Autodesk University 2016, Part 1: Tomorrow's Design Reality Is Already Here

7 Dec, 2016 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Event Report: At its annual user conference, the company details how “futuristic” technologies such as machine learning, generative design, and virtual reality are becoming integral to the CAD workflow.

Computers are beginning to understand the needs of people, Kowalski continued, citing work on a new Autodesk office in the MaRS Innovation District of Toronto, Ontario. “We’re using generative design to reimagine what an office space could be.” Designers surveyed employees regarding their work habits, location preferences, and so forth, then fed that information to the computer, which automated the process of exploring thousands of configurations and discovering ones that managed trade-offs and scored best. The result: “We’re able to create the best experience possible” for workers.

Generative design is already integrated in the Autodesk Fusion 360 cloud-based CAD/CAE/CAM platform and in Autodesk Netfabb 2017, an additive manufacturing solution that integrates design enhancement, manufacturing preparation, and build simulation. The new Dreamcatcher will generate and evaluate solution sets with complexity well beyond that of generative design tools of the past, according to the company, based on computationally intense optimization and analysis engines, including multiphysics simulation. “We want to be rolling out Dreamcatcher as a commercial product in early 2017,” Kowalski told journalists in a later breakout session.

With generative design, Kowalski summed up, “We don’t tell it what to do, we tell the computer what we need.” Many people use generative design to broaden their perspective, to see options for consideration — not necessarily to determine the answer. For users who, say, like the direction that the software is taking a design, “we’re looking at how to let them into the generative design process to nudge the computer in the directions that the user likes and wants to explore.”

Virtual reality (VR). VR, which allows users to digitally immerse themselves in a 3D realm, is much more than the playful, video game–esque tool depicted in consumer advertisements these days. Professional designers are tapping VR power to take their work to a whole new level, benefiting themselves and their clients. In VR, you can virtually immerse yourself in a building, assess the finer points of a vehicle body, or observe the interworkings of industrial machinery — all at full scale, and all while the design still resides in the digital realm.

Much of this is possible now; for example, Autodesk Revit supports VR for life-size virtualization of buildings. But the company is already looking toward the next stage: interacting with your work while you design. “That’s going to be a radically different experience,” Kowalski said. “When you’re in VR, you’re more connected to your data. You can see your data at human scale. ... VR goes beyond visualization into the emotional realm. It’s about exploring and feeling and seeing, building a richer connection between you, your work, and your customer.”

Robotics systems. “As generative design gives us new forms,” Kowalski continued, “we need new forms to make things real.” He was discussing robotics, programmable systems for sculpting, machining, and finishing complex designs in wood and stone, foam and resin, and other materials that are otherwise difficult or impossible to manufacture.

“These technologies are not a threat; they’re more like superpowers,” Kowalski said. “The real threat is when your competition adopts them before you!”

Workforce Trends

Some of the trends affecting the future of design have less to do with tools and more to do with the people who use them, according to Autodesk. Technological change is ever present, and the rate of change is continually accelerating. A skill that was in demand yesterday might be obsolete tomorrow, replaced by something new.

“Today, the increased speed of change is pressuring us to learn more quickly,” Kowalski observed. “If your education stops when you get that one monolithic degree, you’re doomed. You must keep learning.”

Today’s project-oriented workflows are propagating nontraditional workforces. For example, contingent workers — that is, individuals hired as freelancers or contractors only for the duration of a project — are increasingly common additions to permanent staffing. Some companies are embracing the concept of employees who form teams quickly to solve a given problem, disperse, then join new groups to do something else, rather than operate strictly within a defined organizational structure. Millennials entering the workforce, in fact, are expressing a preference to work in teams.

Software needs to be intuitive and collaborative to support these trends, Kowalski said. “Talent used to be about stability. Now it’s about mobility. All of this mobility means you now have access to vast pools of talent. ... Just as you should be embracing new technology, you should be welcoming new talent.”

Making Change

CEO Bass ended the keynote with his own words of wisdom about the disruptive changes affecting designers and engineers.

“Most of us want to run away from disruption,” he said. “But I would say we need to run toward it. It will be what makes your company great in the future. The willingness to embrace a new way to think and do your work — that’s what it's going to take to succeed in a future that’s all about change.”

Autodesk University 2017 is scheduled for November 14-16, 2017, at The Venetian Las Vegas.

Editor’s Note: Click here to read Part 2 of this event report, "What's New for AEC, Manufacturing Tools."

Editor's Note: The one-hour Autodesk University 2016 opening keynote presentation is available to view online.

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About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson

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