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AU2015 RECAP—Blurred Lines, Crossed Boundaries in the Era of Connection

Senior Associate Editor Pete Evans, AIA, recaps Autodesk University 2015 in all its many facets, and details many of the larger themes that were pervasive at the show this year. Chief among them were this blurring of lines disciplines, fields, tool chains and the boundaries between design, manufacture and product use. What we saw at AU 2015 was the emergence of a CAD company transforming into a company that will service industries far and wide across the full spectrum from initial concept to end-user and configuration and optimization based on performance and use data. It is a brave new world and Autodesk is at its leading edge.

Autodesk University—An Architosh ‘First Experience’

What is Autodesk University about? Surely Autodesk.

But Autodesk is a very different Autodesk than 5-10 years ago. And it’s definitely not about Windows or Macintosh. Or apparently any other OS or conventional platform anymore. The cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) has ushered in a brave, complex new world for design and technology that Autodesk is well in the midst of and well represented in. Autodesk University (AU) 2015 reinforced this position with a strong, clear message.


AU is also a very interesting conference in strong contrast to several architecture conferences attended previously. AU was extremely diverse in several ways: (1) the tools presented and focused around for some of the conference crossed several disciplines and categories, (2) the industries represented were as varied as the tools, and (3) the attendees and constituents at the conference were also quite varied. The 23rd year for AU is also a growing conference pushing 10,000 attendance in Las Vegas.

And this melting pot only further exemplified the focused message from Autodesk: This is the era of connection, where the cloud changes everything, where the Internet of Things actually happens—barriers break, lines are crossed, innovation happens. Autodesk’s message is: We are the place for the tools, technologies and partners to succeed and innovate through the future. The conference theme was “The Future of Making Things” which was reflected at almost all turns.

Autodesk University Announcements

Scott Reese, VP of Cloud Platforms, introduced the first media session with a couple of the conference themes talking about both the “Era of Connection” and “The Cloud Changes Everything” themes which were reiterated in several sessions attended at the conference. He pointed to newer Autodesk tools that exemplified this theme. Autodesk Fusion 360, PLM 360, Building OPS and 123D Circuits were all examples which crossed the lines fluidly between design, making and using. Reese also pointed to partner Panoramic Power (image 01) that has developed a product for mapping and measuring electrical signal reiterating the theme directly through this Internet of Things (IoT) example for comparing trends and flagging anomalies. This was also a bridge for talking about the immense data coming online with the IoT trend and how that portion of the IoT was being solved at Autodesk.

04 - Autodesk image from AU 2015.

01 – Autodesk image from AU 2015, featuring talk about partner Panoramic Power.

One central project that premiered on the exhibit floor and centered on the IoT was the Hack Rod from Primordial Research Project, a collaboration between Autodesk and media group The Bandito Brothers. (see image 02) Using a new solver/design tool in the Autodesk Labs called Dreamcatcher, massive captured sensor data was used to measure all aspects of the performance, ride and rider for a generative design solution. This whole process created an optimized frame from the usage data from the prototype described by the team as “networked matter.”

The Era of Dead Things is Over

So around all this pervasive computing and IoT, was the appropriate moment for the formal introduction of Autodesk SeeControl, a very recent acquisition only a couple months old for Autodesk. SeeControl is a new tool for capture and analysis which will provide new advantages to Autodesk customers in many industries looking to leverage the IoT. Things that literally did not have a voice do become animate objects that provide continuous feedback looping and directly informing the design and making stages of their own process and next iteration—continuous prototyping and improvement. Mickey McManus, one of the project leads on the Hack Rod, remarked, “the era of dead things is over.”

03 - A photo showing a mixed-reality image of a Hack Rod surface anomaly back on the 3D digital model in Fusion 360 measured with physical 3D scanner on the AU exhibit floor. (image: Pete Evans, Architosh)

02 – A photo showing a mixed-reality image of a Hack Rod surface anomaly back on the 3D digital model in Fusion 360 measured with physical 3D scanner on the AU exhibit floor. (image: Pete Evans, Architosh)

In another example of the IoT, Autodesk demoed their cloud based Fusion 360 with Microsoft’s Hololens. (see image 03 and title image) This integration of design technology creates digital collaborative prototypes that can be fully simulated on the cloud…and in the future done with fully IoT sensor0-based and (or just) controlled real and digital combined designs in a shared “holographic” computing space. In addition to an example on the Hack Rod itself by Autodesk, Microsoft was one of multiple strategic partners which included DAQRI, Intel and Google all demoed augmented and mixed reality projects showing the rapid development in this area of the IoT.

Readers may recall we discussed DAQRI and featured a video on it in our “AIA: Perspectives on BEST of SHOW 2015″ feature article back in June. The innovative “smart helmut” represents state-of-the art AR technology. This segues nicely into AU AEC items.

Autodesk BIM 360 Docs was also announced as a new solution for project information management in the AEC industry. As a cloud-based system, also available across mobile iOS devices, this digital document management solution becomes a “single source of truth” for correct project information in the field where it’s controlled, timely and correct.

01 - Panoramic Power (image: Autodesk PR Photo)

03 – Autodesk demoing Fusion 360 with Microsoft Hololens.  (image: Autodesk PR Photo)

Autodesk Forge was another announcement at AU with some focus and potency around the IoT with Autodesk priming this “accelerator” with a $100 million funding investment in new Forge initiatives. This platform around the IoT ecosystem encompasses all phases of design, making and using for non-silo’d, collapsed space for innovating for the future of making things—for programmers, designers, developers, inventors and manufacturers in a “frictionless” revolutionary design and manufacturing process.

Autodesk LIVEdesign had a large dedicated demo space on the exhibit floor providing a new pathway and platform for rapidly presenting design content in a game-like environment. Oriented to seamlessly work with Autodesk Revit, 3D MAX, Maya and similar Autodesk products, this solution prepares a design file to be optimized for geometry and textures for a real-time environment simply as a plugin in the design authoring program. Autodesk Stingray and Slingshot become part of an rapid realtime presentation and simulation ecosystem for partners, consultants and clients, similar to the Unreal Engine and Unity, giving Autodesk users a path for visualization and sharing designs across many environments—a rich digital part of the growing IoT—simulated and shared. (see images 04 – 05)

Also Noteworthy

Autodesk Project Dreamcatcher was part of the Primordial Project toolset, as mentioned above for the Hack Rod. It was also mentioned in additional presentations and on the exhibit floor on a number of occasions. But it was hard to make it out as a tangible product. The closest familiar comparison might be solidThinking, especially as its a solver too. But Dreamcatcher seemed to be more elusive in its generative nature where many project qualities would be input, then computerized AI and simulation synthesize a vast number of solutions—both design alternative and performance data in context of a “design solution space” which then allows for a resulting design to be directly fabricated or handed to another software tool for additional work. Dreamcatcher is a research project which seems to share some DNA with (open source) Autodesk Dynamo, which is available for the Mac via GitHub.

02 - Panoramic Power (image: Autodesk PR Photo)

04 – Autodesk LIVEDesign (image: Autodesk PR Photo)

Autodesk Project Akaba is another generative program mentioned more than once aimed at planning and architecture using spatial rules and constraints for the building profession. Interestingly, Akaba was presented (in tone) more to contractors as a tool for early project interaction and as potential additional services.

More From the Floor

CL3VER, a winner from this summer’s 2015 AIA National Architosh BEST of SHOW awards, showed updates to their cloud presentation software. CL3VER presented a brand new WebVR engine that works with the current iteration of the Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2. While this brand new VR functionality only works on the Google Chrome browser on the PC, the rest of the application is platform independent. The VR experience works convincingly well on both their existing gallery demos and new projects. This author experienced both a full scale VR experience of an architectural model and an automobile model where it was perceptually clear that the model was built at half-scale. This is one of VR’s strengths—replicating spatial sensory experience.

This capability also exposes opportunities for CL3VER which are in their development pipeline which will further enrich the immersive opportunities that VR presents such as walkthroughs and self-driven navigation. This continues to make CL3VER a very progressive and unique tool for 3D visualization in the cloud—through a browser. Additionally, CL3VER was intentionally adjacent with IrisVR, Chaos Group and Archvision as a potent set of architectural tools for visualization.

We might note here that both CL3VER and IrisVR were joint-winners in our 2015 AIA BEST of SHOW honors in the Innovation category.

01 - Autodesk's new Stingray Engine based standalone app will power interactive, data-driven scripted real-time rendered workflows in AEC.

05 – Autodesk’s new Stingray Engine based standalone app will power interactive, data-driven scripted real-time rendered workflows in AEC.

Another attendee and a good reflection of the conference theme of the connected cloud and simultaneous fusion of design, make and use was Pluralsight, an online training company. In responding to the growing need for digital training, Pluralsight has expanded its initial capabilities incorporating Digital Tutors and has content for programmers, creative content and new rapidly expanding into the AEC realm. What makes Pluralsight powerful and unique is that the learning module content is knowledge-built and crowd-sourced directly from field-experts (professionals) and highly curated within a company internal educational board. Pluralsight also uses analytics for content direction learning pathways through a “skills assessment engine” being incorporated through the recent acquisition of Smarterer, in addition to short post-course evaluations.

Autodesk and Frame also made a big announcement at the conference by officially supporting Autodesk Revit and AutoCAD through the browser without any plugins. These applications received Virtual Environment Certification for both Frame for Business and Frame Personal on the public cloud through Amazon or Azure further separating hardware platform requirements from traditional software. The cloud performance through Frame exemplified the blurring of lines, crossing of boundaries and barriers that seemed the norm rather than the exception at this year’s AU.

Analysis and Conclusion

Autodesk CEO Carl Bass opened with his keynote talking about “Reframing the problem.” He described the construction of the new Apple headquarters being treated as if it were an Apple product. A precast concrete panel “is treated like it was an airplane part. All parts are prefabricated for factory tolerances and quality… and RFID tagged.” Bass noted that the construction site was essentially an open-air factory which illustrated the converging building and manufacturing industries. Perhaps most important, he wanted to convey that opportunity was there for more than Apple. Autodesk believes that their vision and tools open that opportunity to a wider audience.


This mention of Apple was direct and very complimentary. This brought home that a new era really has been achieved: Autodesk and Apple are partners today. Clearly the plethora of iOS apps, AutoCAD and other apps directly on the OS X platform and pathways do exist that effectively and officially support other very traditionally Windows centric applications. Apple and its users benefit from this agnostic, platform-free, and cloud-centric era of connection. Apple wasn’t directly represented at this conference—as Microsoft was—but it doesn’t look like an unreasonable proposition in the years ahead.

Vicky Dobbs Beck, ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) executive in charge of strategic planning, gave a powerful presentation on storytelling. Looking at emerging and immersive tools such as the Oculus Rift and mobile technologies as iOS devices, ILM is developing new capabilities for storytelling and cinema in this design-make-use era. ILM themed some of their presentation as, “Step inside our Worlds.” The content demo’ed—some existing Star Wars materials—were cinema level, interactive from multiple character perspectives and independently view controllable as well providing a mix of simultaneous viewpoints, direct experience, non-linear and linear story comprehension. Very exciting for a Star Wars fan today, of course, but also for the development of storytelling, which is something that architecture and design does as well. Seeing the mix of immersive, generative, simulation and rapid presentation technologies ILM is addressing, and is present at AU, it’s clear the impact that IoT will have on architecture and our present understanding of design technology tools.

Dace Campbell, AIA LEED AP, Autodesk Customer Success Manager for AEC Global Services, and involved with several current transformational efforts such as LIVEdesign and Stingray, observed that over his tenure with Autodesk, a “transformation” is noticeable. This year’s AU conference really showed the company focused and on message across a very diverse product line and customer demographic—a message that reframed Autodesk less a software company and more a strategic partner—something intentionally very radical and fanatic as noted by McManus for innovation. Autodesk is very vested in a pluralistic innovative future where it can thrive. A place where software is not only a tool but an intelligent partner, an experience simultaneously encompassing design, production, consumption to co-creation, and pervasive in an agnostic cloud centric world. Autodesk appears to recognize that the complexity of the Internet of Things (IoT) will require it.