Event Report: Autodesk University 2006, Part 1

28 Nov, 2006 By: Sara Ferris

New CEO Carl Bass lets customer stories do the talking as AU kicks off in Las Vegas.

The 14th annual Autodesk University kicked off yesterday in Las Vegas, with a reported 7,500 people in attendance -- a number that seems credible given the lunchtime gridlock at the escalators. The event opened with a keynote address by Autodesk president and CEO Carl Bass, his first after taking over from Carol Bartz in May.

Bass said he sees Autodesk's mission as delivering software tools to help people experience something before it's built. Digital prototyping helps customers to better understand, analyze and communicate their designs. Rather than the usual focus on new products and features, yesterday's keynote featured a series of short customer presentations. "In the past few years, we've done all the talking," Bass said. "This year, we'll increase the degree of difficulty and have customers do the live demos."

The customer presentations highlighted the various industries that use Autodesk products. GMJ City Models demonstrated its virtual model of London, a 1GB 3ds Max model, which is used to improve the planning process by demonstrating the impact of proposed buildings on the environment. Parsons Brinkerhoff (represented by its Virtual Technology Officer) supplied 3D glasses to the audience to show off its use of infrastructure supermodels. These incorporate public and private data to model large construction projects such as the Seattle Alaskan Way viaduct.

The U.S. Army's iMOUT tool showcased the use of 3D technology in a military context. The iMOUT viewer provides access to various layers that provide data about specific locations within a city. Soldiers planning an operation can view the interior and exterior of a building, examine the subsurface features and highlight lines of sight from various spots. Dave Trahan from Patriot Mechanical, an HVAC company in the San Francisco Bay Area, described how his firm has benefited from Nextel's field force management tool, which is built on Autodesk technology. Users of the tool can locate field workers instantly and send text messages to their cell phones, along with directions to their next stop.

Even manufacturers can benefit from the ability to combine data from disparate sources. To lay out an automotive plant, a machinery model in JT format was integrated with a Revit model of the factory building. Also in the spotlight were technologies that Autodesk acquired and continues to refine: Alias industrial design applications for automotive styling, and functional design tools for designing plastic parts.

BIM (building information modeling) was featured in the context of sustainable design. Steve Glenn of Living Homes showed examples of his company's modular homes. Designed by architect Ray Kappe, the first model is made up of 11 prefabricated modules and is the first and only residence to earn platinum LEED certification. Software from IES can use information from the Revit building model to perform thermal energy analysis.

Finally, Crescendo Design demonstrated how it's using the Second Life virtual world as a design collaboration tool to present plans to clients. The firm imported Architectural Desktop plans and elevations to show a client a proposed design at various locations on the property. The client and architect can meet via avatar to discuss and test various options for materials and landscaping. It's also possible to use the Freewheel zero-client DWF viewer to feed data into Second Life. Autodesk has set up Autodesk Island for its customers who work in the virtual world.

Many of the tools showcased, in particular Freewheel and the Impression design presentation application, are available now through Autodesk Labs. The company's "home for new prototypes, experiments, applications, and technologies," Autodesk Labs allows customers to provide feedback before product's official release. "Many of you have asked to be involved earlier in the [product development] process," noted Bass, and Autodesk Labs is designed to do just that.

Tomorrow I'll cover some of the news and products announced at Autodesk University, as well as details from discussions with various folks from Autodesk and its partners. Though Autodesk reports that it is still on track with its yearly product update cycle, the company reports that it won't be officially announcing details of the new versions until early 2007.