As reliable as the sunrise, Autodesk released the updates to its family of CAD and Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools this Spring. Martyn Day visited Autodesk’s San Francisco HQ to see the latest design technology.
Last year’s big news from Autodesk was the introduction of ‘Suites’, which collated its vertical applications into three levels of workflow-driven collections: Standard, Premium and Ultimate. If you use multiple applications or yearned for something like 3ds Max, then these Autodesk Suites offer a lot of bang for your buck. According to Autodesk dealers, the suites have proven popular with customers looking to increase the use of their digital data, as well as in marketing and in the field.
At the 2012 launch the workflows for suites were rudimentary at best, with some having more solid ‘serving suggestions’ as to how data could flow between them to get the real benefit of multiple applications. The 2013 launch gave the company another year to improve the compatibility between and enhance data flow throughout the products to offer greater benefits.
It is clear that Autodesk is still refining its approach to cloud technology. Autodesk Cloud, launched late last year, has already been rebranded as ‘Autodesk 360’. The service provides a free 3GB of storage as a collaboration workspace and a place to store design files that can be accessed and viewed while out on the road, through products such as AutoCAD WS and Autodesk Design Review for iOS and Android.
The service has been updated to support 2D and 3D DWGs and DWFs. There are extra benefits for subscribers with powerful online capabilities such as rendering design optimisation and energy analysis, and structural analysis, all of which are done quickly on cloud servers, freeing up machines to carry on with other work until the results come back. Subscribers are entitled to 25GB of storage space.
Hearing Autodesk talk about the cloud, one gets the feeling that it is more like a religion than a service. The company sees cloud delivery changing the way we all do computing, with CEO Carl Bass telling us that within three years cloud would be offering significant benefits to how designers work.
Autodesk is leading the charge with commercially available cloud applications and what appears to be a holistic document management and data distribution system. It is possible to create a model, save it to Autodesk Vault, have a DWF sent to the cloud and remotely accessed on a mobile device anywhere in the world. The company has also enabled 2D drawings to be saved, distributed and edited via mobile devices anywhere in the world. This is significant with customers uploading over 300,000 drawings per week.
Autodesk has created a joined up backbone of distribution management, together with number crunching specialist applications. Applications over cloud will take longer to be achieved.
Autodesk is experimenting with Revit and Inventor running on iPads over the Internet. Mr Bass is convinced customers will want and use this over typical PC workstations but the transition may take some time.
Cloud delivery could spell the end of annual releases; and sooner than we might think. This is because cloud delivery will enable all users to have access to the latest releases, which will be delivered automatically from the cloud servers.
Autodesk is looking to expand Project Butterfly, rebranded as 123D Catch, from Autodesk Labs, which combines multiple photographs to build 3D models.
Brian Mathews, former head of Labs is now vice-president of Reality Capture at Autodesk and he is passionate about the technology’s possibilities. At the launch event Mr Mathews showed how the company was using Octocopters to fly cameras over landscapes and cities, using the video they captured to turn into accurate 3D models.
Autodesk has spent a lot of time developing this technology to enable it to compete with expensive laser-based survey equipment. In future, a camera attached to a toy helicopter will be used to capture huge sites and produce detailed 3D bitmapped models.
Mr Mathews also talked about the gap between building use simulation and real world use. Human actions are difficult to predict and often sit outside the ‘ideal’ parameters software needs to be effective. Autodesk is experimenting with placing thousands of sensors in buildings to capture human intereactions with design, which could be fed back into analysis modelling. Unfortunately recent feedback on analysis software from CFD experts found that the results are not to be trusted.
Revit and Suites
Revit 2013 Architecture/MEP and Structures have been merged into a single product called Revit 2013, with full functionality and no data silos. Users can customise the ribbon to the tools that they use most frequently and turn off the those that are not needed (Architecture, Structure, Mechanical, Electrical, Piping). This move has been made to support multidiscipline workflows.
Rendering in Revit has been substantially improved with anti-aliasing available in all views, enhanced sky backgrounds, gradient backgrounds and improvements to isometric and perspective views. Autodesk has also included a progressive real-time ray tracer.
Revit 2013 finally gets MicroStation V8 DGN capability; DWG, DWF and IFC capability have also been improved. There is another new stair tool that is a significant improvement for making complex stairs and a new materials database, which includes thermal performance capabilities.
Like all other Building Information Modelling (BIM) software developers, Autodesk is now changing its development focus to make Revit appeal to the construction industry, which needs a different type of BIM model to design. New tools enable models to be sliced, diced, merged and excluded, supporting parts and assemblies for construction. Overall, a solid balance between enhancements and new capabilities to Revit. The ‘Suite’ variant, Autodesk’s Building Design Suite 2013, includes additions to the Premium and Ultimate editions; Autodesk Navisworks Simulate 2013 software for the Premium edition; and Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler 2013 and Autodesk Robot Structural Analysis Professional 2013 software for the Ultimate edition.
With its move to greater diversity, could Autodesk run the risk of having too many products. Carl Bass disagrees. He felt that Autodesk had created “Office on the cloud”, which he compared with Google, which he said had done “half a job” with GoogleDocs.
By way of explanation, Mr Bass said that GoogleDocs did not envision a cloud-centered experience, but replicated the file systems and software silos that we are bound to with last decade’s computing methodology — when a word processor created words, spreadsheets did numbers, etc.
Applications no longer work the same way in the cloud. Mr Bass envisaged a system that did not have demarcations and would automatically bring up the functionality that was required to transform, edit or create.
Perhaps in future there will be one system with all of Autodesk’s know-how and functionality, which will provide the right interface for the task. If anything, Autodesk is getting more radical in its old age.