[Article originally published in the January issue of our free monthly newsletter Xpresso]
MOST SOFTWARE USERS DON’T THINK ABOUT the sometimes secretive work going on inside software company labs, but the ones that do tend to be pushing the edge of what is possible with technology in their own design practices. These are precisely the type of users who tend to be subscribers to our new newsletter focused on emTech—architosh INSIDER Xpresso.
We thought it would be interesting to talk to Vectorworks, Inc. about what is happening in their research and development work. What follows is an interview with Steve Johnson, vice president of product development, Vectorworks, and Dave Donley, director of product technology and head of advanced research activities at Vectorworks.
(Anthony Frausto-Robledo) The Xpresso newsletter is all about peering into emergent or emerging technologies (emTech) in the CAD industries, particularly AEC. We tend to think about emTech as being “edge-of-market,” which means the technology in question may be available on the market but with very low adoption or isn’t even visible in the market. Which types of technology endeavors are you researching in your advanced technology group?
(Steve Johnson) We look at both. We try to push ourselves to look into the unseen, the not yet visible to the market technologies, but we are also connecting to the established edge of the market. For example, when we connect to our Nemetschek Group sister brand, Maxon’s new Redshift rendering engine, we are connecting to the established edge there for visualization.
When we are looking at Google or Apple and their AR technology, we are putting that into our mobile apps and AR is established but still more on the edge. We want to make sure that the stuff out there on the edge is more accessible and can reach the imagination of our end users. More and more, we are trying to invest more of our time connecting to these types of leading-edge technologies.
So machine learning (ML) must be on your radar—you have spoken about it before. ML and AI are two of the hottest topics in emergent technologies out there.
We are constantly thinking about ML and AI. These emerging technologies provide a new toolset for solving our customers’ problems. For example, we are harnessing machine-learned AI to enhance the rendering processes, like having it quickly enhance rendering resolution or apply a stylization transform. We are also looking to apply image recognition technology to Nomad’s reality capture solution, so it can recognize the presence of architecture features out on site.
We see opportunities to take the basic geometry from Rhino.Inside and attach BIM data to represent architectural elements. Additionally, we have been thinking about interoperability between Grasshopper and Marionette.
We are also developing our own custom AI to support our user experience initiatives. Think of the recommendations you get while using Netflix. We think we can take advantage of Vectorworks’ usage patterns to train a new recommendation based on AI that streamlines and enhances customer experience. AI technology that provides suggestions to help the user find the next appropriate tool or command—AI that finds targeted knowledge resources from Vectorworks University.
So your advanced research group and initiatives stemmed from something you had called Innovation Week. Can you tell me more about what types of funnels generate innovation topics for your research work? Is it an annual thing still where you capture ideas?
(Dave Donley) It started that way, an annual activity, yes. But we are in the process of revamping it. It’s important that we are always improving our innovation process. Beginning this January we will implement a new, year-long innovation process to better capture how this initiative has evolved in the past few years. It’s a continuous process now.
But, if I recall, it was an all-hands on deck approach to what you called Innovation Week. How does that happen with staff now?
It’s a quarterly process where we prompt our staff for ideas that relate to customer needs and to business strategy. So at the beginning of the quarter, we prompt and give employees an opportunity to research and work out those ideas and present them. Then, there is a process for filtering those ideas as we move forward and develop resources to pursue the really great ones.
The ones that are very interesting involve multiple departments here at Vectorworks in order to pull them off. So it’s not just the ideas put forth by the presentation—it takes various resources to make them work.
The point is, we have a funnel for Vectorworks employees to have the means to suggest their ideas, large and small. I look at that innovation process, and I look at the research that we do—I would say—on behalf of the users. The things that we concentrate on are the things that will be relevant to them. It’s that empathy for our users that drives our efforts.
What about pure research work?
The beginning of augmented reality in Vectorworks Nomad was that we began at a basic research level and worked on the AR features from that base. Things progressed for us and then Apple put AR into their [mobile] OS and suddenly we were ready to deliver products.
That pattern is happening a lot. That is kind of the hard way of doing it as the technology develops. But I will say again, we are doing it on behalf of the customer.
What is happening in your advanced research on the computational design side of things? And what can you tell me about opportunities like the use of Rhino.Inside to bring Rhino 3D technologies for advanced modeling and Grasshopper into Vectorworks beyond just the Rhino file import? I know you have Marionette but can you speak a little about various possibilities there?
(Steve Johnson) We see opportunities to take the basic geometry from Rhino.Inside and attach BIM data to represent architectural elements. Additionally, we have been thinking about interoperability between Grasshopper and Marionette. We’re asking ourselves, is it possible to convert a Marionette script to a Grasshopper network and vice versa? So the Rhino.Inside API may provide us a basic underpinning to have a “live sync” of the geometry created by Rhino and Vectorworks. It will also be possible to drive the Vectorworks object parameters using the Rhino.Inside API.
What are the three top areas of investigations in emergent technologies at Vectorworks? I’m not asking you to give away your business strategy here but can you give me examples of three topical areas where your research group is working?
Our three top areas of emergent technologies are as follows: Number one we are focused on AR/VR technologies, so users can inspect real-life building components and find data associated with the AR view. Number two, AI and ML allows for the inspection of drawings and offers a checking tool to find inconsistencies. And finally, our third major area is Algorithms-aided Design (AAD)….pertains to energy calculations and wind load calculations.
While those are three interesting areas I am sure your users will look forward to learning more about in the near future. Thanks for talking to Architosh for the Xpresso newsletter.
(Steve Johnson and Dave Donley) You’re very welcome. Thanks for having us.
[Editor’s note: If you enjoyed this article on emerging technologies, subscribe to our free monthly newsletter INSIDER Xpresso to read much more like it.]
[Editor’s note: Vectorworks users who have never attended the Vectorworks Design Summit conference should know that traditionally the CEO keynote, held on Day 1, typically provides some segments focused on forward-looking technologies, often coming from the advanced research teams at the company. While this varies from year to year, the conference gives an exclusive peek into the future, which is always exciting to attendees and the CAD press alike. To register for the event visit here.]