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Member Access — (emTech) Section Plus for Xpresso #23

Member Access—(emTech) Section Plus is our exclusive that builds off of what we shared in Xpresso #23 on robotics, 3D printers, smart city news, computational design, remote collaboration tools in AEC and manufacturing industries.

(emTech) Section Plus

(emTech) Section Plus is about providing “more” content on emerging technologies—the primary topic of the Xpresso newsletter. This deeper version of (emTech) is provided exclusively for annual subscribers of architosh INSIDER Membership.


Special Feature

We published a special feature titled, “2021 Tech Trends — CAD/3D Industry Executives Share Thoughts.”



We look at technology trends in CAD and 3D industries from the vantage point of long-arc trends and the impact of the pandemic context. 

IN A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD, WHAT TECH TRENDS will have emerged, accelerated, or changed for us all in the years ahead? And specifically—what impacts will there be in the CAD and 3D industries?

To answer these questions, CAD and 3D industry executives share perspectives that are naturally impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Firms and individuals around the globe have had to make numerous adjustments to live-work life arrangements. Many of these changes will remain with us for years to come. Additionally, we look at long-arc tech trends and how the pandemic context has possibly impacted them. But first, five trends for 2021.

Trend 1: Mobility is Heightened

This is both the most obvious and most interesting trend with respect to the pandemic context. To get the best sense of what is happening across multiple CAD and 3D industry segments, we had the good fortune of Lenovo approaching us to discuss 2021 trends. Speaking to a world-leader in workstation computer hardware added insights we might not get from software folks.

Chris Ruffo, Worldwide Segment Manager, Architecture, Engineering, and Product Development, Lenovo, told us the pandemic had altered the mobility parameter in computing. “Mobility is going to be the new norm,” he says. “We believe this is going to continue, and many of the things that our customers learned in the past year are going to be a part of their permanent workflow.”



We partner with a firm called TGX that enables users to connect a mobile workstation to a desktop workstation or a rack workstation to do more powerful workstation type work.



With professionals forced to work from home, the CAD and 3D industries faced myriad challenges—from computer power, collaboration to data storage. These three core challenges drove the importance of other trends listed below. But the initial factor facing the closures of offices was, “how do I bring my work home?”

To read the full story, click here to Xpresso #23. You can subscribe to Xpresso here; it’s free!


The Top Ten Must-Reads


I’ve combed the Internet to find the most interesting, compelling, or controversial stories about the AEC and manufacturing industries, and the social and emerging technological forces at play on both:


1 – The U.S. Capitol wasn’t designed for an insurrection, is the title of this FastCompany piece by Mark Wilson. This an excellent article that discusses the long-standing observation that the U.S. Capitol building is a security challenge. “It’s kind of easy to defend a closed installation—an army base or nuclear plant. Nobody gets in. If you get over the fence, we shoot you. But we’re talking about the place we invite the public to, and [want them to] feel welcome,”   (FastCompany)

emTech Xpresso

The Capitol east front at night. (Image: Martin Falbisoner, Wikicommons)

So Washington DC was designed to be open?  Indeed, that is the case. Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed DC in the grand classical architecture style, and the gesture was aspirational. “It wasn’t meant to feel exclusive or fortress-like. The city is one big symbolic gesture to what the nation is supposed to be.”

2 – Beyond the Master Builder: How Robots Can Really Transform the Role of the Architect. Boston Dynamics construction manager Brian Ringley sees invaluable opportunities for robotics that have little to do with automating building construction and installation.  (Architecture Magazine)

emTech Xpresso

A means and methods debate?  Absolutely! “This file-to-field approach, challenging even for the few vertically integrated organizations currently capable of its execution, is infeasible to implement in today’s prevailing risk-averse and siloed design-bid-build delivery model.”

3 – Week in Tech: A New Model Predicts the Impact of Climate Change on Cities. ‘University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’ researchers have completed a study on climate change that predicts the temperatures in certain urban areas will, on average, increase between 1.9C and 4.4C by the end of the century. (Architect Magazine)

What is the call to action? The full research findings are published here on Nature. The findings call for multi-modal global projections of local urban climates for climate-sensitive development and to support green infrastructure intervention as a means to reduce urban heat stress on large cities. 

4 – How robots could save one of the world’s most unusual cathedrals.  “Barcelona’s most famous landmark has all the makings of a fantastic blockbuster movie: politically savvy priests, robots, vigilante revolutionaries, the husband of the Virgin Mary, a seemingly mad but brilliant architect, vandals, desecrators, and 138 years of a still-unfolding plot.”   (CNN Style)

Closing in on the finish line. This article covers the history of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, Spain. It discusses architect Mark Burry’s role in the completion of the basilica and the use of computers to solve some of the toughest challenges facing its completion. The estimated construction finish for Gaudi’s masterwork is now aimed for 2026, marking the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. 

5 –  3D Printers May Be Toxic to Humans.  In what is certainly of deep concern to advocates of this emerging technology, 3D printers may, in fact, be bad for us—or at least until we learn to protect ourselves during their use.  (Forbes)

What’s the risk? 3D printers can emit toxic particles during their operations. A study presented at the 2020 Society for Risk Analysis virtual Annual Meeting in December showed that the particles released during the printing process could affect indoor air quality and public health. The melting of plastic filaments and other similar materials tend to release volatile compounds into the air near the printer and the object. Read here to learn more. 

6 – Foster + Partners adopts Spot the Boston Dynamics robot dog.  Top global architecture firm Foster + Partners has employed the robot dog Spot by Boston Dynamics to oversee construction at Battersea Power Station in London. (Dezeen)

How are they using Spot?  Spot hold scanners on his back and he walks around the site regularly scanning the site to monitor progress. Readers are already aware Spot can walk up and downstairs and over tough terrain. The data is sent back to the office where it is used to build a “digital twin” model of the project as it is built. Spot has its own sensors but at Battersea Spot carries additional equipment. The robot can carry up to 14 kilograms of equipment. 

7 – A Trillion-Transistor Chip That Just Left a Supercomputer in the Dust.  “The history of computer chips is a thrilling tale of extreme miniaturization. The smaller, the better is a trend that’s given birth to the digital world as we know it. So, why on earth would you want to reverse course and make chips a lot bigger?” (SingularityHub)

Wafer Scale Compute by Cerebras breaks record-setting CFD (computational fluid dynamics) score, in fact, complete the task faster than real-time. In other words, this computer can tell you what is going to happen in the future. This can be used in aerospace applications, among other applications including AI.

A chip so fast it can tell what is going to happen in the future! This chip has 1.2 trillion transistors, compared to 16 billion in Apple’s new M1 chip. It is the size of an iPad. Why make such a large chip? Cerebras, its maker, is hoping for innovations in AI and simulations of the physical world. How fast is it? Housed in a CS-1 computer, the Cerebras Wafer-Scale Engine (Cerebras WSE) executed a complex fluid dynamics simulation 200 times faster than the Joule 2.0 supercomputer. In fact, the CS-1 with the WSE chip was faster than real-time. In other words, it can tell you what is going to happen in the future. 

Cerebras Wafer Scale Engine, the world’s largest chip ever built. 56x the size of the largest GPU.

Why is it so fast?  Supercomputers are made up of many chips all tied together through data interconnects. Cerebras WSE in the CS-1 contains just one chip and essentially cuts out the commute time. The interesting implication for this work with Cerebras is the idea of making chips actually larger. The CS-1 is the size of an undercabinet refrigerator. 

8 – Robots Made of Ice Could Build and Repair Themselves on Other Planets.  Ice is all over the solar system, and exploring robots could use it as a structural material.  (IEEE)

IceBot is a proof of concept robot made of ice. (Image: GRASP Lab)

How would it work? Robots aren’t designed to self-report like in Star Wars. If their parts break they need material resources to fix them, even if they are smart enough to repair things. That’s where ice comes in, as it is everywhere on Mars, for example. 

9 – The smart city news that shaped 2020  Smart Cities Dive identified 20 stories detailing the prevalent and groundbreaking trends that influenced a year like no other.  (SmartCitiesDive)

A highlight story example:  One story is about the town or city library as a smart city hub for digital intelligence. As a source of information already, libraries are increasingly playing a role in smart city initiatives. 

10 – The future of airport design after COVID-19  The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost all aspects of life and facilities. Airports have especially been affected.  (Construction Specifier)

Future airport design. Big changes are potentially coming to airport design, aimed at helping to stop the pandemic from getting worse and doing the same for future pandemics. At the center of new “design changes” will be how space is used throughout the airport complex, including outside the terminal buildings. Areas where congregation happens today in airports, like at registration and ticket desks, will be eliminated and those processes will happen elsewhere, even at home using smartphones and apps to manage processes like check-in. Materials will change too to allow for new photocatalytic devices and auto-cleaning materials. And AI will be everywhere. 



Curated content: Emerging Technologies and their potential impact on CAD-based industries


Algorithms-aided Design (AAD) News:

ComputationalDesign: NEXT 3.0 The Past, Present & Future: Two-Day online interactive conference with global frontiers with live presentations, tutorials, interactive sessions, live mentorships, and panel discussions. (ArchDaily)

This event takes place this January. The third in a series. Go here to register and learn more.

This event takes place this January. The third in a series. Go here to register and learn more.


ACADIA 2020 went huge in 2020! Due to the global pandemic, the annual ACADIA (Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture) conference went virtual and in doing so had a massive turnout! More important, perhaps, the conferences’ developments from the pandemic context may include things that can present in future ACADIA conferences. (ArchNewspaper)


New Digital Tools in a Post-Pandemic World:

Emerging Tools:  Due to the global pandemic, we have all had to make adjustments, in firms, in design and engineering schools, on the job site, in the factory, and at home. Here are some other interesting tools developments with comments.

Nvidia’s Omniverse — We have mentioned this before either on Architosh or in this newsletter. Omniverse works with Universal Scene Description (USD) files and Material Definition Language (MDL) files, both loading, creating, and managing these data sets.

Further Analysis & Commentary:  This technology enables co-collaborative creation and editing of 3D models and scenes—in other words, multiple people working towards the same end goal but as a team and using different tools that can work within the Omniverse system. Huw Roberts, CEO of GRAPHISOFT noted in comments to us for this newsletter that such innovations relate to the creativity coming out of the chaos of 2020, or at least address that chaos. Omniverse predates the global pandemic, but his point is more about how such technology can address this pandemic context quite beautifully. 

Arkio — Is a new beta-level interactive, collaborative 3D workspace. Multiple stakeholders can all interact and design together using various devices from VR headsets to mobile devices. It features push-pull modeling and integrations with Revit.

Further Analysis & Commentary:  We saw glimpses of this kind of technology in The Wild VR software at AU several years ago. Modeling with VR handsets is still quite challenging but will surely become vastly better with time. Arkio is in beta now but looks very promising. The ability to offer participation for stakeholders using different types of hardware is a big key win. It’s been possible for multiple users to meet, collaborate, and work together with VR systems for years, but what typical architectural client has a VR system? 

Conceptboard — this is a new collaborative whiteboard solution with an infinite canvas. You can add in video and numerous file formats onto the canvas. Then pointers with participant names float around as folks work on things together. It supports @mentions, records board history, versions, and edits and has robust role management with access and permissions. Used by corporate giants like Siemens, Lufthansa, Konica-Minolta, plus architecture firms like HOK, Perry Ellis International

Further Analysis & Commentary:  As noted in the Special Feature article on trends, there is a plethora of cloud-based collaborative solutions but few dovetail yet in impactful ways with AEC/BIM solutions. Conceptboard looks very interesting for 2D collaboration and “infinite canvases” are useful for conceptual-stage work. 

Modelo — is devoted to enabling multiple stakeholders to access and view 3D models on any type of device. Users can create a free account. The system supports (ingests) most common 3D formats, including SketchUp, Rhino, Revit, AutoCAD, Navisworks, and other open standards like OBJ and STL. Once your model is stored you can share a URL for access.



What’s Cooking: Future Xpresso Features

So definitely on tap for next month will some beginnings at testing and looking at the Mac mini M1 based machine Architosh now has its hands on. Last month it was still in shipment but our early impressions with general computing the M1 chip is quite fast. We are impressed with multiple aspects of Apple’s macOS on its ARM-based M1.

The new Mac mini with Apple Silicon M1 chip. (Image: Apple / Architosh)

We look forward to sharing this story in Xpresso #24 in February.


Closing Notes

Another item on my mind is explaining to you all that the Xpresso Index and Glossary are still on the horizon. It has been moved back to Q1, 2021 to align with other Architosh site development updates.


Reader Comments

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INSIDER Xpresso keeps CAD industry professionals up-to-date on next-gen emerging technologies (emTech) that will revolutionize the worlds of AEC and manufacturing and design. As an Xpresso reader, you will hear from some of the most important voices inventing and using the very latest tech in areas such as AI, machine learning, algorithm-aided design (AAD), AR, VR, MR, 3D printing, 3D computer vision, robotics, and SmartCities technologies.

Each issue arrives in your inbox on the first Sunday of the month. Issue #1 arrived on March 3, 2019. Full archives and easy navigation for your pleasure. Enjoy! 

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