Autodesk Univeristy 2010: Design for the masses

Posted on 30 Nov 2010 by The Manufacturer

I am not new to Las Vegas (LV), or in IT speak, I am not a LV noob. I have learned my lessons from previous trips.

Aside from the obvious ones regarding the evils of excess (if one of the average patrons at the hotel buffet were to suffer cardiac arrest [God forbid], they would require a Hummer for a hearse) and the fact that the house always wins, one of the more important things to remember when in Vegas is to plan your mode of transportation.

Despite being one of, if not the, fasted growing cities in the United States, the tourist area of Sin City appears reasonably condensed. Centred on one main road, The Strip, Vegas appears at first glance to be completely manageable by foot. Foolish pavement bashers, I once strolled among you but the vast flatness of the city creates somewhat of an illusion of scale. During my previous incarnation as a Vegas slot jockey, I criss-crossed pretty much the entire Strip in two days. Walking from casino to casino, it sometimes took half an hour just to get to the one across the road. The only reward for my efforts was not an inflated bank balance or a swollen wallet but an enormous blister on my little toe and the realisation that it is only the exteriors of the casinos that really differ.

And so it was my pledge, on this trip to Las Vegas, to the annual Autodesk University, that I would limit my casual strolling to the bare minimum and save my somewhat decrepit right ankle (injured skiing some years ago) from the impact of unnecessarily covering large distances. But everything in Las Vegas is big.

On my first morning here, a trip to the food court and the closest pharmacy via a ride on the ‘tram’ (monorail) took an hour and a half. And from my hotel room at the far wing of the 34th floor of the Mandaly Bay hotel to the Mandalay Bay Convention Centre, where Autodesk University 2010 (AU10) is being held, is a solid 15 minute walk through the casino and past the shark aquarium. This is despite the fact that I can see the convention centre just below me out of the window of my room.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a relatively active individual and all this walking is probably a welcome respite from the daily grind behind the computer screen for many Autodesk users. And, unless I can obtain a Segway or a grandma scooter by wit and deception, I’m probably just going to have to suck it up. Besides, the point of my stay here is not to discuss the pros and cons of incidental exercise. I am here to cover the latest news from CAD company, Autodesk.

Down to business

The theme of this, the 18th Autodesk University, is ‘The power of possible’. It is aimed to be a demonstration, not of what the company is planning for the long term future, but a display of what is possible now. And with Autodesk’s moto to ‘help everyone to imagine, design and create a better world’, the company is also making some significant inroads in to the consumer market.

Utilising the power of consumer mobile technology such as the iPhone, iPad and Android devices, Autodesk is tapping in to a new market and allowing design and demonstration to be undertaken on the go. New apps such as the Sketchbook, while simple, are able to create extremely detailed drawings and designs. Search ‘Autodesk Sketchbook’ on Flikr to see the possibilities this program offers.

In addition these same pieces of portable equipment, which were essentially designed for the consumer market, have become true enablers for business to business operations. The iPad, dismissed by some as a glorified movie player, has taken off in the manufacturing space in the US and products such as Autocad WS really allows data to be taken in to the field. Autocad WS allows users to edit and collaborate on design data over the Web and with half a million users already, the product is proving very popular. A new upgrade, Autocad WS 1.1, will be available shortly which removes the need to always be connected to the net, a complaint of the current version.

One of the most interesting and recently available products comes from the Autodesk Labs stable, a place to try, for free, the newest iterations of Autodesks software offerings, is Project Photofly. Photofly is a program capable of automatically converting photographs, shot around an object or a scene with a standard digital camera, in to a 3d ‘photo scene’. Photo Scene Editor for Project Photofly is a small application that can be downloaded and installed on your Windows computer. This application allows you to submit your photographs in to cloud to and view the Photo Scenes returned by the Project Photofly servers. You can save a Photo Scene in its native format, RZI (Autodesk ImageModeler 2009 format), or export the scene to the DWG or FBX file format. Such shape extraction has previously only been available with expensive laser scanning devices so this new offering provides plenty of promise for the future. The free version of Photo Scene Editor will operate until August 1, 2011. Visit for more.

Perhaps, however, one of the most intriguing elements of the first day of this year’s Autodesk University didn’t come from Autodesk themselves but instead from a company to whom it supplies. TechShop, a membership-based workshop that provides members with access to tools and equipment and instruction, uses Autodesk Digital Prototyping applications AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor Professional, Autodesk Inventor Fusion Technology Preview, Autodesk Inventor Publisher, Autodesk Alias Design, Autodesk Showcase, Autodesk SketchBook Pro, and Autodesk Mudbox. Autodesk also provides high-end workstations to run the software. TechShop provides access to a wide variety of machinery and tools including milling machines and lathes, welding stations and a CNC plasma cutter, sheet metal working equipment, drill presses, band saws and pretty much anything else one might need to make just about anything. Currently there are two sites and a number of already impressive member success stories. Further expansion is planned both in the US and potentially overseas but according to founder Jim Newton, there is interest but no immediate plans for a UK TechShop. One would hope however that such a fantastic idea finds traction in the UK.

Day two of Autodesk University is now commencing and, as my ankle prepares for another beating, I imagine the second day should provide another insightful look at the potential being created by the new innovations in the CAD world. But, after all this is Vegas and it is not all work and incidental exercise and no play. I think this evening’s festivities might include attending the special screening of the new Tron movie, made using Autodesk technology. This might be followed by a trip to the Gunshop where I can let off a few rounds of an M16 at a lifesize target of Dolly Parton. Not everything in this world must be done with a simulation but you never know, someday someone might design me a new ankle.