Autodesk University 2010, Part 1

8 Dec, 2010 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Bouncing back a bit from 2009, the annual user event draws a reported 7,000 attendees as the company gets serious about consumer, mobile, sustainable design, and cloud computing technologies.

Stumbling from the casino floor to the show floor was an easy feat again last week as Autodesk University (AU) took place for the second year in a row at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on the south end of the Las Vegas strip. More than 7,000 attendees registered for this year's gathering of Autodesk customers, staff, speakers, and exhibitors, the company reported, with another 40,000 estimated to log in to AU Virtual, an online presentation of week's best offerings. More than 500 classes, plus 150 virtual sessions, were presented over the course of the 18th annual event.

This year, AU classes and other sessions were shortened from 90 minutes to 60 minutes each, apparently based on requests from past attendees. The result was that some sessions felt rushed or incomplete, according to presenters and attendees alike, and the event as a whole was slightly shorter than in previous years.

Attendance and mood were both up slightly from AU 2009, and Autodesk executives were energetic about the company's focus on emerging markets, including consumer and mobile applications, cloud computing, and sustainable design. At the opening General Session on Tuesday, CEO Carl Bass welcomed attendees and kicked off the event, which was themed "The Power of the Possible."

"Why do we [the Autodesk community] do what we do?" Bass asked rhetorically. "We want our work to have a positive impact," he answered, adding that the need for better design is greater than ever because of global, economic, and other challenges that demand more innovation and creativity than ever before.

To make such an impact, Bass continued, users must ponder another question: "How do you create something that's going to have lasting and tangible benefits?" According to Bass, the answer is innovation — but innovation in the sense of renewing or revising an existing idea, rather than creating something entirely new. Improvements that can be put to use right away, he explained, are more valuable than inventions that are centuries ahead of their time. "Design is really the arbitration of possibility," said Bass.

Several Autodesk customers took the stage to exemplify Bass's inspirational words. Living up to its name, Bespoke Innovations has so thoroughly refined an existing technology — prosthetic limbs — that they are functional art. A completely custom product in an age of mass-produced goods, these beautiful, unique designs reflect the wearer's personality and style, whether that's fishnet stockings or tattoos. "Now, the specific user is the first step in the [design] process instead of the last," said Bespoke's Scott Summit.

Emily Pilloton of Project H Design explained how she became "fed up with designing products for the top of the pyramid and founded Project H to do design that has social value." The mission of Project H is to tap the power of the design process to catalyze communities and public education from within — aiming to "design with, not for [local residents]," Pilloton explained. Currently Project H is reaching high school students in rural Bertie County, North Carolina, through an innovative design/build curriculum led by Pilloton and partner Matthew Miller.
Oohs and aahs rang out from the crowd when Tesla Motors' Franz von Holzhausen drove a shiny, bright-red Model S onto the main stage. Designed using Autodesk industrial design software, it is the world's first premium, all-electric sedan. Running on 6,831 lithium ion batteries, the car can travel 300 miles on a single charge and can zoom from 1 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. It was designed so owners can easily swap out batteries, and it features an interior that can seat as many as five adults and two children.

But there's nothing like a futuristic 3D movie preview to generate major buzz at a gathering of technology buffs. Later on Tuesday, Cliff Plumer, CEO of the Academy Award–winning digital production studio Digital Domain (another Autodesk customer), presented a 20-minute clip from Walt Disney Pictures' film TRON: Legacy ahead of its December 17 release date. Attendees willingly waited in endless lines to part with (and later retrieve) their digital recording devices and cell phones to abide by Disney security rules, and by all accounts, it was worth the trouble to get a sneak peek at the much-anticipated movie.

Autodesk News

Autodesk saves most product launches for the March time frame each year, so the company typically does not release major news at AU. However, a few press releases surfaced and the company did share several general updates with the media, plus we heard a great deal about the latest experimental technologies available from the Autodesk Labs site. (Details about the latter to come in a later report.)

  • Company executives were happy about the fact that Autodesk had just inked a $6 million, three-year license agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for products, services, and training, including access to the Autodesk Revit family of products, AutoCAD Civil 3D software, and Autodesk Navisworks software products, among others.
  • So easy a kid could do it? Well, Ze Kun Chen is not your typical kid. The fifth-grade student from China is the youngest person to be certified as an Autodesk 3ds Max Associate, Autodesk announced. Ze Kun completed his first 3ds Max software certification when he was just nine years old, then repeated the feat last month, at the age of 10, for 3ds Max 2010.
  • Autodesk also announced the winners of its Rendering Revolution contest — a still-image architectural visualization competition hosted by CGarchitect. The winning entry, submitted by Chinese artist Qingfeng Chen, is a rendering of the 3ds Max 20th anniversary logo. The image was inspired by a diverse group of steel pipes Chen noticed on a construction site. View all three winning entries at

Mobile Applications

At a day-long presentation on Monday, Autodesk executives told the media that the company is currently focused on two areas of growth: consumer applications and mobile technologies — more so than even a year ago, said Chief Marketing Officer Chris Bradshaw. "We've been trying to make our technology more accessible to more people," said Bradshaw. "We've always known there was a bigger audience."

"The iPad has really changed how our customers get data into the field," Bradshaw explained, citing the recently launched and free AutoCAD WS (web service) that delivers AutoCAD drawings online for editing and sharing on Mac iOS devices. AutoCAD WS 1.1, announced mid-week, adds functionality to upload files from e-mail and view files in offline mode, and features an upgraded interface with intuitive gestures that simplify functions such as snapping. In the two months since it was launched, half a million users have downloaded WS, Bradshaw reported.

SketchBook Mobile, the iOS-based painting and drawing app introduced in September 2009, "has gone very, very viral," Bradshaw said, having been downloaded more than two million times. During AU, Autodesk announced that Autodesk SketchBook Mobile ($2.99) and a free Autodesk SketchBook Mobile Express app are available immediately for use on devices running Android 2.1 and above. The apps can be downloaded from Android Market.

SketchBook Mobile and SketchBook Mobile Express are now available for use on Android devices.

Amar Hanspal, senior vice-president of Autodesk platform solutions and emerging business, summed up Autodesk's perspective on the mobile marketplace: "Mobile access is critical for us. It's critical for our customers."

Consumer Applications

Hanspal also explained Autodesk's focus on the consumer market: "[Consumers] are the next generation [of customers]. We must engage with the next generation of people using the next generation of products."

One Autodesk product aimed at the consumer market is Homestyler, downloaded by more than one million users in the 14 months since its introduction. The free online software for 2D and 3D home design and remodeling projects has been updated with the new Snapshot feature, whereby users can create high-resolution, near photo-quality images of any home interior design project created in Homestyler, then share them with others. A new toolbar helps speed access to top design and sharing features, and the catalog of content has been increased to more than 20,000 branded and generic building elements.

Buzz Kross, senior vice-president of manufacturing, said his division is striving to make design and manufacturing more accessible to more people by fostering creativity and innovation. "It's inventing for everyone. … Autodesk is trying to move engineering beyond designers and engineers" to students and the do-it-yourself (DIY) market, he said. Kross explained that putting powerful design tools in the hands of the masses results in innovation that otherwise might not have occurred.

Tech Shop. Autodesk is partnering with Tech Shop, a membership-based group in Menlo Park, California, that provides shop space equipped with "every tool you can imagine for fabricating designs," said its CEO, Mark Hatch. "We are the physical embodiment of the maker movement," Hatch continued, explaining that a service that gives people access to all the tools they need for $100 per month has the effect of completely unleashing the pent-up creativity of the do-it-yourselfer and inventor. Autodesk plans to donate copies of AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor Professional, Autodesk Inventor Fusion Technology Preview, Autodesk Inventor Publisher, Autodesk Alias Design, Autodesk Showcase, Autodesk SketchBook Pro, and Autodesk Mudbox to the organization, as well as high-end workstations to run the software within the TechShop collaborative work areas.

Tinkerbox. Students, even young ones, are on Autodesk's radar; like other technology developers, the company realizes that these are the customers of tomorrow. Student interest in science, technology, engineering, and math, however, is waning. Autodesk previewed a tool now in development to help combat this problem. Developed for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, Tinkerbox is a game designed to make engineering and math more fun. Players build virtual versions of the elaborate contraptions made popular by inventor Rube Goldberg, then set them in motion to experiment with the effects of their engineering. No word yet on when Tinkerbox will be available for download.

Cloud and Infinite Computing

While some CAD developers downplay the viability of cloud computing for the CAD market (and their interest in developing it), Autodesk makes no secret of its lofty ambitions for the technology that delivers high-end computer performance and storage capacity via the Internet (also commonly known as software as a service, or SaaS).

"This is real," said Bradshaw, emphasizing that cloud computing can move compute-intensive tasks such as analysis, simulation, and rendering off the desktop, saving money spent on hardware as well as time thanks to increased processing power.

Brian Mathews, vice-president of Autodesk Labs, told the media, “[Autodesk] did SaaS before the term was coined, with Buzzsaw.” Autodesk now has 16 cloud-based technologies that are public, he said, “and many more in development behind the scenes.”

Mathews continued, "Cloud computing should not be better, cheaper, faster versions of the 'old way,' but rather it should do what was not possible before. Now with one computer, you can instantly do what took many computers before [without added cost]. For the first time in history, getting it done faster is not more expensive."

Cloud computing is the foundation for another newly coined term, “infinite computing.” That is, when you combine virtually unlimited access to software technologies with virtually unlimited processing power, you get virtually unlimited possibilities in terms of what you can accomplish. For example, the cloud enables rendering of complex scenes instantly and simultaneously, or lets users define design criteria so the computer can efficiently generate numerous options to consider.

Chief Technology Officer Jeff Kowalski said, “Infinite computing allows you to access your work from any [Internet-] connected computer, not just your desktop or laptop. … Start thinking about the infinite power of computers, how the computer can help you do your work rather than the other way around. Look for ways to do something new, not new ways to do something old.”

Sustainable Design

Autodesk is arguably one of the most aggressive companies in the CAD market in terms of efforts to support greener product and building design. At AU, the company revealed that its Clean Tech Partner Program is expanding from the United States into Europe, with plans to move into Asia sometime next year. The program supports early-stage clean technology companies by providing up to $150,000 worth of Autodesk design and engineering software for only $50.

The company also recently announced that it is collaborating with Granta Design, a materials information technology provider, to develop web-based software tools that will incorporate Granta's materials information database and help Autodesk users to better assess the environmental impact of their materials choices, respond to consumer demand, and ensure regulatory compliance. Autodesk would not comment on how it intends to implement the new tools or when they will become available.

Autodesk University 2011

Next year, AU will stay in Las Vegas, but will move back to the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino at the opposite end of the Strip, where it was held in 2006 through 2008.

For further coverage of new hardware and software on display at AU 2010, see part 2 of this article.


About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Add comment

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

Take the Gradual Path to BIMWhite Paper: Take the Gradual Path to BIM. Implementing building information modeling (BIM) can be a daunting challenge, but you don't have to take on everything at once. Learn how small, incremental advances can yield big benefits over time. Download your paper today!

Discover DraftSight(R) - the capabilities of Autocad(c) and more at the right price. DraftSight is a 2D and 3D CAD solution that can create, edit, view and markup any DWG file with greater ease, speed and efficiency. Learn more here.