Event Report: Autodesk University 2009

16 Dec, 2009 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin,Nancy Spurling Johnson

In a year when canceled events were not uncommon, Autodesk presses forward and draws nearly 6,000 to Las Vegas and 19,000 to AU Virtual for learning opportunities and technology updates.

Kudos to Autodesk for pulling off Autodesk University 2009. In a year of plummeting sales and slashed travel budgets that have led many other companies to cancel user events or offer them as online-only presentations, Autodesk pushed ahead. The Las Vegas–based event moved to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, reportedly to accommodate the ever-growing crowd — only to see attendance drop from nearly 10,000 in 2007 and 2008 to approximately 5,900 this year.

To reach those who couldn't be there in person this year, Autodesk introduced AU Virtual, which streamed many key events via the Internet for free. In the end, Autodesk reported, 19,000 people registered to participate in the online activities. Recorded events remain accessible on the AU Virtual site, so take in something new or review a keynote or class you think is worth a second look.

Attendance wasn't the only thing that was down this year. It was tough to ignore the somber tone that pervaded the usually energized event. Yes, blame the economy. Las Vegas tourism is reeling. The casino at Mandalay Bay seemed quiet, and bars and restaurants that typically stayed open till the wee hours closed early when customer numbers dwindled — a common problem all along The Strip, we heard. In the AU exhibit hall, relatively few new products were announced, and keynote presentations were subdued compared with the experience in recent years. Many presenters and attendees conveyed a sense of resolve. (See Robert Green's report, "CAD Managers Seek Self-Improvement at Autodesk University 2009.")

Nonetheless, it was a busy week for all who made the trip, filled with tours through the exhibit hall, numerous networking opportunities, special events, and 549 classes presented by 391 speakers. Following is our annual roundup of key events and announcements. Autodesk University will be held at Mandalay Bay again next year, November 30–December 3.

General Session Keynote

The General Session Keynote that kicked off the week featured guest speaker Amory Lovins, cofounder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who inspired the CAD crowd with his whole system design concept. Lovins argued against the conventional thinking that reducing energy usage has to increase costs. Instead, he explained, more efficient design can save both energy and money simultaneously. For example, plant designers can reduce friction — and therefore decrease the amount of electricity needed to drive pump motors — by routing liquids through short, fat, straight pipes whenever possible instead of long, thin, crooked ones. Carbon-fiber car parts are stronger than titanium, but weigh half as much as steel; the lighter the car, the more fuel-efficient it can be. "Efficiency is cheaper than fuel — saving fuel is cheaper than buying fuel," said Lovins. He urged the crowd to get involved with the Rocky Mountain Institute's Factor Ten Engineering (10xE) initiative, which supports the achievement of efficiency gains through whole-system thinking.

Academy Award–winning producer Jon Landau of Lightstorm took the stage to describe how Autodesk MotionBuilder software enabled the production of the movie Avatar. "We were able to do a movie that we could not otherwise do," he told the crowd. Producer James Cameron directed scenes with real actors while using the software and a virtual camera on the set to see how the scenes would play out in the film's fictional setting.

Chief technology officer Jeff Kowalski revealed a few of the "quickly advancing" technologies that Autodesk has in its sights. Regarding laser scanning, which collects data about existing structures and products so CAD models can be created for analysis and design updates, Kowalski said, "Autodesk will be adding feature recognition technologies to capitalize on laser scanning capabilities and incorporate point cloud data into designs." Regarding augmented reality, he said, "We are continuing to develop technologies that blur the distinction between what's in the computer and what's outside the computer. The future of this is coming faster than you think."

Early in the keynote presentation, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass described the continuum of a successful technology, beginning when a technology is thought to be impossible, then progressing through the stages of impractical, possible, expected, and finally, required. He explained that companies do well to adopt a technology once it reaches the "possible" stage — the "sweet spot" that offers the most competitive advantage.

Kowalski concluded the keynote by saying, "The biggest lesson from today is this: Keep looking across this continuum, so you can be ready for the next 'possible.' … This continuum is always moving, and if you're just standing there, you're actually falling behind. So my challenge to you is to evaluate where you are on the continuum. Are you doing just what is expected? Are you taking advantage of things that are differentiators? Are you prepared for what's coming next? The good news is, you are here at Autodesk University. There is no better place for you to discover what's possible, determine what will bring you the most competitive advantage, and decide what to adopt and when."


Carl Bass and the CAD Press

Later that afternoon, dozens of CAD writers, editors, and analysts piled into a small conference room, eager to get the inside scoop from CEO Bass. Unfazed by the probing and badgering, he seemed right at home.

Cloud computing. All the buzz of late seems to be around cloud computing, wherein users access CAD or other software over the Internet. Desktop applications are hosted on a client server, and streaming video conveys changes as the user makes them. Collaborative applications, such as HP's new Skyroom online video conferencing software, are also possible. Bass said, "I think [cloud computing] is a big deal," but added later that Autodesk has no interest in getting into the infrastructure business. What he is interested in doing, he said, is giving customers a variety of ways to take advantage of web-based technologies.

Indeed, one of the latest technologies to be showcased on the Autodesk Labs site is Project Twitch. Users download and install a small client application, then can run selected applications — AutoCAD 2010, Inventor 2010, and Revit 2010 — right from an Internet browser window.

One journalist asked, "Wouldn't cloud computing hurt software resellers by digging into sales of software licenses?" Bass said he believes that resellers have a foothold because they can provide service and support, as well as reach into the software market, that are not possible in the web-based software scenario.

The market."Manufacturing is already rebounding," Bass said of his business. He foresees that rebound will be followed by the media and entertainment sector, and AEC will "trail behind."

He also noted that Autodesk has made great strides in its commitment to reduce the number of products in its line. "The product line has been consolidated by one-third over the past year," in particular by packaging complementary solutions in suites.

Future developments. AU 2009 was light on insight into future technology developments (and heavy on legal lingo stressing that any claims about the future are not promises to deliver a product). But in the media Q&A, Bass said Autodesk is focusing on providing more tools that offer design simulation and analysis and products that have a wider reach — "reaching the customers of our customers" — such as Sketchbook Mobile, a painting and drawing application for the iPhone that currently stands at one million downloads and that Apple named an iTunes “Best of 2009” app; Project Cooper, a free 2D floor plan and landscape design sketching tool downloadable from Autodesk Labs; and co-editing tools along the lines of HP Skyroom.

Lack of Mac Attack

Those who were anticipating an announcement that AutoCAD would once again run natively on the Mac will have to wait. During the General Session, Bass said, "Mac is a very important platform for us already [referring to other Mac-based products in the Autodesk line], and we are working on quite a few more that we'll be announcing soon." Even when questioned about it, Bass would not name specific applications.


Featuring X PRIZE Foundation founder Peter H. Diamandis as guest speaker, the Manufacturing Industry Keynote presentation mixed lofty inspiration with some down-to-earth updates about Autodesk developments in the manufacturing sector. Diamandis told attendees how his organization developed the X PRIZE to incite innovation by offering a $10 million award for achieving a specific goal. The Ansari X PRIZE the first and was won by Scaled Composites, a private team that was first to build and launch a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 km above the earth's surface, twice within two weeks. Other X PRIZE competitions are under way now, sponsored by the likes of Google.

Manufacturing Community Award. Buzz Kross, Autodesk senior vice-president, Manufacturing Industry Group, introduced the annual Manufacturing Community Achievement award, which he said he created "to recognize individuals for highly valued contributions to the Autodesk manufacturing user community." This year's award recognized Charlie Bliss for his lifetime of achievement. A user of Autodesk Inventor since its first alpha release, Bliss published the web site, which became a hub of the early Inventor community. 

MCAD product updates. Amy Bunszel, Autodesk's director of mechanical products, introduced Inventor Publisher, one of only a handful of new products launched at this year's event. Available now as a technology preview on Autodesk Labs, Inventor Publisher lets Inventor users create interactive, 3D product documentation based on CAD data. Even users without any prior animation experience can produce 3D assembly instructions and operating procedures, repair and maintenance guides, and even highly detailed technical illustrations and animations. For example, a user could automatically create exploded views and view sequences or generate full-motion animations illustrating a process from multiple viewpoints.

Discussing other MCAD product developments, Bunszel continued, "We are looking at ways to directly enable more creativity and design exploration in Inventor." For example, users could model more intuitively, much like they do using industrial design applications, creating more interesting and creative shapes using familiar tools and no special knowledge of NURBS modeling — "tools anyone can use," she said. Resulting data would be directly usable downstream in Inventor. She demonstrated the Inventor Fusion 2 technology preview, the latest version of the tool that enables 3D direct modeling alongside traditional parametric modeling, recently launched on the Autodesk Labs site.

Life-size 3D print. Displayed prominently in the exhibit hall was a life-size 3D print of a commuter jet turbo prop engine, dubbed the "world's first." The engine, which included some moving parts such as the propellers, was designed using Autodesk Inventor by Nino Caldarola, an aerospace designer and engineer, and printed by Stratasys. The 10' x 10' model is composed of nearly 200 ABS plastic parts. Besides being incredibly impressive, the large-scale project was designed to illustrate how aerospace engineers can use 3D printing to validate the digital prototype, conduct analysis, and determine how components will fit together. It will reside permanently in the Autodesk Gallery.

Designed in Inventor and printed in 3D by Stratasys, this model of a turbo prop engine demonstrates how engineers can evaluate large-scale models prior to production.




This year was one full of challenges for the AEC market, and 2010 will see even more challenge, said Jay Bhatt, Autodesk senior vice-president, Architecture, Engineering and Construction Solutions, to the crowd gathered to hear the AEC Industry Keynote. He cited the growing world population that is putting pressure on infrastructure and creating water supply challenges worldwide, the increasing relevance of sustainability, and pressing economic challenges in the market. "We may have hit bottom and are bouncing back, but business is still affected," he added.

But, he proceeded, "What if we look at these challenges as opportunities?" Moving from 2D to 3D design, for example, can increase efficiency, improve designs, reduce errors, and win business. The keynote highlighted several companies that, despite economic conditions, are using new technology to move ahead. One of those was an $800 million project in DeKalb County, Georgia, to double water treatment plant capacity and improve water quality in a smaller design footprint. The project was successful in part due to design visualization in Autodesk Navisworks, which enabled real-time communication of design changes across the project team. 3D design data changes were in the hands of every stakeholder, even nontechnical ones, as they happened.

The Tuttle Courthouse Annex project in Atlanta, led by The Beck Group, faced the challenge of renovating an existing structure without the benefit of reliable existing data. The group looked to laser scanning technology, which allowed them to document existing conditions at city block range to 1/4" accuracy while minimizing the disturbance to building occupants. Beck representatives used building information modeling (BIM) to tell stakeholders the story of how they would design and build the courthouse. They used BIM and animation technologies to show the General Services Administration (GSA) how they could shore up the building. GSA wanted LEED silver certification for the new structure; designers went for LEED gold, playing with design alternatives to see if they could reach higher accreditation.

Seeking the consumer market. Autodesk announced that it is expanding the Autodesk Seek web service to include additional targeted marketing channels for building product manufacturers to help them reach and engage commercial and residential design professionals, as well as homeowners. Autodesk is connecting Autodesk Seek to two Autodesk technology previews, Project Dragonfly, a home design application, and Project Showroom, an interactive web service that enables users to mix and match products in lifelike room settings. (See "New Autodesk Seek Integration Aimed at Consumer Market" for more information.)

IES (Integrated Environmental Solutions) announced that it now extends its sustainable building design software to Mac users within environments running VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop, or the Boot Camp utility included within the latest Mac OS X. The IES suite of building performance software supports energy analysis, energy load calculation, CO2 emissions calculation, solar shading analysis, natural ventilation analysis, and more.

The Zebra Imaging booth always seemed to have a small crowd gathered 'round, ogling the company's 3D holographic displays created from 3D data. The company introduced a new generation of high-speed color and enhanced monochromatic imagers that allow for the rapid production of digital holographic imagery. Zebra's 3D holographic display systems are used for a variety of visualization applications for government and commercial markets.

1st Pricing announced the release of a downloadable plug-in that links its 5D BIM technology to AutoCAD Revit Architecture 2010. The company claims that this is the first technology to fully integrate BIM into the design process, automatically creating a detailed bill of materials with pricing and including an online shopping cart. 1st Pricing has created a standardized platform that links to CAD programs and eCommerce portals with supplier or distributor prices, facilitating the purchase of specified materials online.

Two announcements came from Building Systems Design (BSD). BSD SpecLink-E software helps design professionals produce specifications for commercial, industrial, and institutional projects. Amd the new BSD LinkMan-E has been designed from the ground up to work with SpecLink-E, supporting the BIM process through integration with CAD environments such as Revit Architecture 2009 and 2010. 

Design Visualization

Autodesk announced that its new Autodesk Showcase visualization software community is now part of AREA, the company's digital entertainment and visualization community web site. The Showcase software community offers a blog, discussion forum, and product page, which includes videos, tutorials, and a free download of the Showcase Viewer. Showcase software users can join the community to connect with their peers and learn from Autodesk digital prototyping and design visualization experts.

Data Management

eTransmittal was exhibiting at AU for the first time. The company offers an online document distribution and management system for engineering and project resources, focusing on project organization, data exchange, and reporting. The eTransmittal system provides and auditable trail of document delivery, increases project efficiency, and adds a layer of document security. One power plant project saved $100,000 over one year using the software to manage tasks that were taking engineers three hours a day, the company reported.


LizardTech, a provider of software solutions for managing and distributing geospatial content, released the GeoExpress Best Practices Guide. The printable key is a free download designed to help users navigate the workflows available using LizardTech GeoExpress software and to provide them with the best settings and options for optimal image quality and performance.



Joe Astroth, vice-president of Worldwide Education and Learning, opened the Education Industry Keynote with a litany of challenges that were surprisingly similar to those facing commercial markets: increased global competition, slashed budgets, and the ever-greater role of technology. The question unique to education, however, is how to remain relevant, to both students and industry, in a changed world.

One answer to that question is the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, which has no departments, offers its professors tenure, and adopts a completely new curriculum every seven years. Saying, "students are different today, in a fundamental way ... craving engagement and relevance," Olin President Richard Miller explained that the unusual college was designed from the ground up to create not just engineers, but innovators. "Education is more than knowledge," he said. "Education has to do with attitudes and behaviors and motivations."

In another education update, Autodesk reported that its online Education Community has grown to one million student and educator members representing more than 28,000 educational institutions in 147 countries since its launch in 2006. The resource is designed to help students and educators get access to Autodesk technology and resources, including free releases of 25 full-feature Autodesk titles, training guides, and job opportunities. 


Dell unveiled what it calls "the world's most powerful mobile workstation," the Dell Precision M6500 ($2,749+). Shown publicly for the first time at AU 2009, the system is designed for creative professionals, designers, animators, engineers, research scientists, and defense customers who require performance and security, including authentication and data encryption, when in the field. The M6500 enables memory scalability of up to 16 GB with its four DIMM slots and is reportedly the first mobile workstation to support DDR3 1600MHz memory.

The new Dell Precision M6500 mobile workstation is also available as the special-edition Covet model shown here, which features a vibrant orange anodized aluminum chassis and an edge-to-edge 17" screen, starting at $4,219.


HP had some big news to share at AU: The industry research firm IDC had reported that HP led the desktop workstation category in market share in the third quarter of 2009. HP's share showed significant growth during past quarters, culminating with a 44.1% share worldwide, according to the IDC Worldwide Workstation Tracker, November 2009.

HP also was showcasing the HP SkyRoom video conference and collaboration tool for enterprise customers that was introduced this fall, now available on all HP Z workstations at no extra cost or separately for $149. Video conferences currently are limited to four participants, but a plan is in place to expand the platform to accommodate more users, said Tom Salomone, engineering segment manager, Workstations, at HP. “The technology is in its infancy.” He also demonstrated a workstation running a Parallels virtual environment — software that enables a single or multiple users to run more than one operating system to run on the same machine.

NVIDIA launched new Quadro FX professional graphics solutions for desktop and mobile workstations running 3D Autodesk applications. Optimized and certified for AutoCAD, 3ds Max and other Autodesk software, the new offerings include:

  • Quadro FX 380 LP, a low-profile, entry-level graphics card described as the most affordable and flexible Quadro professional graphics solution, with a retail price of $169. Aimed at design professionals moving from 2D to 3D, it offers 512 MB of graphics memory and reportedly increases AutoCAD productivity by ten times compared with consumer graphics cards.
  • Quadro FX 3800M and Quadro FX 2800M, mobile workstation solutions featuring as many as 128 CUDA cores for massively parallel computational graphics and 30-bit color accuracy for displaying more than one billion colors.

Bahman Dara, senior worldwide marketing manager at AMD, told Cadalyst he has been busy repairing his company's reputation, which took a hit a few years back due to faulty driver technologies at the time. His efforts have focused on product improvement, and the AMD driver is clean now, he said, and is updated every four to six weeks. A single, unified driver can run multiple cards and has built-in intelligence to adjust settings to maximize performance of active applications, eliminating the need for users to adjust settings. Dara also demonstrated the new ATI Eyefinity technology with DisplayPort connectivity, which enables a single GPU to support up to six independent display outputs simultaneously. AMD currently holds a 12%–13% share of the graphics card market (desktop and mobile platforms combined), Dara said.


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