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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 Holiday Technology Wish List

December 8th, 2016 by Susan Smith

 Most of what AEC professionals need and want is how to get their designs expressed, realized and built efficiently, accurately, quickly and on budget. The solutions to these challenges can be provided with a mix of software, cloud and gadgetry, much of which you will find here.

Leica BLK 360 scanner

Leica BLK 360 scanner

A Scanner for Everyone?

At Autodesk University held in Las Vegas in November, Leica announced their new BLK 360 scanner for spherical imaging, developed in conjunction with Autodesk, at the extraordinarily low price of $15,900. This was probably one of the biggest trending and physically smallest technologies  of the conference, suggesting that everyone wants to be able to do 3D scans. The scanner is only 6.5 inches tall and four inches in diameter, and weighs 2.2 pounds. There is just one button to operate the device that will generate 360,000 points per second, has a 60 meter range, full HDR and flash support, and millimeter precision. It can be used in or outdoors, is wireless and is controlled via an iPad, with parallax free 160 MPX final image. Multiple scanning methods are offered, including laser and visible light imaging and infrared sensors for thermal imaging. Apparently, the BLK360 can capture a 360° scan in three minutes.

Before you add it to your technology holiday wish list, note that the iPad functionality is thanks to Autodesk’s ReCap 360 Pro Mobile edition that provides the controller that operates the BLK360. ReCap 360, Autodesk’s reality capture and 3D scanning software allows you to Import, view, and convert real-world objects into point clouds for conceptual modeling. Users can collaborate to measure, tag, and annotate the model with project stakeholders.

ReCap 360 Pro will allow laser scans and photos to be registered automatically, creating an accurate 3D model in just a few minutes. ReCap 360 Pro Mobile edition registers scans wirelessly that are captured in real time by the BLK360, and Autodesk’s cloud services allow users to share or transfer out the data into Autodesk software to do further design tasks with the data.

For those who have in the past hired laser-scanning professionals to scan their work, this may seem like a great option. For the laser-scanning professionals, it may seem like the product will make a sizable dent in their market, although the BLK360 won’t be as fast or have the range of the higher end scanners.

This is the first lower-priced hardware offering for Leica. Leica BLK 360 scanner may be particularly appealing to architects and engineers, who may have held back from using scanning because of costs. Those same professionals may also be using UAVs to collect information, but with reasonably priced collection devices, probably the more the merrier.

It took Leica and Autodesk over a year to develop the BLK360 scanner. The BLK360 will be made available in spring of 2017 through Autodesk’s online subscription network, and includes a subscription to ReCap 360 software.

Swinging on the Cloud

Without the cloud, much of the work that is now being done with data collection and big data would not be possible.

David Epp, Microsoft, that Microsoft’s mission was to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

With a new CEO, and renewed focus on customers and partners, the company has built more innovative stuff, and paid attention to how those technologies serve themselves.

“Partners like Bentley take technology and build things that are transformative,” said Epp. Microsoft has 70,000 partners around the world.

Azure is used by 85% of Fortune 500 companies and attracts 120,000 new Azure customer subscriptions per month.

Their servers are run by about 10 people. “No one person has both physical and logical access to servers, for a security point of view,” said Epp.

With an intelligent cloud, Microsoft has built in predictive analytics and deep machine learning. “It’s not about building a product, it’s about making every one of our services, and our partners, smarter,” said Epp.

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

While the cloud is big, the question is, how fast will it happen? IT departments are still wary of the cloud in many cases, so it will be a challenge to get them up to speed and accepting of it. When Autodesk said they were discontinuing the sale of desktop product sales and going to cloud subscription only, according to some sources, there was a huge rush in users stockpiling the old model. Some may also have purchased the subscription model because they want to be able to have both options.

The heightened facility of moving big data around, better communication and collaboration between companies, contractors and owners, will help fuel the change to the cloud. Products like Collaboration for Revit offer cloud-based file sharing.

Point Clouds

Point Clouds are at a crossroads where they are becoming mainstream as a possible way to collect as-built information for infrastructure. The TCO is no longer an issue; the ability to use the data from point clouds in a functional way by using better point cloud software has improved so much that it has changed the whole perspective of adding this into an organization’s bag of tricks. Added to this are the low-cost, easy to use scanners such as Leica’s BLK 360 and others that will soon come on the market.

Point clouds merge what’s really there with the model of what’s there, or the drawings to further accuracy, and coupled with the use of drones, users have more options now that restrictions on drones have been lowered.

Reality Capture and Reality Modeling

Bentley Systems’ ContextCapture reality modeling offering over the past year, introduced at the 2015 conference, and derived from the acquisition of Acute3D, ContextCapture is used to process digital photos from a variety of cameras including smartphone cameras, and aerial photography, including UAVs, to provide engineering-ready reality meshes.

Winner Innovation in Reality Modeling: City of Helsinki - Helsinki 3D+ Helsinki, Finland. Image Courtesy of Bentley Systems

Winner Innovation in Reality Modeling: City of Helsinki – Helsinki 3D+
Helsinki, Finland. Image Courtesy of Bentley Systems

Reality meshes provide precise real-world context for design, construction, and operations decisions for use throughout the lifecycle of projects. The latest development in the offering is the ability to include point clouds from laser scans that can be combined with photos in a “hybrid” input to form a reality mesh.

At this year’s Be Inspired Awards, over 15 (out of 60) awardees and finalists used ContextCapture in their design processes. These participants used reality modeling in all areas of infrastructure: architecture, plant and process, facilities management, rail and transit, roads, smart cities, government and utilities, and much more.

Designing What You Need and Virtual Reality                              

Autodesk Dreamcatcher is generative design software designed to expand users’ perspective and elucidate their ideas. They might decide to use it with Autodesk Fusion 360 or other tools, so they won’t be dropping other products to use it. “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,” said Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski.

A next step in this process is the introduction of virtual reality. “You as designer need to experience the thing while creating it. 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.”

Data Mining

According to Carl Storms of IMAGINiT, the data that can be extracted from BIM can be used for many different purposes. Take IMAGINiT Clarity, an analytics product that extracts out 50 different metrics for every model. More and more people are getting into data mining and using it with business intelligence tools.

Another trend we’re seeing is the use of BIM data by owners. “The owners’ commitment to construction data is far longer than that of the construction crew,” said Matt Mason.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

From Apple

The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is being reviewed heavily and there are definitely some good and not so good things about it. The Touch Bar that replaces the row of function keys seems to be generally well received, and there is a “tap and drag” feature to it that allows you to control brightness and volume functions. According to one reviewer, Touch Bar’s utility will vary based on how each app takes advantage of it, and not all apps offer customization yet.

The Apple Touch ID is good, as it is on the iPhone, and many like the option to use Apple Pay right from your keyboard.

The USB changover has received a lot of discussion and some people find the transition from USB-A to USB-C cables tiresome and others are okay with it.

MagSafe is replaced by USB-C and allows you to be able to charge from either the left or right side of the MacBook Pro. Reviewers have remarked on having to pull out the SD Card reader when they want to import photos and video, but Apple will probably have users trained in no time to the inconvenience. There is a new keyboard that has been mostly well received.


So there you have it. I have gotten sneak peaks at some wonderful new desktop offerings that will be out in the New Year that are currently under embargo. I look forward to hearing about those and reporting on them for you next year.

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Categories: 2D, 3D, AEC, AECCafe, Apple, apps, architecture, AutoCAD, Autodesk, Bentley Systems, BIM, building information modeling, Cloud, collaboration, construction, engineering, field solutions, IES, point clouds, reality capture, simulation, site planning, subscription programs, sustainable design

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