image_thumb19I spent some time with the media troops, getting some great information on Autodesk products and plans for the future. One of the topics was Autodesk Labs. I remember when Labs put out a few new things of interest during the year, and it wasn’t hard to have a fairly good understanding of what was available. Occasionally they’d slip something past me and I’d be surprised and check out the new gizmo.

There is something new on Labs – Duh

This year I can’t begin to keep up. I feel like Custer, “Where in the hell did all that stuff come from?” 200 apps out there, ranging from new tools like Revit Structure Bridge modeler for Civil 3D, to full-on Technology previews like Fusion.  I have no idea how Autodesk Labs plan to keep up with it all, but we got a glimpse at what they are looking forward to in the future.

7 Technological Trends that will Shape Design

Brian Matthews, Vice-President of Autodesk Labs presented a fabulous discussion on new technologies that will shape design in our future.

Human Centered Design

image_thumb2First stop is the Fusion Technology Preview, which is now in it’s fourth release. I thought number three was hot. When I opened number four I was stunned. So much development in the interface. Brian explained how they have centered the design around user interaction, and continue to evolve the technology from that point to create an entirely new and continuously evolving design platform. Occasionally we see the benefits of things in Fusion being passed off to applications like the Inventor Fusion Change Manager, and Interfaces like the Cursor Context Menu. Developments in the latter have permeated Inventor Publisher with each release of Fusion.


AEC Division gets a little love with Project Vasari. This tool allows users to conceptually design buildings in an easy and fast manner, and then analyze how that building will use energy BEFORE key design decisions are made. The results plug right into Revit for a great start. We’ll be talking with Autodesk on this one a bit more.

AutoCAD Community Commands has been out for awhile, and helps people discover new tools, and new workflows that they may not have discovered by other means, based on usage of Autodesk by people around the world. It’s a pretty cool concept.


Analog to Digital

image_thumb6The Laser industry is booming and new developments are everywhere. Autodesk is working with companies in order to develop new technologies that will enable better extraction of features through indirect methods of measurement. Point Cloud technology is growing, and Labs have issued the Shape Extraction tool for AutoCAD. While this tool’s capability is still in an infant stage, it does a pretty fair job of defining 2D cross sections and 3D shapes that the user can then use to reproduce the original into a 3D model. You can count on more from me on this topic.

Photoscene Editor is another example of a quickly developing technology. I spent a little time with the tool trying to bend it to my will. While it was a waste of time to use bad input to try and get an accurate model, I was able to see how nicely Autodesk has tuned up the workflow on this technology. The demonstration they gave at AU was inspiring. Not only was the detail of the model quite accurate and mesh was tight, but the image overly was astounding. The image blur and and seaming issues were non existent. I have never seen any photogrammetry result that comes close.

Cloud Computing

Autodesk Labs Optimization for Inventor Digital PrototypingThe design world is watching as Cloud Computing technology is being implemented at impressive proportions. If you have not seen this trend infiltrating, then you are about to be hit with a sledgehammer. Autodesk is providing tools via cloud technology to give users a superior computing edge.

The Inventor Optimization Technology Preview is an awesome piece of work. I spent some time beating on this tool and it was a lot of fun. The tool takes parametric analysis functions from Inventor and puts the computing on the cloud. You configure the analysis, select the features, and push it off to someone else’s computer to make a determination of which configuration will be best suited to the criteria you request. That’s computing power that you don’t have to pay for, and storage space that you don’t have to maintain!

Brian said, “It’s not about being cheaper, it’s about what I can do that I couldn’t do before”.

Like being able to simultaneously perform hundreds of parallel analysis, and continue to work on other portions of the design while the results are processed. Now, take all that and package it off with a click, and let it be someone else’s problem. Later, the notification arrives that the process is complete, and voilà, thy result is here.  Not a good result, but the BEST result. (Sadly, the preview ended Nov 30th)

It’s not only optimization that receives a boost here, other applications are leveraging SaaS technology, like rendering. Not only one render, but multiple renders simultaneously. Project Neon takes Optimization’s ‘fire and forget’ cloud based processing technology, and notifies you when model’s renders are complete. That is such a good use of the technology, and really good example of how Autodesk Labs is listening to the Design Community.

Digital Reality

Autodesk is moving further into realism with tools that accurately depict various aspects of design models. Project Neon not only delivers Cloud functionality to the user, but adds physics based light predictions for beautiful, accurate renderings.

Project Krypton is another example that provides Inventor, AutoCAD, Solidworks, and ProE users with a real time understanding of the impact that material selection will have upon sustainability, manufacturability, and material cost.

Augmented Reality

image171This is an awesome concept that I first saw this spring at the AEC HQ at Waltham, where a mobile device was used to see utility structures that were underneath a street. They just held up the iPhone and pointed it towards the street, and could see the pipes below and they walked, in real-time.

Scott Sheppard of Autodesk Labs spoke about some cool demonstrations of the ‘Tangible View Cube’  , where he describes Augmented Reality by saying, “we can blur the distinction between what’s real and what’s synthetic”. The presenter holds and rotates a marker, and the model is superimposed and reacts as the marker is moved. Really amazing. I’m not so patiently waiting to see what will come of this (mobile hardware or not).

Cloud Data and Search

With designs becoming more complex and more and more content available in different locations, finding the information quickly and easily is critical. Project Snap is a great tool that connects users to their data no matter where it is stored, including local servers and even online. Many of the Labs’ offerings and Technology Previews are interlaced with online data reference libraries and access to additional resources that help speed up the design process.


(This discussion went by fairly quick and I was snagging candid shots of Buzz Kross, Garin Gardiner, and Kevin Schneider as they got ready. There may have been a few shots of the awesome Autodesk PR team too).

Network Effect

Brian Matthews explained how Autodesk is using Web Services, SaaS, Collaboration, Mobile Access, and Whole System Design to enable greater capacity (and flexibility) in the design process. Autodesk Labs has 17 applications that are using Web Services and it all started with Buzzsaw. A interesting side note is that Brian was the chief architect on the project.

Project Twitch is one example. The Labs site says, “The goal of Project Twitch is to enable you to instantly try AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit, and Maya without having to install or download the applications”. Not only does this have an enormous impact for many of us with mobile workstations with limited storage, but furthers the flexibility to hit Revit on the cloud when I rarely need it, without having to take up valuable space that I can use for other applications. It was noted that AutoCAD LT is running with no lag time. I suspect this is only the beginning. Cloud fed Inventor for the iPad version 7 :–).

Galileo_splash_screenNow that AU is over, Project Galileo is already out and getting some great reviews. This tool is like Navisworks for conceptual review. It gives users super easy-to-use tools to model city development in 3D space using GIS data, and  visualize how proposed developments and concepts will impact urban and natural environments and vice-versa. Complete view freedom permits looking at things from any angle.

image33Dana Probert turned me on to one of Scott’s demos, that just kicked me off my chair. Scott slid into a Revit building model (filled with office furniture) on the site that was just built in front of us, and looked out the window at the rest of the city. Classy way to end the presentation.


My Comments

Brian’s media session was great, and left us with a bit more outlook of what to expect on the very close horizon, and a better feeling of what goes on inside the Labs Division. One thing that is interesting is that the projects at Labs are different from traditional forms of software development in that the applications are provided to the public before the specific customer needs are realized. While some applications die off, most move on to integration or full development. The Labs team really has a good thing going. Actually quite amazing since all this is managed by a total of 23 personnel.

I am really impressed with the Cloud Computing potential that is being integrated. I remember reading comments from those that opposed the ‘Network Effect’ earlier this year. While the reasons may have differed, the reality is that most of the design world is not only watching this development with eager anticipation, they are molding it. Autodesk Labs hosts to almost 1.7 million users. Yeah, I double checked the numbers. With the user count increasing, and outcomes of Project Neon and the Optimization Technology Preview being a complete success, opponents of these technologies will need something different to gripe about.