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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

What’s new in geo at Autodesk University 2013

December 5th, 2013 by Susan Smith

Robots for the future jobsite, flying drones for delivering packages and reality capture were all part of the show at Tuesday morning’s Mainstage presentation at Autodesk University 2013. Clearly, these technology directions are dependent upon location and geospatial technology.

Iris the robot


The event kicked off with a short little skit by the comedians Penn & Teller, who were to provide an entire show for AU attendees on Thursday. Attendance seems to be up; 9400 on Tuesday, with an expected rise in attendance as the event progressed.

Jeff Kowalksi, CTO of Autodesk, quoted Alvin Toffler in saying that the illiterate of the 20th century are not going to be those who can’t read and write, but those who can’t learn. Kowalski said it takes a new mindset to fully unlock the value of any new tool set.  He suggests that we need to be looking for answers outside rather than inside. “The problem isn’t with the toolset,” said Kowalski, “it’s with mindset, humans are wired to avoid risk.”

Also it’s no longer necessary to own all our tools. “Now that you can rent Autodesk software, the ownership model has finally caught up to the agility of the product itself,” said Kowalski. This type of rental model is evident in the leasing of cars, Airbnb, and anything where you don’t need to own something to make use of it.

CEO and president Carl Bass furthered Kowalski’s point in his keynote, saying, “The best decisions that I’ve made have come from thinking about things differently, breaking the rules and going outside.”

Bot & Dolly’s “Iris” the robot, as well as the Quadrocopter designed by Frederic Ugugliaro of ETH Zurich, provided wow factors. Robots and drones or UAVs were deftly woven into the fabric of the Autodesk message as potential tools for building future infrastructure. Autodesk’s focus for all their technology areas is on infrastructure, a wide umbrella that includes buildings, roads, transportation, bridges, site planning, city design, utilities and much more. Increasingly, professionals in those areas recognize the need for geospatial information in their design and planning.

Media Day

Chris Bradshaw, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Autodesk, opened the conversation in a Media presentation during that afternoon.

Andrew Anagnost spoke on the topic “Leading the Cloud Transformation” in which he talked about how the Cloud is changing everything, and mainly “we’re looking at new ways that customers can buy.” Those may include desktop rental, cloud services, and consumption. The cloud brings more flexibility and choice to customers.

Big data is changing the way people view projects.

Customer Experience

This discussion somewhat dovetailed with a lively Customer Panel on Wednesday. John Jacobs: CIO, JE Dunn made some telling comments about the state of interoperability. “Autodesk, Microsoft, IBM, etc. all  talk about interoperability – but they are only discussing interoperability in their own stack. They’re putting all their R&D money into adding interoperability and functionality within their stack. The business problem is cross platform integration.”

“We built a estimating tool on the Microsoft platform called Base that will be available next year,” said Dunn. “We have involved Autodesk to build those bridges to deliver groundbreaking industry changing stuff. We had to do that leveraging Autodesk consulting.”

Granted, they are involving Autodesk in the process. In their own defense an Autodesk spokesman said that they do much more integration cross platform than this customer suggested, mostly with their cloud-based and open source offerings.

There may be a big gap between some of the technology directions and what most customers do in the trenches, yet there is a profound need for collaboration between companies who are part of a project team and the handling of data.

Product Announcements

Some of the product announcements of interest to GIS professionals include the recent  Autodesk InfraWorks 360 Pro, Autodesk Roadway Design for InfraWorks 360 Pro and Autodesk Vehicle Tracking (a technology based on the acquisition of technology assets from Savoy Computing).

Autodesk also acquired technology assets of UK-based Azalient Ltd., an acquisition that will support building information modeling (BIM)-based workflows for traffic engineers and transportation planners. This technology is a simulation product that allows the simulation of how people travel, by what locomotion, and to predict traffic disruptions from construction and provide alternative infrastructure design options.

Autodesk announced a collaboration with TopCon, which is aimed at improving the integration of BIM workflows  and field layout. This collaboration will also involve a new Autodesk BIM 360 app for iPad to make it easier to locate BIM coordinates precisely on a construction site. Designed for general contractors and MEP professionals, the app will control a robotic total station and the new LN-100 3D positioning system from Topcon. As-built data can be fed back into the design model via BIM 360 for quality assurance. Topcon was traditionally considered a geospatial company but they have extended their reach into many other industry segments now, including the area of BIM.

Another company that has been extending its reach to various industries from a geospatial base is Leica Geosystems, who announced their new BIM Field Trip solutions to help contractors extend BIM into the field and bring that information back to the office model. The new BIM Field Trip solutions take full advantage of Leica Geosystems’ established precision measurement technologies.

The Future

In a session called “BuildX: Construction site of the future,” Mike Whaley, president of Turis Systems talked about the “scanning revolution” and how “reality capture” is really the new term for it, as that technology has evolved to become more accessible, portable and applicable in myriad ways. He also listed some ways in which this technology could be used onsite, for example, cut fill, storage, waste, capture and monitor during construction, for formwork and concrete reinforcement in structural work.

Whaley stated that “reality capture is not just laser scanning, but blending multiple pieces of technology and putting that into a method that we can do analysis on.”

An even more surprising jump is to the notion of using flying machines to deliver materials and products on the jobsite. Up until now, the geospatial community has been cognizant of “Unmanned Airborne Vehicles” (UAVs) for use in military operations only. Recently both Amazon and UPS have announced that they plan to use these for delivering lightweight packages to customers in the future – meaning maybe five years out.

In a presentation called “Flying Machines Interacting with the Environment,” given by Federic Ugugliaro, Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, he spoke of the research and development they are doing with “quadrocopters” that can perform many dynamic tasks alone or working together.


These flying “drones” could be used for

  • Research
  • Localization
  • Navigation
  • coordination of multiple vehicles
  • Monitoring and inspection
  • aerial photography and filmography
  • mapping and photogrammetry
  • anywhere where they can sense their environment

The research is still in its infancy, evidenced by the test videos Ugugliaro showed where a machine could get caught in a wire or rope and then crash into something or into another machine. It would appear that some of these problems would have been solved by the military before they sent them off their respective missions. The machines are outfitted with GPS coordinates and are completely autonomous, but some features must be built in so that they can deal with the inevitability of unstable environments and things running into them.

Ideally, Ugugliaro said “we will always know where they are, and are able to control them. We can pick a task and analyze it mathematically.” They have created an algorithm to make it possible for the machine to fly safely after propeller loss.

Here is a video of the quadrocopter after propeller loss.

Ugugliaro said they are in collaboration with architects Mirjan, Gramazio and Kohler to analyze external forces and a sensing environment so people can interact with the copter. This photo is of flight assembled architecture the collaborators have built with the Quadrocopter, a six-meter tower made of 1500 foam elements that is a live installation at the FRAC Centre in France.

Flight assembled architecture used to build a six-meter tall tower using 1500 foam elements. Live installation: FRAC Centre, France.

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Categories: AutoCAD, Autodesk, Big Data, cloud, crowd source, geospatial, GIS, integrated GIS solutions, LBS, location based sensor fusion, location based services, mobile

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