December 14, 2009
Autodesk University 2009 AEC Report
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
Autodesk University 2009 AEC Report

By Susan Smith

CEO Carl Bass
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. AEC and sustainability were predominant themes at the conference, as infrastructure planning feeds into all Autodesk’s industry segments.

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Lynn Allen, Autodesk evangelist
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. 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.

An example of the use of this computing power is Autodesk’s Project Twitch, currently in Autodesk Labs, utilizing cloud computing so that users can access Autodesk software directly from the web running on a distant server.


Dr. Amory Lovins, sustainable design pioneer, CEO and president of the Rocky Mountain Institute, spoke on “Whole System Thinking.”

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Lovins said that the strongest tool we have to attain this “whole system thinking” is to improve how we design. Design has “multiple benefits, single cost,” according to Lovins. “In conventional thinking you invest in efficiency until its marginal costs are met, but if you invest continually, you are tumbling through the cost barrier to achieve expanding returns.”

He gave the example of how his organization retrofitted the Empire State Building to save 38% energy, using windows that let in light without heat, better lights and office equipment, which resulted in $4.4 million saved per year.

Looking at transportation, he pointed out that 86% of fuel never gets to the gas tanks of the vehicles. “A huge benefit is in making the cars lighter weight, reduce the mass of car first,” said Lovins. “Our company created a 2/3 smaller power train, and radically simplified manufacturing, and this car gets 56% savings on gas. If we made all our light trucks and cars this way we could save enough to not have to get oil from Saudi Arabia.”


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

Phil Bernstein, vice president of industry strategy and relations for AEC Solutions
Consolidation has happened at Autodesk. 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, vice president of infrastructure, 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.

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A discussion ensued about how Google SketchUp is “everywhere” and it is free. Users can use it in concert with IES VE-Ware to create free analysis. The question is, why would they want to buy Ecotect and Green Building Studio for analysis when SketchUp and VE-Ware are free?

In a later conversation with Avatech Solutions’ executives, they said that Autodesk customers are staying with the upgrade path in building design. More customers are “doing more with less” and cutting steps out of their processes. Civil 3D is now transitioning from a shelf product to being used widely.

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