Changing How We Think: Trends from AU 2013

The variety of tools exhibited at Autodesk 2013 showcased how technology will continue to impact the way we work and think. In addition to using technology to produce and analyze complex data and physical forms, Autodesk presents technology as a way to facilitate workflows and collaboration.

In the opening keynote, Jeff Kowalski (Autodesk CTO) stated “humans are wired to avoid risk.” We are compelled to keep good ideas close versus taking on the risk of exposing them. However, by sharing ideas we have the potential to connect to a reservoir of knowledge – not only within, but between organizations. The idea of open collaboration was highlighted throughout the conference, as a positive resource to navigate the growing complexity of projects and the world around us.

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Jeff Kowalski's Opening Keynote

Open collaboration ties in nicely with the collaborative software packages that Autodesk offers, but also touches upon a larger trend: as we learn more about how we think, learn, and interact, technology has the opportunity to become more than a working tool to develop drawings. Technology can become a tool that motivates and facilitates learning and the exchange of ideas.

Jeff Kowalski quoted the futurist Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” As we understand the plasticity of our brains — the brain's ability to change itself and adapt —not only will we realize the benefits of learning, unlearning, and relearning, but recognize that we are all endowed with this potential.

Amid the tools presented at Autodesk 2013 several common trends stood out, which demonstrate the opportunity for technology to facilitate how we think in addition to how we work.

Technology for everyone

One notable trend was the clean interface of many applications. Autodesk ReCap is a powerful tool which creates 3D models from laser scans or a series of photos. The point and click interface requires minimal commands to stitch together photos to create 3D mesh and point cloud data for modeling. Similarly, Autodesk Memento is another product that allows users to repair this complex 3D mesh with a basic point and click operation. Both are examples of extremely powerful computing tools simplified for the user.

The simplified interface makes these programs more intuitive and accessible to all levels of users, rather than just the younger, technologically savvy generations. Autodesk FormIt is also available on tablets, allowing users to create and manipulate 3D forms by using gestures. The ease of use allows the technology to become an extension of thought, versus a tool that needs to be mastered.

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A snapshot of the Autodesk Formit interface

Collaboration

Many Autodesk tools included the term ‘360’ – Autodesk 360, PLM 360, BIM 360 Glue, BIM 360 Field. These cloud based platforms allow users to upload data and make changes that can be exchanged in real-time. Again, the interface for these programs is simple, with a clean visual presentation of options. When users upload files, these updates are posted and can be accessed by others. This accelerates the exchange of ideas while also tracking user activities to record the history and progression of the project. The collaborative nature of these programs is summarized by Carl Bass’ (Autodesk CEO) description of Autodesk 360 as "Facebook for Engineers." This should have probably included the term ‘engineers and designers” as well, as Autodesk 360 facilitates collaboration between all team members throughout design and construction.

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A snapshot of Autodesk BIM 360 "BLUE"

Interoperability

The conference also showcased the potential for using visual programming and scripting to facilitate interoperability of model information between programs. Rather than the typical linear project development with cyclical iterations between designer and engineer, the quick transfer of model information allows for a more agile and responsive workflow.

The highlight of this interoperability potential was the presentation of TTX by Jonatan Schumacher of Thornton Tomasetti. The TTX platform is designed to transfer model information between design development, analysis, and documentation programs in a manner that allows each facet of the project to progress while receiving real-time updates as the design develops.

Another promising feature was the presentation of Autodesk Dynamo, visual programming software that has interoperability with Autodesk Revit’s API. Autodesk appears to be committed to Kowalski’s opening keynote – open collaboration – in that it is an open source project, in addition to providing integration with Autodesk Revit.

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TTX

Efficiencies

Among all the presentations and exhibitions, there was an overall thread of efficiencies. Whether it was the efficiency of using a clean interface, efficiencies in collaboration, or efficiencies in interoperability, the power of technology as an efficiency tool was dominant. Mario Guttman’s presentation on the last day highlighted the need to embrace technology: “Folks, it’s the 21st century, you should have at least one person at your office who knows how to code.” He then loaded a script that enabled him to generate floor plans with view templates that were placed on sheets for 200 rooms in under one minute – a task that would take about a week if done manually. And with these efficiencies comes additional time to improve design development, analysis, and overall project outcome.

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Managing Building Data in Autodesk Revit

There were over 9,000 attendees at Autodesk 2013, with over 600 classes and countless tools that provided impressive results and ideas with great potential. As these tools improve to become more personalized and attuned to facilitate learning and collaboration, the opportunity exists to use these tools as an extension of our thoughts with an inherent natural mastery derived from increasingly seamless user interface. These technological tools are and will be fundamental to how BNIM develops, analyzes, and documents projects. The real transformation, though, is when we recognize that even though our work is a product of our thoughts, our thoughts are in turn impacted by the tools we use — and what will that mean for the future of design?