Geo Week News

June 30, 2011

Why Autodesk made no mention of 3D data capture

Listening to Autodesk’s presentation to investors yesterday, I was struck by one thing above all else: There was exactly zero mention of 3D data capture (or “reality capture,” a term Autodesk has used before). Through all of Autodesk CEO Carl Bass’s actually very good presentation, I kept waiting for that shoe to drop, but it never did.

There’s pretty great excitement around Revit’s new ability to handle point clouds in 2012, for example, but that excitement didn’t translate into a spot in Bass’s presentation.

Before I get into why I think that is, though, let’s look at what Bass did say.

First, it was interesting to hear the way he described his own company:

He called Autodesk a “3D software company.” “One company helps you design it all,” he said. Autodesk will allow you to “perfect every element before anything is ever built.” Thanks to Autodesk you’ll be “moving from what can be done to what should be done.” 

Notice that everything there implies a totally clean slate. 

But think of the four groups of customers Bass identified as Autodesk’s sweet spot (or maybe “suite spot,” considering Autodesk’s new emphasis on its suites of software): AEC, manufacturing, media and entertainment, and consumers.

What percentage of construction is new build vs. renovation or adding on to existing structures? Maybe it’s 30/70? Seems like the AEC community could do with a perfect capture of reality on which to base their designs for renovations and additions. 

How often are manufacturers creating products out of whole cloth, based not at all on products that already exist? Seems like they’d like to be able to scan in existing parts and models and then work with them digitally.

What do gamers seem to be inserting more and more often into their games? Virtual renditions of reality, be they ballplayers’ faces or city street scenes or realistic looking weaponry and vehicles. Heck, EA Sports made a big deal out of scanning the entirety of Augusta National this year. 

And consumers? Well, they might not even know that laser scanners exist yet, but once they hit the consumer arena, can you imagine the amount of things they’ll want to scan? Or maybe even just photograph and then pop into Photofly to create a mesh?

Just stop to consider Bass’s central analogy for why infinite computing, combined with Autodesk’s new collaboration and cloud tools, will help the design-build industry: Too much of design and engineering looks like Battleship, Bass said. The engineers guess and then the analyst does the analysis and then they say, ‘miss.’ Then they guess again and then they miss again until finally there’s a hit. Thanks to infinite computing and the banks of computers that are at everyone’s disposal (for a price), we can now try all of the locations at once. 

Okay, I buy that actually. But wouldn’t it be nice if we collected real-world data so everyone involved actually knows what the Battleship board actually looks like? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was basing design and decisions off of real world, geo-referenced, survey-accurate data?

So, why isn’t Autodesk touting its new ability to work with scan data in Revit, since it makes a ton of sense with the overall message?

Well, maybe because it doesn’t really work yet. Maybe because it’s still not a workable way to do scan to BIM. Maybe because they’ve received the feedback like the feedback I heard at the Hexagon conference earlier this month (and this guy is not a Leica/Hexagon employee, I can assure you):

“Autodesk 2012 can import scan data directly into Revit, so we can get the points directly into these products now, which is a huge step forward. This offers the promise of eliminating that second step, that modeling of things twice,” I heard.  

Wait, what do you mean by “promise,” though?

“It’s doable, but there are some challenges with it. We’re not using this as our method yet. We’re going to need some stronger tools in the software in order to model this stuff properly.” 

Like what?

“We weren’t able, when we brought in the scan data, to position it the way we needed to with any kind of coordinate system control. Which was pretty important. You can’t actually snap to the points. And that’s a big problem. The tool sets aren’t there yet that you’ll find in Cyclone and other products. It’s a good first step, they got the points into the product, but they have a lot of development left.” 

And products that have a lot of development left to go aren’t exactly the ones you tout to your investors. 


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