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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 »

GISCafe Insights from Autodesk University 2015

December 31st, 2015 by Susan Smith

Autodesk CEO Carl Bass opened the mainstage presentation of Autodesk University 2015 in Las Vegas at the beginning of December by talking about how companies are “reframing” the way they think about their work. “Sometimes we have to reframe our view toward entire industries,” he said. Access to data was a big topic at the conference, as the building industry also has to grapple with the management of huge datasets, as does the geospatial industry.

Apple building in Cupertino

Apple building in Cupertino

He pointed to a big Autodesk building project in Cupertino – the new Apple building, which is shaped like a big donut. The new building will be an open air factory, designed by Norman Foster & Partners of London. He was surprised that a big precast concrete panel was made with super precision, to be part of a parking garage. This was an example of how building and manufacturing are converging, he said.

“Sometimes the convergence is inspired by provocative new data,” said Bass. “In China they are building a mega factory for car batteries.” Looking at the environmental lifecycle of cars, studies found that by the time a car rolls off the assembly line, it has produced 1/3 of the carbon of its lifetime. Divergent Microfactories was created to build a car chassis made of microcarbon tubes, that are energy efficient in the making, not just the running of the car.

Bass also talked about reframing our thinking about people – that there is no shortage of jobs but a shortage of people, as organizations are all competing hard to get the best people to work for them. People want to do meaningful work.

Jeff Kowalski, CTO, spoke about how over the course of the next 20 years, we’re going to experience a more change than in the past 20 years. He said as there were four historical ages that humans had passed through: hunter gatherer age, agricultural age, industrial age, and information age.

“We are on the cusp of the next era of human work – the augmented age,” said Kowalski. “We are radically augmented by the digital nervous system. Augmenting cognition is going to upgrade the way we think. Our relationship with tools has been directive because tools are passive.”

By moving from passive to generative, all is needed are goals and constraints as input. Generatively designed things are making their way into the real world, said Kowalski.

One of the more interesting aspects of the talk was about “Empathic computing” – incorporation of human responses into the system. It remembers your tastes and aesthetic preferences, what you really want and need.

“Computers aren’t just going to be working for us, but thinking with us,” said Kowalski.

One topic of interest was the idea of “automatic labs” raised by Amar Hanspal of Autodesk. He talked about a data collector that plugs into an outlet in a car, for example, and collects location data, RPMs, and other useful data that would eventually be used in the manufacturing process. It would find a way to gather data from products, which may be another avenue for the geospatial market in the future, similar to how we can currently gather data from drones, scans and satellite imagery.

Subscription Program

Amy Bunszel, vice president of AutoCAD products and Subscription Programs, spoke about the subscription program at Autodesk and how the cloud plus mobile gives incredible access. Users today expect access to data that is streamlined and provides continuous updates. The cloud changes the way things are built and managed, and how we use and manage products. The cloud is described as disruption-free with bite-sized, simplified updates that provides a coherent experience on the desktop, mobile or anywhere.

Project Wingman runs alongside A360 and has information on all the products used and who is using them. You can pick and choose updates and other information on the updates. Wingman is designed as an aid for users and a window into the subscription experience, that will be rolled out soon.

All in all, the subscription program is being made to be one training and support destination, with collaboration available across any platform. It sounds like more than what we have thought of as subscription up to now, with its own actual tools to facilitate the process, laying the groundwork for an easier upgrade experience overall.


A number of new solutions or products were announced, among them SeeControl, completely cloud-based, connected to sensors collecting data in real time from products built by customers. This way, SeeControl can predict failures so customers can repair the fixes before they become a problem. This will be sold as a service, and customers will pay for hours used only.

Autodesk is also providing an investment fund called the Forge Fund, giving over $100 million away over the next few years, to companies who need capital to fund projects. The Forge Fund is “an initiative to accelerate a cloud connected ecosystem in support of the future of making things. The initiative consists of three major components – a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, a robust developer program, and a $100 million investment fund – all geared toward advancing the next wave of innovative technologies that will transform how products are designed, made and used.”

The products of tomorrow will be including far more data than we have so far been able to imagine, by incorporating GIS, sensor, statistical data, tracking data and much more into a more intelligent, more automatic presentation.

The Future of the Smart City

Michael Thydell, BIM strategist, talked about the “100 Story Sensor” as the backbone of Smart City. “Our houses and cities are producing increasing amounts of data,” said Thydell. “Cities need to be sustainable, flexible and also producers of resources.”

He talked about the “electric city,” with electric cars that need to be produced locally. He envisions transparent solar panels that will be electrically produced. The city will produce its own food. “Future cities need to be more complex than the cities of today,” he said.

Also biogas and water infrastructures need to be open to constant change. Thydell talked about Nya Karolinska Solna, Stockholm, (NKS), with a project involving two islands in the Baltic Sea with a submerged cable that provides all the electricity for a given area. It is too expensive to replace, and they need smart technology to provide data to replace this set up. Another project, Oakwood Beach, is suffering from climate change altering the environment with changes in floodplains and population growth. They have used geospatial to map changes in the floodplains as well as population growth statistics, using a multi-faceted approach with tools that go beyond the bottom line.

BIM City

BIM City

One of the exhibits at AU was their own BIM City, which largely focused on the construction aspect of building information modeling (BIM).

Within that display was also the Eco District Washington D.C. City Model using Autodesk InfraWorks analysis of energy and stormwater flows to meet aggressive sustainability goals. Rapid energy modeling, green stormwater simulation and Autocase triple bottom line automated analyses, giving users a defensible set of figures were used in the model. InfraWorks is the embodiment of everything geospatial in Autodesk, and components of the product is inside products such as Civil 3D.

According to vice president of Autodesk Phil Bernstein, 13 years ago when they started BIM, they thought basic representation change would occur. Architects and engineers spearheaded all heterogeneous processes.

“We are starting to see more episodic workflows come closer together,” said Bernstein. “We don’t think of BIM as a product but as a mindset.”

It is the most profound transformation in the building industry, and has the ability to rapidly transmit large data sets. BIM mandates in the UK, plus the ability of design and construction to work together have changed the way BIM is being used. Bernstein said the future of making things is linked to this.


AU was also the scene of a lot of reality capture opportunities such as demonstrated under the umbrella of Autodesk’s LiveDesign, where the Project Expo beta solution puts Autodesk Revit into an interactive gaming engine, Autodesk Stingray. Stingray can kick out to the Xbox, or other gaming devices, internet or a VR headset. Users can interact with the Revit model that is brought into Stingray with the Oculus VR headset on. One can also use the less expensive “Google Cardboard” to view images.

Users can decide what they want to see, as the Revit model is being generated in real time as you interact with it. Once you put on the headset, you can move between rooms and worlds with great ease, getting a virtual sense of the environment to come.


While so many of the events and the Autodesk exhibits point quite far into the future, it is valuable to see how the present workflows inform what may be the workflows of tomorrow, complete with new ways of looking at building and integrating geospatial data, as well as manufacturing processes into the mix.

The new offerings presented by mobile, phones, and drones have burst on all industries simultaneously, providing a way to access data in ever-increasing and surprising new ways. While technologies such as geospatial will need to remain separate in many iterations, they also are necessary in various stages of site planning, building, environmental studies and planning 3D cities. Taking note of geospatial’s role in concert with building information modeling and other modeling processes will offer a more complex and global picture of the built and natural world of tomorrow.

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Categories: 3D Cities, 3D designs, 3D PDF, analytics, asset management, Autodesk, Big Data, citizen science, climate change, cloud, cloud network analytics, crowd source, data, disaster relief, drones, geocoding, geospatial, GIS, handhelds, image-delivery software, indoor location technology, integrated GIS solutions, laser radar, LBS, lidar, location based sensor fusion, location based services, location intelligence, mapping, mobile, public safety, resilient cities, smartphones, spatial data, UAS, UAV, UAVs, utilities

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