December 07, 2009
Looking for Geospatial at Autodesk University 2009
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Looking for Geospatial at Autodesk University 2009

By Susan Smith

Driving into Las Vegas this year for Autodesk University, one could not help but notice the large construction cranes standing idle, reminiscent of a boom town Vegas. The sight is a sign of the times, and as you go farther down the Strip, casinos still hold their garish allure for some, yet a climate of faded opulence is palpable.

This year’s AU, held at the Mandalay Bay, kicked off with a General Session/Welcome Address, with beginning remarks by Autodesk evangelist Lynn Allen. CEO Carl Bass began his keynote by saying he was encouraged by “signs that the economy is getting better.”

He added that customers around world say their primary challenge is in trying to stay competitive. Because of the tough economy and more complex projects, customers need to work more efficiently.

Bass’s keynote focused mainly on the areas in which Autodesk has excelled: design, both architectural and mechanical and most recently 3D plant design.

Using a timeline, Bass showed how successful technologies move in a continuum from impossible to impractical, then possible, then to expected and finally to required. He pointed out that flying was considered impossible except by those like Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s required in today’s society. Timing of the technology is a critical factor, if it’s too early, it won’t be embraced, people aren’t ready for it; if it’s too late, it misses the boat. He gave the example of the Newton PDA which was ahead of its time, while now it’s almost required that everyone have a mobile phone with a lot of features. In this continuum there is a sweet spot.

Five design capabilities or technologies are currently moving from impractical into the sweet spot, said Bass:

Exploration, analysis, storytelling, collaboration, and access.

The technological development accelerating these technologies is cloud computing – or web based computing, which is “becoming as cheap and reliable as electricity, so we can take greater advantage of computing power,” said Bass. It is a very big platform shift, and he said a shift like this comes along every ten to 20 years – that changes the way we use computers and do design and engineering work.

An example of the use of this computing power is Autodesk’s Project Twitch, currently in Autodesk Labs, which allows you to access Autodesk software directly from the web running in the distance on a far more powerful machine than your own.


Software companies are all undergoing some internal shifting to accommodate the economic downturn, and Autodesk is no exception.

Consolidation has happened at Autodesk. One vendor noted that in years past, there had been a geospatial section on the exhibit floor devoted to the geo-related companies. There was no Geospatial Keynote this year as there has been in past years. A Utilities Keynote was held on Monday that I did not attend, and a Government Keynote, which I would have thought would focus on geospatial, gave it nary a mention. The attention there was on the integration of BIM into government, and transportation. Some technical sessions addressed the use of Map 3D, MapGuide and Topobase.

If it seems that geospatial is not at the top of Autodesk’s priority list, that’s probably the case right now. Autodesk has been talking about “blurring the boundaries” between products and divisions for years, because there are some areas where customers feel the need for information from other industry segments. Manufacturing customers want to be able to take advantage of BIM models for example, for the management of building products. Autodesk undertook to integrate CAD and GIS because their AutoCAD customers wanted to be able to access minimal quantities of GIS data, without having to learn an entire GIS system. It is the sign of a changing world; perhaps
what we’ll see in future is the use of Autodesk’s geospatial products integrated into in-building navigation products, since the built environment is the company’s primary focus.

At a press breakfast at AU, Phil Bernstein, FAIA, vice president of industry strategy and relations for AEC, shed some light on Autodesk’s reorganization, by speaking about what AEC was now at Autodesk.

Last year, AEC was comprised of Building and Civil. Now the AEC division is comprised of building, infrastructure, plant and civil, with civil expanded to include water, wastewater and utilities.

In the past, water, wastewater and utilities were under the heading “infrastructure,” and considered the domain of geospatial at Autodesk, but it seems infrastructure has taken to mean the built environment and therefore utilities, water and wastewater fit into the category vis-à-vis their built needs.

Paul McRoberts, director of the Infrastructure Group, described how Map 3D and Topobase are used to aggregate and reconcile data for reporting back out. Map 3D and Topobase are used for records management and planning for property management. Visualization will be huge in transportation, he said, with the ability of LandXplorer to create visualizations of cities and roads in very little time.

McRoberts talked about utilizing weather data in Green Building Studio for design purposes, looking at erratic temperatures, rainfall, floods; all those weather peculiarities that can impact design, and using technology to predict them.

In a later conversation with McRoberts, he said geospatial is still very much a part of Autodesk, "but designers do not use or leverage GIS data the way they could.  Today they see no use for it.  We are hoping to change that.”

This is after Autodesk’s spearheading the Open Source Geospatial Foundation, the development of the promising Feature Data Objects, MapGuide and MapGuide Open Source, Map 3D, Topobase and other products that have been notable in the geospatial industry. These products are still alive and well at Autodesk….and a third party developer confirmed that robust new versions of both Map 3D and Civil 3D will be announced in 2010. Another GIS third party vendor said that they only demonstrate their Civil product at Autodesk, not their other geospatial offerings.

3D Laser Scanning

In this past year there has been a growth of interest in 3D laser scanning of the built environment. As Stimulus funding is earmarked for renovation and retrofits of buildings, 3D laser scanning is now a relatively cost effective and very accurate way to aggregate data from existing buildings. Vendors of this technology say that the price has come down so that customers are no longer only large firms, but smaller firms can now afford to have laser scanning done. This scanning can also include lidar data, which of course, is a product of the geospatial industry.

Visualization and Simulation

Autodesk has a heavy investment in the film and gaming industries, and one would wager that the visualization and simulation that we find in geospatial, particularly the high end products that the military and defense industries use - might benefit from the development of these tools.

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-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.

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