Brian Mathews, director of Autodesk Labs, gave a briefing to the press yesterday as part of Autodesk University about some of the top trends he sees that are driving software development. The role of Labs is to eliminate speed bumps between technology that is practical and technology that is possible, creating real prototypes with ideas that come from their own and others research.
The trends of model-based design are profoundly different than the term “computer-aided design.” Mathews declared the term dead now, and said it really was never a fair term for what the software stood for. People continue to be the designers in today’s paradigm, with the computer just assisting the accurate rendering, but that’s about to change.
The trends that Mathews outlined are:
1. Human-centered design — We’re getting much better at designing software and interfaces that greatly enable the user in the design process. With available processing power of computers now, it’s possible to shift toward interfaces and workflow processes that anticipate the next move and eliminate incremental and tedious steps.
2. Analog to Digital – The near-complete metamorphosis away from analog enables such possibilities as creating a fully feature-based model simply through the process of capturing real-world elements with point-cloud generating technologies (lasers and even photos). The move to automated model creation means that we’ll be working toward morphing our reality much more intuitively and organically.
3. A Cloud of Data – As an outcome of easy model generation, we’ll see a huge amount of data that we need better means to manage. As a positive outcome, the process will move closer toward the disappearance of format translation issues because all will be a model. Autodesk’s philosophy of the model-based design approach is to “make it once, keep it real, give it reach.”
4. Infinite Computing — The advent of cloud computing is something that Mathews prefers to call infinite computing for its ability to give users super-fast computing functions that are delivered through the Web and that can make any computing platform (even a netbook) into a high-end workstation. Autodesk has a prototype site called Project Twitch where they serve the complete functionality of the latest versions of AutoCAD, Revit, Inventor, and Maya without having to install or download the applications. Another vision that is enabled by this possibility is to perform speculative computing, where you can provide the software with desired outcomes for designs and then through genetic algorithms have the computer create different iterations until it achieves the best optimal design out of the parameters that you’ve outlined.
5. Digital Reality – We’re getting much closer to being able to model and manipulate from reality. Mathews outlined a prototype iPhone application that can create detailed 3D models by simply taking videos or a series of photos orbiting the building. He then showed how you could import furniture from a suppliers website to view how it would look in your surroundings. Another offshoot of this is the advancements that are taking place in rapid 3D printing. Many companies now can serve up detailed models from multiple materials, and Mathews predicted the day when we’ll be able to print out a pair of shoes from our home 3D printer. In that scenario, the design becomes similar to music, where we’ll all be sharing our favorite designs back and forth, and paying the designer a nominal fee.
6. Web Services — At the center of all that’s outlined above is Web Services that make everything more powerful by offloading analysis and computing as services. The Web-based approach has the potential to harness design with the social web in order to greatly enhance collaborative design. Mathews sees the advent of cloud computing as a means to do things we never even thought of before rather than as simply a means to do things that we’re doing now cheaper.
The center of this vision is the idea of what it means to design. Autodesk is investing time and effort on such things as biomimicry and the development of genetic algorithms for design variables. The shift away from the computer accepting or inputs for the creation of a model to the computer assisting us to make the best possible model will be profound.
The intent of the shift is toward a much more integrative, attractive, safe and lowest cost model that takes in principals of nature and that involves production with the least amount of impact on our planet. I think we can all buy into this paradigm shift that lies ahead.