By Nick Harris
Autodesk University, Autodesk’s flagship customer event, was held two weeks earlier than normal this year which gave it a different feel for several different reasons. There were no Christmas decorations on the streets of Las Vegas, there wasn’t the usual influx of Cowboys heading for the world’s largest Rodeo and the incredible hype around Black Friday hadn’t yet built to its full vigour. The event too seemed to have a more low-key, less flamboyant theme than normal.
We arrived the same week that Donald Trump had been elected as President of the US. It was impossible to avoid being reminded of the fact either by the media, the taxi drivers or the huge Trump Hotel which is highly visible, set just apart from the main strip of hotels.
Trump Hotel in Las Vegas
In many of the conversations I had with fellow attendees, there was a shared sense that change was coming much more quickly than they expected. It appeared that Autodesk’s transition to a Subscription only model was only now becoming a reality for customers as they begin to purchase new licences. Opinions were mixed but most understood that the cloud is changing the way that we all work, even for users of the traditional desktop software. Inevitably, the question raised was about the future of Revit. Would we see a version powered by the cloud in the same way that Fusion 360 is? Fusion 360 is now a fully featured mechanical design, simulation and machining product, soon to be available through any web browser. The announcement about Fusion 360 web browser access was made at one of the keynote sessions and its significance should not be underestimated. The hardware requirements for a workstation to run Autodesk Inventor are high and you need plenty of RAM and specific graphics chipsets if you are going to be doing any sort of complex modelling. With Fusion 360 you just need a modern device and access to the internet.
At the same keynote Amar Hanspal, Senior Vice President of Products, unexpectedly raised the question of Revit in the cloud directly. He acknowledged that Autodesk is regularly being asked about the future of cloud-powered BIM. However, he did not announce a new product but unusually for a keynote address, a research project, Project Quantum. In a separate session later, some detail around Project Quantum was revealed. At its heart, it is concurrent access to a cloud-hosted building model for multiple types of applications. Those applications may include Revit, FormIt, Dynamo or technology we are yet to see like a web browser based building modeller. This is the realisation of the theme of my previous article, the move from a linear file-based process to a parallel database based one. At this session, we saw a lot of early concepts with boxes moving around the screen and actually not many buildings. Interestingly the challenge with this concept is how to ensure that all the connecting applications are made aware of changes to the model as soon as they happen. With the help of some acquired technology, the presenter at the Project Quantum session described how Autodesk is overcoming that challenge.
The session left me feeling that this is still early days for Project Quantum but for Amar to make an announcement at this flagship event you can’t help feeling that they are confident that it is going to be a success.