BOXX Shows Up at AIA
This year we were delighted to see workstation specialist BOXX in attendance at the AIA National Convention for the first time ever. Joe Pizzin, Technical Marketing Manager for BOXX, said the event was well worth attending and their booth had excellent traffic.
BOXX, like many vendors, had a contest to win an APPEX 2 Lumion Edition workstation. The company was showing demos primarily on two machines, an APPEX 2, the most common workstation they sell (apparently by a wide margin) and an APPEX 4 system, which is a dual CPU model that is oriented at many-core workflows.
Being Mac people for Mac people, Pete Evans and I introduced who we were and asked the nice folks at BOXX questions about the pro market as well as their equipment. Let’s just say, they had some interesting anecdotes about pro Mac users to share with us. But then again, Apple rivals would. Yet, let’s be honest, BOXX is making pro hardware with a lot of flexibility and their hardware options are pretty darn cool. It’s just not running OS X.
So the APPEX 2 system had a top of the line Nvidia Quadro “workstation class” GPU inside paired with a top of the line gaming oriented GTX (see image 01). One card was driving a monitor for Revit (the Quadro card) while the other card was driving a monitor for Lumion. In this case, Revit would benefit best from the workstation certified card, says BOXX, while Lumion will benefit best on the high speed GTX card. The point is—with BOXX systems you can load two or more GPUs in most systems and have an arrangement just like this if it suits your particular. This reality (in both cases all Nvidia) is more common in workflows than folks may realize. And Apple’s new Mac Pro with its all AMD workstation class cards doesn’t allow any flexibility in their setup or renewal with zero end-user configurability.
The APEXX 4 system on display had, we recall, four GPUs inside powering advanced application loads. Such a system would be ideal for workflows with intensive parallelism capabilities, such as simulation software loads wherein the GPUs could be utilized for compute.
The Power of Augment
Augment was a runner up in both the desktop and mobile categories for its innovative AR (augmented reality) software solutions that run on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android, the clear dominant platforms for desktop and mobile devices.
Augment is one of those AR companies that is helped kill the QR code, a technology that originated in the Japan auto industry. Lots of folks have QR code reader apps on their smartphones, so they can get additional information from scanning the unique square bar codes. Yet, the technology has been on the way out for a few years now.
Augment’s mobile apps don’t need rely on QR codes, instead their technology can scan images on regular printed pages. Say, for example, you are an architectural office and have a printed office portfolio or brochure for prospective clients. Using Augment’s technology you can turn that printed literature into the material Augment’s AR app uses for bring up 3D models. Michael Bellant, inside sales executive at Augment, showed us how this works pointing his iPhone at a picture of an architectural floor plan. Augment’s app instantly brought up a 3D BIM model.
Once up, you can spin and interact with the 3D model. And speaking of models, Augment’s technology can work with several 3D model formats, including: Blender, Cinema 4D, Maya, Revit, Inventor, Rhino, SketchUp and 3ds Max.
Augment’s technology consist of three elements: Augment Desktop, which is used to preview and configure your 3D models (you can do things like explode models, setup colors and textures, etc); Augment Manager, the cloud based solution where you upload and manage your Augment content; and Augment Mobile, the iOS and Android apps where you can view your AR models in context.
Oasys Software—Solving the Email Problem
Arup’s offshoot Oasys Software are the makers of MassMotion, a pedestrian simulation software used for evacuation simulations and other egress and flow studies, as well as Mail Manager, a purpose built solution that works as a plugin on the Microsoft Outlook email program, designed to solve the email overload problem.
Mail Manager is still, at present, a Windows-only solution. But company representatives did say that requests for a Mac version are often received and a solution may be possible in the near future. A statistic cited in their marketing says that 75% of all project data is stored in email. That would certainly be the case if AEC firms let that happen. By letting it happen, we mean if they were not encouraging or insisting that stakeholders communicate through web-based collaboration and document management systems like Autodesk A360 or Trimble Connect. The issue with email systems holding data is its lack of centralization (data silo effects) which foreclose the ability of other team members and collaborators to see the data they need to see at the right time because it exists only in someone’s email folder.
This is where Mail Manager is aimed. Its strong suit isn’t just that it has a flexible and powerful search feature, but that it can work with central filing locations like LAN-based file servers. The software is also intuitive and can suggest, smartly, file saving locations for emails and their attachments.
At Architosh we are not a fan of email for project communications and have written about this in the past, suggesting even message-centric all-purpose project management SaaS solutions, like Basecamp from 37signals, are far superior to common email. Still, email is with us more than ever before, despite all the new web solutions out there. Firms that use Mail Manager include places like HOK, Ziger/Snead Architects, Pascall+Watson, L7, Chapman Taylor and others.
The idea that someone can perhaps make email work for AEC workflows deserves interest and attention. The Oasys folks are certainly addressing this sector and they are alone in doing so. This is an email solution for and by AEC professionals.
While Mail Manager addresses the email burden in AECO, it wasn’t the star attraction at the Oasys Software booth. That belongs to MassMotion and its little sibling Flow. Flow is a lower-priced version of MassMotion, the most advanced pedestrian simulation software on the planet. We have written about this product in-depth before and awarded in an honorable mention for BEST of SHOW in the past.
At $7,000.USD Flow is still a pricey piece of software for a small office. But the types of mid-sized practices doing buildings where pedestrian simulation software would pay dividends shouldn’t bark at this price point. Flow does things nothing else can.
Flow and MassMotion got a big rewrite since last year. With Autodesk’s take-over of Softimage and its eventual downward path, Oasys Software, which utilized Softimage’s core for this app, did a full or mostly full rewrite of the software over its own 3D engine. The new software can import a good array of file formats useful to architects, including: IFC converted AutoCAD, Microstation, SketchUp, Rhino, and Revit models, among others.
Both Flow and MassMotion have their own modeling tools, so users can model up their own environments as well. Transportation hubs, large assembly buildings, shopping malls and entertainment complexes and otherwise complex large structures with high occupancy levels all benefit from this kind of crowd and pedestrian analysis software.
Lumion is one of the hot new rendering and animation tools in the architectural world. This company was at AIA for what we believe is the second time in its history and the booth gets a lot of traffic. Lumion renderings look very impressive and the developer, we are told, is a small group in Scandinavia and has a hardcore view and dedication to pushing Lumion to higher and higher levels.
Those are good things. And it shows as this product advances. Sadly, for Mac users we are told there is no interest by the developer group—which is small, and that could be part of the issue—to produce a version for the Mac platform despite a many requests for it. Last year at AIA in Atlanta, they told us Mac requests were pouring in. This year, we heard a different tone and a decisive no. No Mac support coming, soon at least.
Lumion has both photographic realism and render effect looks—both of which can be animated into flybys. It works with Revit, Vectorworks, ALLPLAN, ArchiCAD, Microstation and more, including modelers like Rhino and SketchUp. The latest version is 6.3 and features a new rendering engine which has access to extra memory on the graphics card in Windows 10. This allows much bigger scenes. Transparent trees are a hot new feature, as is support for Oculus Rift and GearVR virtual reality gear.
Dodge Sweets App for Autodesk and Revit
We have already discussed much about the new Dodge technical direction with the Sweets online system. In a nutshell, the company has moved away from the idea of hosting all that data themselves and instead have provided a technology that allows for a “structured search” capacity (that brings in web data they don’t have to maintain) that aims to be far more beneficial than a vanilla Google search—which is so very common in AEC today.
We aim to dig in deeper on this development because we heard from them that they were talking to other BIM providers, such as the ArchiCAD folks, about how to bring the same technology to other solutions. Their SDK is open and accessible to all takers and it behooves Dodge to spread this technology out among all the BIM platforms and design tools. We also understand that this plugin may be coming to the Mac version of AutoCAD as well. So these are things we want to get behind and understand further.
As we stated in our earlier mentions, Dodge is showing the fluidity of data possible in BIM workflows and in many ways the timing here is both suggestive of the maturity happening with BIM and an emphasis this year (more so than in years past) with the “I” in BIM.