AU Online Offers GIS Learning on Demand

19 Jan, 2010 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Autodesk University's online incarnation lets you catch classes at your convenience.

While most Americans spent the week after Thanksgiving bemoaning their over-consumption, I was among those burning calories by scurrying about a monstrous Las Vegas convention center. If your experience at Autodesk University (AU) 2009 was anything like mine, the number of classes, keynotes, and other activities left you wishing for a clone of yourself — or at least a Pause button. Fortunately, the latter is available, courtesy of AU Online.

In December, Autodesk added more than 500 sessions from the AU 2009 conference and AU Virtual to the AU Online site. Keynote speeches, classes, and other sessions are offered in a variety of formats, including web-, screen-, and podcasts. Supporting materials, such as PowerPoint files and data sets, are included as well. Most of this content — including the class handouts, all the podcasts, and a handful of the screencasts — is free to those who register as AU Online members, whether you attended AU in person or not. Access to "premium" content is restricted to AU conference attendees, Autodesk Subscription customers, and those who have registered for AU Virtual Premium ($99).

Filtering the 2009 offerings with the keyword "GIS" yields some 40 sessions, most of which focus on AutoCAD Map 3D. A few of the classes that struck me as useful to GIS Tech News readers are:

  • "Using AutoCAD Map 3D and LiDAR Data to Enhance 3D Maps and Designs," by Justin Lokitz
  • "CAD, GIS, ERP, and Web Integration at Ergon Energy," by Rick Chappell
  • "Generate DWG, DWF, and Raster from FDO and Autodesk Mapguide Open Source," by Clayton Hotson
  • "From CAD to Autodesk Topobase: Migration to Enterprise GIS," by Louis Ball
  • "Using AutoCAD Map 3D Tools to Ingest Point Cloud Data," by Nathan Moore.

(Note that the screencasts for these classes are classified as premium content.) In addition, I took in a few online sessions that I had missed while attending AU in person. The first was "The Benefits of AutoCAD Map 3D for General AutoCAD Users," delivered by Russell Martin. When describing Map 3D, Martin calls the program "the antithesis of 'AutoCAD Lite,'" assuring viewers that "it's not just for GIS types."

Although Martin notes that each of his topics could fill a 90-minute class on its own, he provides an overview of object classification ("A simple tool for automating and enforcing CAD standards"); annotating objects, including tools that automate annotation; queries ("A fancy way of saying, 'Asking questions about your drawing and the objects in it'"); thematic mapping ("One of Map 3D's most powerful tools"); and drawing cleanup tools, which are used to fix broken or damaged geometry.

Martin emphasizes how this last task has changed since he started out with AutoCAD, when the product was "what came out of the plotter, and if a fat line would cover up a few mistakes, who cares, nobody would ever see it." Now that that line embodies real data, such as a sewer pipe, "somebody's counting on the accuracy of that line ... the importance of having your data clean can't be overstressed."

Autodesk’s infrastructure model management software, Topobase, is highlighted in a case study presentation titled, "Manage Electric Utility Assets and Designs with Autodesk Topobase and AutoCAD Map 3D." Peter Krotky and Wade Morris describe the software implementation at Innisfil Hydro, a Canadian utility that serves more than 14,000 customers. The presentation addresses configuration of Map 3D to coordinate with Topobase workflows, the use of Topobase for field data collection, and interoperability between Topobase and utility enterprise systems (such as financial and customer service systems).

According to Morris, Innisfil Hydro chose the software for several reasons, including a familiar interface, the appeal of using a single application for both design and GIS, and the need for a network model to manage assets,. Krotky explains the importance of maintaining a two-tiered model with an integrated database system at the core, and an outer layer of utility processes. This way, the utility's various databases can communicate with each other, and the focus is on data structure, rather than applications that change over time.

In "3D and the City of Vancouver: The Road to Being a Digital City," the focus is on Autodesk 3ds Max, a 3D modeling and rendering solution. Presenters Dan Campbell and Jonathan Mark share their experiences with integrating a GIS and a 3D model, expanding a 3D model with orthophotos, and attempting to define "digital city" — although Campbell opines that that is "in some ways an impossible task."

"Very few cities in the world have been built from scratch in a very organized and step-by-step process," Campbell says, observing that making 3D models is a similarly organic process. Although we may wish that our model cities were more like those in a video game, with a control panel that would let us evaluate the performance of different factors at a glance and quickly fix any problems, it's not that simple.

Campbell goes on to detail Vancouver's history with 3D models. He describes a pivotal point in the early 1990s, when an AutoCAD city model was built to support a study of scenic views threatened by development. Once the study was concluded, the consultant who made the model took it with him, and the city employees returned to "working as we had always worked," says Campbell. It wasn't until several years later that the city realized the enduring value of such a creation and purchased the model.

In light of the fact that working in 3D is more complex than 2D, requiring more time, skills, and resources, Campbell sees the need to explain why 3D is important. Whereas everyone interprets 2D content in a different way, he says, 3D is universally understood: "3D is easy, 2D is hard." He discusses the mainstreaming of 3D content in recent years, which has led to the expectation that government entities always have such content and can promptly package and share it. In addition, he notes, the boundaries between 3D analysis, visualization, and geospatial analysis are blurring.

These three presentations are just a sample of what's available through AU Online, which now includes hundreds of sessions from four years of AU. You're bound to find something to keep you busy while you await the next trip to Vegas. Autodesk University will return to the Mandalay Bay Resort November 30–December 2, 2010.

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