December 13, 2010
Tracking Down Geospatial at Autodesk
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor


by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Tracking Down Geospatial at Autodesk


Autodesk has at its core, an engineering nervous system. Its interest is in providing tools for engineers, who at one time or another, run into the need to use or interact with geospatial information. Up until last year, Autodesk had a GIS division, but they disbanded it and now GIS pros like Geoff Zeiss are part of the AEC Solutions division with architects like Phil Bernstein.


The reason for this, according to Zeiss, is that architects needed to be educated about “what's in the world.” They design usually in an abstract space that doesn't have relationship to where a building is placed geographically. That part comes with land planning or city planning. “The fact that we're now in AEC is the best thing that could have happened,” said Zeiss.


Autodesk talks about how GIS is important, yet they do not have a GIS division. Zeiss said that when they did have such a division, they focused on GIS; now they talk to architects. Further evidence that GIS has been absorbed into the company is that one of the company's most successful products, Civil 3D, is built on Map 3D, which is built on AutoCAD, yet a lot of Civil 3D users don't know about the Map 3D capabilities, according to Kevin Breslin, infrastructure solutions manager for IMAGINiT.


Driving architects' interest in GIS is sustainable design, according to Zeiss, and the need to visualize and know where things are in the geographic space that is to be sustainably designed, the environment's characteristics, such as water sources, power sources, and so on.


Building codes developed by city governments are starting to be mandated for sustainable design.


Geospatial information can be integrated into building information modeling, according to Zeiss, and it will become possible to integrate it into other Autodesk products as well. All the projection and coordinate systems acquired by Autodesk are open source.


Zeiss said that what will be “big” will be imagery -- oblique, lidar, photogrammetry, all high resolution data for geospatial. Part of the reason for this is presentation - for 3D cities, mayors and other stakeholders can see the visual impact of a project before it is built. Another reason Zeiss pointed to is the shortage of electrical people, with over 45% of workers retiring over the next 10 years. Most of the younger generation has grown up with video games and technology and appreciates the use of imagery and 3D design tools.


What sounds like a very elementary product is the Labs' offering PhotoFly which can recognize the same feature in different photographs and put together a point cloud. Microsoft DigitalGlobe Clear 30 is going to be flying the whole U.S. every two years. Pictometry is doing 4 inch pixels, plus oblique, unique to them and Pictometry also allows you to measure heights of structures.


“This will change the utility business,” said Zeiss. “The reason is, in the U.S. the geolocation information for most infrastructure is abysmal.”


What this means is all utilities and telcoms will need to resurvey all their data. “The rule of thumb of how much it costs to survey is $100 per feature when sending someone out in a truck,” said Zeiss. “If you can sit in an office with high resolution photogrammetry it can be $10, and someone else claims it can be done for $2.”


“You have to know where things are to at least 1 foot, but if you look at the expenditure required to do it when you send them out in trucks as opposed to using high resolution imagery, it's huge,” Zeiss said.


Laser scanning is a big part of the rebuilding of infrastructure in and outside the U.S. Every one of the 14,000 substations in the U.S. will have to be rehabbed or replaced. Zeiss said currently Russian and U.S. companies are delivering AutoCAD 3D objects, which are more of an estimate of the built environment, not an accurate measure. To have a really accurate model it will be necessary to spend on laser scanning.


The Cloud


What will make possible these computer intensive operations such as high resolution imagery and laser scanning is the cloud, or “infinite computing,” as Autodesk refers to it.


In his keynote, CTO Autodesk Jeff Kowalski said a toolset change may require a mindset change, and infinite computing, is both a toolset change and a mindset change. It allows people to do things they may not have been able to contemplate before. Quoting Einstein, he said: “you can't solve a problem using the same mindset that created the problem.”



Infinite computing allows us to work from everywhere, said Kowalski. “We are never out of touch with our data.”



This direction actually became much clearer in a later conversation with Callan Carpenter, VP, global subscription and support, who said the biggest new feature of their subscription program is the new features to products offered by Software-as-a Service (SaaS). “We are augmenting the desktop with point functionality from the cloud,” said Carpenter.


CEO Carl Bass noted in a Q&A session: “We're going to have a hybrid computing model. Because of the tablet, there is incredible computing power and you don't need to be connected. You'll continue to have local devices - and the cloud for compute intensive jobs. We don't build out our own cloud, for most of them we are trying to use commoditized resources; if you need an answer within short period of time you pay more; there are some models like this. What if people are able to solve problems they were never able to solve before?


We think the cloud is a choice. Some customers no longer want the local choice, where they need power and resources; they want another choice of deployment. Choice is available to all customers. Pricing models are changing; mobile devices are putting pressure on the market. The way we can use infinite computing is by offering different models for those who only need this software two hours a month.”


A Common Environment and Project Galileo


Paul McRoberts, senior director of the Infrastructure Product Line, quoted a Booz Hamilton study which stated that $41 trillion of construction will be needed in the next 25 years. About half of what is actually needed is going to spent in transportation, power and water. The big driver is $10 trillion in power, $10.2 trillion in transportation and water $10 trillion. Water needs the most help and is more scarce than oil.


A burgeoning problem with all utilities is that they don't know where their assets and they send out trucks to dig somewhere without knowing what assets are in that area. Water, electric and telcoms will all send out trucks without the knowledge of what the other is doing.


Enter the common environment, or database. After putting facilities data into one common database in Calgary, they whittled down their number of trucks from 20 to 2.


The most famous place that has a common database where all infrastructure data is stored is Tokyo. Others include Calgary and Edmonton.


Autodesk's LandXplorer has been a common environment for geospatial and now the new version, Galileo, is poised to take over that role. Galileo puts geospatial and engineering data into a common environment, allowing the user to create a 3D model and include above and underground infrastructure.


It takes 30 minutes to gather information in Galileo, and another 40 minutes to generate data from the GIS environment which can be tax base, building height. Like with everything else at Autodesk the emphasis is more on buildings than on land, so Galileo will be able to take a building sketch in new data, to get an idea of what a new college campus might look like in the context of a city, for example, then do gross levels of analysis around this information. Users can sketch GIS data and put it into Map 3D.


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