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Autodesk University: Day 3 - Spotlight on Product Strategy and Innovation

Autodesk University is primarily a training conference. There are over 500 classes that fill four floors of the convention center for almost a week. Everyone from architects to product designers to engineers to animators had something to attend. In addition to classes, Autodesk used the show as a way to introduce products and reveal future directions for the company.

By George Maestri

Autodesk University is primarily a training conference.  There are over 500 classes that fill four floors of the convention center for almost a week.  Seeing the list of classes demonstrates just how broad and deep Autodesk’s design software reaches.  Everyone from architects to product designers to engineers to animators had something to attend.  In addition to classes, Autodesk used the show as a way to introduce products and reveal future directions for the company.

Trade Show floor

Trade Show floor

The 3DS Max group held a lunch where they discussed future direction of that product.  The big acronym for them is XBR, also known as Excalibur.  The XBR project is a complete reworking of the product for next generation computing.  This will not be one massive rollout, but rather a gradual change in the product in the coming years.  3DS Max will be put on a diet, with a completely new core, which will increase speed and reliability.  Multithreaded graphics in every viewport will be combined with updated UI features the make Max more productive.  They’ll also focus on data management and the ability to view the data in a scene multiple ways.

Another interesting presentation was with Autodesk Labs.  This is the group within Autodesk that blazes trails and plays with new technologies that can be used by a number of Autodesk divisions.  This year, they talked a lot about the web and how it creates connectivity.  They also talked about the explosion in parallel processing, not only with multiple cores in a CPU, but data centers, which can contain thousands of cores.  Combined with internet connectivity, the CPU cores in these data centers can become an extension of the CPU on your desktop. 

One of the more interesting things they showed was the ability for the computer to “genetically” come up with optimum designs for a building or some other designed object.  The designer feeds the computer the desired results, such as energy efficiency and amount of daylight required.  The computer then creates a wide array of buildings and uses these to distill down a building with optimum window placement, for example.  Another amazing use of internet connectivity was Autodesk’s Twitch project, a technology demo which allows remote users to run AutoCAD, Revit, and 3DS Max remotely.  A high end computer sits in a data center, and the remote user only needs to provide a supported browser to access the full features of the application.  This concept allows for almost anyone to use Autodesk products anywhere.

Once the classes and presentations were over, there was plenty of nightlife.  Being Las Vegas, a lot of the attendees jumped on the monorail and went off to do things that would stay in Vegas.  For those wanting to stick closer to the hotel, there were a number of events.  The AU Parry was held at Shark Reef, which is one of Mandalay Bay’s main attractions.  Attendees noshed and drank amongst the rare sharks and other sea creatures.  Another great event was Pecha Kucha night.  Pecha Kucha is a new presentation format started in Japan that is catching on throughout the design and visual arts community.  The presenter shows 20 images for 20 seconds apiece, for a total time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds.  The Cut&Paste Design Slam was another regular event, this year Autodesk executives Carl Bass, Buzz Kross, and Phil Bernstein designed gadgets for James Bond.  Jeffrey McGrew of ‘Because We Can’ won the "Dangerous Liaisons" competition. Applauded by the onsite and webcast audience alike, Jeffrey won an HP Mini 110 netbook for his efforts.

Cut&Paste Design Slam winner.

Cut&Paste Design Slam winner.

The trade show offered a number of great products that work with Autodesk software.  nVidia was showing their latest graphics cards with CUDA technology.  These cards have become more than just graphics cards; they’ve become little supercomputers in their own right.  One of the coolest demos was showing how a graphics card can accelerate the fluid dynamics calculations in Autodesk’s Moldflow, which simulates the injection of plastics into molds.

nVidia graphics card accelerates fluid dynamic calculations in Autodesk's Moldflow software.

nVidia graphics card accelerates fluid dynamic calculations in Autodesk's Moldflow software.

Speaking of plastics, a number of companies were showing 3D printing technology that not only prints in plastic, but also rubber and metal. One of the most amazing demonstrations of this was Stratasys’ 3D printed aircraft engine, which was printed in less than a day and completely worked.  3D was also showing up in displays.  ATI was showing 3D stereoscopic support for their graphics cards, but even more interesting was Alioscopy’s glasses-free 3D displays.  You could see the 3D effect very clearly just by standing in front of the screen.  I can see a lot of use for these.

Stratasys’ 3D printed aircraft engine

Stratasys’ 3D printed aircraft engine

The show wrapped up on Thursday, and by Friday everyone was on their way home.  The show returns to Las Vegas in a year.

George Maestri is an animation director and producer. He is currently the president of Rubber Bug, a Los Angeles based animation studio. He also teaches animation at Otis College of Art and Lynda.com.

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