit, and they have also added Scan-to-BIM, that allows you to validate a model from a point cloud, and Revit moved fabrication right next to design.

Civil 3D now includes roadway corridors, BIM interoperability, design and engineering workflows.

AutoCAD added PDFs into editable drawings, making it very simple to share designs and drawings whether mobile or desktop.

Autodesk has also been paying attention to making the products work better together. “We’re also connecting them to industry standard software and hardware,” said Hanspal.

Autodesk has partnered with Leica, making Recap 360 available on mobile devices, so you can start scanning from a tablet, and your scan and model can be handed off to anyone with the cloud.

Autodesk Live was introduced in July, which allows you to move from Revit into interactive experiences, to experience what a building might be like before it is built.

“This is a big deal; people have had to do a lot of data wrangling and scripting but Live does it for you on the cloud easily. Get it a fast simple way – Revit to VR in two clicks,” said Hanspal.

The Subscription relationship is one where you make a commitment and Autodesk makes a commitment to you to maximize investment. Cloud services always improve, simulation services are on the cloud so you can test your idea, predict behavior, all by using the compute power of the cloud, and collaboration services where you can share and manage your projects as a single project.

Future thinking includes being native to the cloud, with data automatically reconfiguring itself for the workload in a common data environment.

Autodesk Fusion 360 and BIM 360 are moving to integrated platforms and experiences, connected, capable of on demand experiences, and are the key to realize the future of making things, said Hanspal.

Steven Hooper, senior director Fusion Product Management, talked about using Fusion 360 for whatever you’re doing.

Autodesk’s goal was to create something truly inspirational, with which anyone can view, edit, markup – and is more than data management, has all tools to create industrial design, 3D CAD, apps, with Freeform, can maintain design intent without compromise, and communicate design intent with cloud based documentation.


“The nature of products is changing. You can embed deeper level of controls in your products so you and your customers can connect with your products in different ways. Smart product requires electronic design capabilities (this will be part of Fusion 360),” said Hooper.

Fusion can maintain integrity of design right the way through the manufactured product.

Sarah Hodges, director, BIM 360 Business Line, spoke about the fact that construction is so much more than the execution of a beautiful design. It’s a labor-intensive process to bring a piece of infrastructure to life and construction is still a very analog driven process.

“The opportunity to transform the way the construction industry works is enormous,” said Hodges. “The common data environment for construction is BIM 360 Docs. You’re one team and BIM 360 Docs puts your project at the center and then puts your team there, all information is there.”

There are 58 new features in BIM 360 Docs among them, powerful publishing tools, automated hyperlinking and search, to resolve design issues.

Android is the second most popular platform for construction and BIM 360 Docs will be available on Android.

RFIs will be added to BIM 360 Docs on December 19th as the latest feature.

Submittals will become part of BIM360 Docs.

Project IQ uses a series of machine learning and algorithms to analyze risks in construction, to draw insights for current and future projects.

Autodesk has Project IQ pilots going on right now.

Project Quantum integrates design integration, fabrication and enables multidiscipline collaboration, according to Hanspal. “BIM can anticipate many challenges of the building process. It’s still hard for teams to do challenges across a process. Project Quantum is not a single monolithic giant app; rather it is a family of workspaces woven together in a common data environment and kept in sync with a common communication bus.”


According to Hanspal, this year’s products and tools are being delivered at a faster rate, on the cloud with better cloud connection, lots of enhancements, increasing stability and value of your subscription. It sounds like a tall order, but the company promises to build connected, capable, on-demand solutions for both media and AEC….all utilized with the common data environment.

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Categories: 2D, 3D, 3D PDF, 3D printing, AEC, AECCafe, apps, architecture, AutoCAD, Autodesk, Autodesk LIVE, BIM, building information modeling, Civil 3D, civil information modeling, Cloud, collaboration, construction, consumerization, convergence, display wall, engineering, field, field solutions, file sharing, greenhouse gas emissions, IFC, IMAGINiT, infrastructure, integrated project delivery, Internet of Things, IoT, lidar, managed services, MEP, mobile, mobile printing, plant design, point clouds, project management, reality capture, render farms, rendering, simulation, site planning, sustainable design, terrain, video, video surveillance, virtual reality, visualization, wearable devices

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