Contents -- #6
- The Editor's View: Welcome. And we want to hear from. Gain INSIDER membership for free with your feedback!
- Special Report: The Game-ification of Architecture Part 2—Talking to Unity
- emTech: we talk about AI, ML, generative design, and robotics in AEC, plus neuroscience!
- The Briefing: A breakdown of the biggest CAD and 3D industry news
Welcome to INSIDER Xpresso #6
WELCOME to the six issue of architosh INSIDER Xpresso, our new monthly newsletter about the CAD industries with a particular focus on emergent technologies (emTech) such as artificial intelligence (AI), AR, AAD (algorithmic-aided design), robotics, and 3D printing among others.
Xpresso is free and we encourage you to share it. So please forward it to a friend if you enjoy it.
Xpresso arrives on the first Sunday of the month.
Our special feature article this month continues the theme from last month on the "game-ification" of architecture. This time we talk to Tim McDonough, vice president and general manager of Unity. Last month, we spoke to Epic's Marc Petit about Unreal Engine in pro markets, so this rounds out our focus on game engines and brings us current and inside with the latest information.
Our (emTech) section focuses on curated content. This month we look at generative design, robotics and introduce the section with an article on neuroscience as it relates to AEC and MCAD career paths, particular mid-career, with regard to emergent technologies.
Please note, we are beginning to make it clearer, in this newsletter, that our (emTech) section is published typically one to two weeks earlier on Architosh—and with expanded commentary and content—exclusivey for INSIDER Member subscribers. Just another benefit of becoming an Architosh INSIDER!
We want to hear from you! We want to hear your feedback on this newsletter or Architosh in general. The good and the bad. Please drop us a note (email@example.com). Those we hear from will gain 1-year of INSIDER Membership for free—a $37.USD value!
I hope you enjoy this latest edition of INSIDER Xpresso newsletter and find its content both stimulating and helpful to your professional and academic endeavors. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
Editor-in-Chief -- Architosh and INSIDER Xpresso
The Game-ification of Architecture—Talking to Unity
Architosh just noted the heavy presence of the two mighty game engine companies at the AIA'19—the national convention and expo in Las Vegas. Now we talk to Tim McDonough of Unity Technologies about their new Unity Reflect in partnership with Autodesk for Revit, and the future of the Unity game engine in pro-market apps.
CONSIDER THIS FEATURE a part 2 in our "game-ification" of architecture focus.
Last month we spoke to Marc Petit at Epic about Unreal Engine in the pro app market. Now in this feature, we turn our attention to Unity and speak to Tim McDonough, Vice President and General Manager of Unity Technologies. Tim's background spans over a decade at Microsoft and at Qualcomm where he was a senior vice president in charge of global and product marketing. We already wrote about the game-ification theme in our AIA '19 feature coverage on Architosh. What Tim adds to the discussion in this feature is a deeper look at what Unity is trying to achieve in the grander vision.
Unity's Play — Simplicity on Two Levels
Simplicity, it turns out, is a more important factor in the emergence of game engines in the professional market. We have already noted the importance of allowing your regular architect to produce and experience "interactive rendering" environments without needing to gain in-depth expertise in a sophisticated photorealistic rendering application. This a common point both game engine companies fully acknowledge exist in the market.
What was surprising to learn in my discussion with Tim McDonough was discovering that companies like Autodesk also, wish for a type of simplicity. On their end, they want an easier way to deliver interactive rendering tools to a plethora of devices and their operating systems. "I think a part of the genesis of our relationship with Autodesk—beyond the customer requests—was the issue of maintaining Stingray and meeting customer requests was a lot of work," says McDonough.
Stingray, for those who are not aware, was an Autodesk acquisition of a game-engine environment with scriptable dynamics. "I think that is true of any company," he adds, "trying to build their own AR/VR viewers, they are going to say, 'we work on Vive' and then someone is going to say, 'but what about Magic Leap?' and they are going to say, 'see you in a year.' "
Tim McDonough, vice president and general manager, Unity Technologies, talks to Architosh about the game engine company's plans with Unity Reflect and the next phase of game engine utilization within the professional markets.
"The neat thing about Unity is we kind of run on everything, and that is the weakness of a lot of solutions that have come out before—if it doesn't run on enough devices it is not useful," says McDonough. Another way of putting this is if the whole of the AECO market cannot utilize a solution across their office and personal smartphones, tablets, and computers, then bringing everybody into a project collaboration system are made substantially harder.
I had a chance to speak with Tim shortly before AIA'19 Las Vegas, and while at the show we got to talk to Unity and Autodesk both about their collaborative effort in Unity Reflect. Deeply impressed with the solution, we noted in our Perspectives article how key it was that solutions like Unity Reflect essentially serve to further democratize BIM data. We noted that the Common Data Environment (CDE) is getting much closer when the prominent game engines are becoming the platforms that do the connections.
MORE: AIA 2019: Architosh awards 7th 'BEST of SHOW' honors for software and technology vendors at AIA National in Las Vegas
With Unity Reflect the toolchain consists of a Revit plugin and a series of Reflect viewer apps. "You are a Revit user and you click a button," says McDonough, "and it exports a Unity file. So that is the starting point of the workflow." He emphasizes that what comes next is really about collaboration with more folks that need access to data in BIM models. "It is really about extending the reach of BIM data to anybody and everybody that needs to see that information for their job," he adds.
Once an architect pushes the Unity Reflect button inside Reflect, the BIM model gets published to the cloud. From a Reflect app on a mobile device or web browser on a computer, one had a live direct connection to the BIM model. If the architect on the other end moves a window ten feet, the model on the viewer will show the window move ten feet within a matter of milliseconds. There is a persistent live connection. "You don't have to be on a workstation anymore to participate in BIM model collaboration," adds McDonough. "You might be working on a tablet or a Hololens; it's basically anybody, anywhere, any device friendly."
Unity and Autodesk announced Unity Reflect for Revit at AIA'19 in Las Vegas. The solution includes a plugin for Revit and numerous client viewer apps on a range of devices and operating systems typical of the standard support game engines provide.
"Once you have made it easy for people to get to BIM data the next piece is about collaboration," says McDonough.
Phase 2 of Game Engines in Pro Markets
Tim McDonough isn't giving away Unity's long-term vision for how their game engine will address the overarching collaboration challenges in AECO, but he did say that collaboration around data is the next big stage in progress after the importance of visualization.
"Eight of the top ten automotive companies are using us. The top five aerospace and defense companies are using us." -- Tim McDonough, vice president and general manager, Unity Technologies.
"What you see today with the PlanGrid's and Procore's of the world is a lot of 2D data," he says. "What we want to have is the 3D data there, and we want the 3D data to be more consumable. Imagine if I could with a Hololens see through walls and do clash-detection? Those are the kinds of things that are going to save time and money on the job site."
Unity Technologies sees the next phase of 'game engine' use going far beyond serving the visual needs of architects. "We are at version 2 of how the game engines are being used in the pro-market," he says. "With version 1, people were just doing visualization; it was about pretty pixels. Version 2 is about data visualization; I think the next phase is where there is a lot of business value for clients."
McDonough said he feels the market has a lot of tools that let you look at pretty pixels in simple viewers. It is very important to realize what Tim McDonough is talking about. If you recall from our second issue of Xpresso, our feature back then was on Varjo's VR-1 headset. But as we noted subsequently in a report on Architosh, the Finnish company announced a stunning enhancement to the VR-1 which made it become the XR-1, their new mixed-reality headset, which had the technology to provide a world-first: the ability to drive a car with a headset on.
The XR-1 is a video-pass-through headset which overlays 3D and 2D data directly on top of what the cameras on the device see, in a way that is nearly indistinguishable from reality. The virtual and the real are merged so perfectly it becomes quite difficult to set them apart in the mind's eye.
Unity is more than aware of Varjo's market-leading device. And they are aware of Volvo's investment in the Finnish startup as well. "Volvo has some of the best Unity developers out there," said McDonough. What Volvo is doing today with a pro-level and pro-priced VR-MR headset like the XR-1 is what all AECO users may do in the near future. We are talking about merging the real with the unreal (the virtual) in 1:1 scale on building sites, in offices, and around the world in collaborative meetings.
At AIA'19 Las Vegas, Architosh snapped this photo of Unity Reflect running on the desktop. With the plethora of device and OS support game engines like Unity provides make it far easier for CAD/BIM providers to provide AR/VR/MR app support to all of the AEC industry.
Unity is well aware of their competition with Epic's Unreal Engine in the pro markets. When asked about some of the perceived advantages Epic may have in their go-to-market strategy versus Unity's initial partnership with Autodesk, McDonough was tactical and demure in his response.
"Game engines have become more than game engines. We just call ourselves a real-time 3D engine now." -- Tim McDonough, vice president and general manager, Unity Technologies.
"Part of the vision for Unity Reflect is the reality that people work in more than one tool," he stated. "So we are going to support more than one application with the same workflow—push to publish in the cloud." We know from our conversations with Autodesk and other Unity contacts from AIA'19 that the goal is to have other 'source' (authoring) apps push out (publish) BIM models to the Reflect apps and web viewer. One of those apps most likely to happen next will be Autodesk Navisworks.
While we might not know now where Reflect will ultimately go, McDonough was frank about noting that it will go where their customers want it to go. If the request for support is there, many apps beyond just Autodesk tools will ultimately gain Reflect's many benefits. Meanwhile, Unity is working in the manufacturing market space and there are tools that bring in MCAD data across more than 25 file formats into the Unity game engine. "Eight of the top ten automotive companies are using us," he notes. "The top five aerospace and defense companies are using us. It is a lot of the same use cases [as AEC] —pre-viz, planning, simulation, sales and marketing, and maintenance and training. Game engines have become more than game engines. We just call ourselves a real-time 3D engine now."
Curated content Emerging Technologies and their potential impact on CAD-based industries.
WELCOME TO THE HEART of the newsletter. As we said in issue #01, this part of the newsletter—the focus on emerging technologies (emTech)—was the whole point of this newsletter's creation. This month we are going to use this section to focus on generative design tools and robotics in AEC. But firstly we will mention a new article on neuroscience and contextualize it around mid-career AEC pros as it relates to emergent technologies (emTech).
Neuroscience Can Inform Our Next Career Move
This month’s Xpress (emTech) section dives deep into a series of articles on computational and generative design, in particular. However, we begin this section with an interesting read from The Wall Street Journal that has applicability to the question that may come up to seasoned professionals in AEC fields. That question is: should I pivot my career towards emergent technology domains to best prepare for the future of my career?
Finch3D.com is one of the upcoming generative design tools emerging that will further fuel computational design in AEC fields. We talk about it below.
Rich Karlgaard has written a very thoughtful piece in The Wall Street Journal titled, “It’s Never Too Late to Start a Brilliant Career.” His article focuses on two lines of thought at once—criticizing the current era’s somewhat insane focus on early achievement while also highlighting possibilities for older people to achieve greatness far later in life. He uses neuroscience to make his case.
Karlgaard’s article cites the latest neuroscience that argues that human beings’ brains have multiple cognitive peaks throughout their lives, and hence we are capable of great changes at any age and finding our personal geniuses even later in life. This is reassuring news. Many younger Boomers and GenXers may find they are confronted, in the next decade, by the Era of AI, directly in their mid to late-careers. And many will also feel that it is not within them to re-educate and pivot for a career path in the very technologies that are making their older positions less valuable or obsolete. So what should they do?
"Younger people are just smarter." -- Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook.
Does it make sense for a 50-year-old structural engineer or architect to become a data scientist, computational designer, or software programmer to strengthen their placement within their AEC industry? With looming high-tech infused transformative firms sprouting up all around the industries that make our environment and the things in our environment, it is tempting to see a firm like Spacemaker (AI, big data AEC firm), Katerra (automation, AI AEC firm) or Digital Blue Foam (AI, big data, AEC firm) as indicators of this looming transformation. The question for established professionals becomes: how to best prepare for it?
A Neurological Basis – The Role of Executive Function
Neuroscientists Laura Germine and Joshua Hartshorne measured the abilities of nearly 50,000 adults across all ages on a battery of cognitive tests. Their conclusion was that at any given age you are getting better at some things, getting worse at some things, and plateauing at some things. So what are some common results, by age?
Spacemaker.ai is just one of the new AI, big data and generative design infused companies that portend to the large disruption in AEC domains. Both existing professionals in AEC and even the institutions of higher learning serving these domains may be caught wrong-footed in the coming years.
Speed of information processing appears to peak early, around 18-19. Short-term memory continually improves to about age 25 and then levels off for another decade. Evaluating complex patterns, including other people’s emotional states, peak much later in life—in people’s ’40s and ’50s. In turns out that adults need most of their early if not late 20’s to fully develop their prefrontal cortex, the area of our brain in charge of executive functioning. As Karlgaard writes, “…the prefrontal cortex develops the ability to better communicate with other parts of the brain, especially those associated with emotions and impulses so that all areas of the brain can be included in complex processing such as planning and problem-solving.”
"Fluid intelligence peaks when we are young adults, while crystalline intelligence continues to peak during our mid-careers (lives) and beyond."
Karlgaard writes that the latest findings confirm cognitive research that says we have two types of intelligence: fluid and crystallized. The former is our base capacity to reason and solve novel problems, “independent of knowledge from the past,” while the latter is our ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience. Fluid intelligence peaks when we are young adults, while crystalline intelligence continues to peak during our mid-careers (lives) and beyond.
As I wrote in Xpresso #02, when writing about computational designers and programmers and their career advancement challenges, Mark Zuckerberg famously said in 2007 that “younger people are just smarter.” What Zuckerberg should have said is that 20-somethings have peak fluid intelligence and therefore software coding and skills like that favors the young, while managing projects and businesses shift the balance in favor of the older seasoned professional.
Further Commentary Brief. We provide further commentary on this story as it relates to what we have previously written in Xpresso #02, with particular regard to Randy Deutsch's book Superusers, which dealt with the issue of career advancement for computational designers in architecture firms. Get the full picture here. [exclusively for INSIDER Member subscribers].
Computational and Algorithmic Design in AEC
A Forbes article by Julian Vigo entitled Parametric Architecture’s Embrace of New Technology touches on Patrik Schumacher’s talk at Grohe’s “The Wave of the Future” talks in Frankfurt, Germany. Vigo notes that while Schumacher and MX3D research head, Filippo Gilardi (also a Grohe event speaker) profess optimism for the virtues of parametricism—what Schumacher calls the “great new style after modernism”—such new technologies are not yet dominating the construction scene in places like China, which has suffered the death of 33 construction workers alone in just one recent month.
Vigo doesn’t really develop his argument fully in this short Forbes piece on parametricism in architecture. He is trying to contrast the ramp-up in generative design in the field of architecture with the pressures of the fast-paced building in places like China, where safety standards are lacking Western countries. If anything, the increased pressures of the construction industry make it harder, not easier, for firms to pivot and reposition themselves around computational design and generative design. From a project management point of view, both require new inputs, tools and techniques and new outputs (or "ITTO" in the parlance of the Project Management Institute.
Finch3d.com is the source for a new set of tools for computational design. Finch is for architects and is a parametric tool that is currently under development and will be launched as a plugin to Rhino-Grasshopper during 2020. The developer is hailing it as the beginning of the “adaptive plan.” This means as you parametrically change the overall sizes (X and Y dimensions) the internal aspects of the plan intelligently and automatically resolve according to some rules. It is being developed by architect Jesper Wallgren. You can learn more here.
Can Algorithms Design Buildings? Daniel Davis pens an article on the “near future” in Architect Magazine. He writes that after decades of unsuccessful attempts to generate building layouts automatically, a spate of companies has suddenly proven it possible. One of those companies is called The Living, a New York-based research group founded by David Benjamin and acquired by Autodesk all the way back in 2014.
The Living used machine learning to train an algorithm to make sustainable use of wood boards with knots—the kind of boards that would often be disgarded. This image, from a video on the process, is for an open-source laboratory for innovation in construction. (see notes below).
Meanwhile, The Living—which is self-described as a first-of-its-kind Autodesk Studio—combines research and practice and is focused on the intersection of biology, computation, and sustainability. Bio-computing, bio-sensing, and bio-manufacturing are three frameworks the studio harnesses. Some of its latest work (actually the latest is from a year ago) projects include a new project commissioned by Princeton University to develop an “open-source building” to host research for the future of construction with computation. An interesting aspect of this project was the use of wood boards with knots that would commonly be not utilized in buildings. The team trained custom algorithms to detect knots in wood and then invented a CNC sandblasting machine to expose the micro contours around the knots. A solar analysis of the facade was then conducted and used to arrange the boards to match the solar analysis. This created targeted thermal insulation based on micro contours. The results were really impressive (see more images here).
Another project by The Living involved the Autodesk MaRS office in Toronto, Canada. This new 300-person Autodesk office and research space pushed the limits of generative design for architecture using qualitative metrics brought into the quantitative task of space planning. This video explainer for the process is definitely worth a watch and you can see it here on their website.
An image from a video on the MaRS Office for Autodesk in Toronto, produced by The Living showing their generative design methods for the design of the structure.
Higharc is another generative, VC-based design firm specializing in the generation of 3D home plans and serving end homeowners and builders directly. Its VC supporters include the CPO of Adobe and the designer of the Nest Thermostat. Another generative design platform company is ArchiStar, which is aimed at property development class investors and their professionals. The system is developed in Australia and helps find, assess, and generate property designs using smart data and cutting edge technology.
Finally, another app listed in the article mentioned above, is TestFit, by Building Forge, LLC. Launched in 2017, TestFit claims to have the world’s most powerful building configurator. Called Residential Engine, the tool focuses on multi-family structures. TestFit is a full application that enables parametric whole-building layout design, including 3D considerations, functional use zoning, “make-up” of housing unit types, retail and amenity mix, et cetera. Through rapid iterations, its users can more quickly evaluate scenarios around various development lots.
From the generative designs being produced by Autodesk’s The Living to Higharc, ArchiStar to TestFit, what all of these examples demonstrate is that design professionals will soon no longer begin early-stage design work through trace paper and intuition around basic constraints. Instead, advanced-level constraints, at multiple weights of significance, can be input into generative design tools for pre-design and early-stage design. This work is then backed up with data and chosen solutions can move forward with more quantifiable backup.
Computational Design: The Future of How We Make Things is Tech-Driven. This article is actually from 2018 and less an article and more an infographic on "computational design" put together by industrial giant Schnieder Electric. It does an excellent job of describing what is called “Classic Design” versus “Design Thinking.” The former may create a chair and say, “a beautiful and comfortable chair,” while the latter will say, “do we even need a chair?”
Robotics in AEC
Undersea robots could one day print oyster-based bio-cement to create undersea reefs to protect coastal cities. This is an interesting story in The Architect’s Newspaper, which suggests that the future of construction could be flying 3D printers. GXN is the research-focused spinoff of the Danish architecture firm 3XN and they are investigating ways for high-tech robotics to “break the grid” and offer new exciting methods in additive manufacturing. The firm is working with Dansk AM Hub, a foundation that supports experimentation in additive manufacturing. This is a great article that talks about 3D printers that can print fungus into micro-cracks to maintain infrastructure and prevent further damage. (Highly Recommended)
Robots 3D-print nine different concrete columns without any formwork. You can see the video here at this article on designboom, or image below.
Robots 3D print nine different concrete columns without any formwork. Do check out the video at the link above—quite fascinating to see both the formative qualities and the process.
Using Grasshopper and KUKA robots for architectural design. We have written about KUKA|prcbefore but it is worth another post.
Will robots enable an architectural renaissance? This ZDnet article talks about a Danish startup using industrial robots to tackle difficult-to-produce freeform architecture. The article talks about construction robotics company Odico, which has raised $5 million after listing on Nasdaq. The company makes an industrialized freeform mold-cutting robotics unit for creating complex forms for concrete pours and more. Mixing a robotic arm with a hot wire cutter and rotating the block, the robotics setup can create molds for creating double-curved geometries. Apparently, the company has attracted the interest of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).
Tidbits for the Salon
Robots with human-like skin. Singapore scientists have unveiled a membrane that will let robots react to external stimuli in milliseconds—just like humans do. In essence, they have created “electronic skin.” [Robots]
Is AI the next big climate change threat? We haven’t a clue. Martin Giles reports from MIT Technology Review on the dire warnings coming out of the computer and AI industry how just how much energy AI’s needs may be. By 2025, some are predicting AI will consume one-tenth of the world’s electricity needs. Today it is estimated it predicts just 0.1 percent. [Sustainability] [Energy]
A (Very) Close Look at Carbon Capture and Storage, is the title of a report published at IEEE Spectrum regarding a new material called ZIF-8 which can swell up with carbon dioxide molecules are trapped inside. The discovery and research point to the possibility of using such materials as carbon capture layers in new greenhouse-gas-emitting power stations. [Sustainability]
HyperFoods: Machine Intelligence mapping of cancer-beating molecules in foods, is the title of a new research report for a study that uses AI (machine learning algorithms) help construction a ‘food map’ with anti-cancer potentials of each ingredient defined by the number of cancer beating molecules found therein. The goal is to usher in the design of next-generation cancer preventative and therapeutic nutrition strategies. [Machine Learning]
Roman amphitheaters act like seismic invisibility cloaks…possibly, says new research coming out of France. A report in Technology Review discusses the discovery that these ancient structures may have a secret weapon against the destructive seismic forces of earthquakes. The path these researchers took to this discovery took them through the center of Mexico, making this article all the more delightful to read. [Architecture] [Smart Cities]
Biggest CAD Industry News Last Month
(the biggest news and features in July)
Viewpoint: Will Computer Programmes Replace Human Engineering Skill?
Guest contributor, John Hannen, ask a forward-looking question that has real meat and impact in the era of AI. Will artificial intelligence just be a tool to assist or a tool to take over? Part of the answer lies in looking at what has caused disasters in engineering, their typology around input, processes, and output. [5 min. read] (Architosh). Must read feature story!
National Engineering Firm Becomes Far More Agile with VDI via GPU Workstations
In this feature, Architosh goes in-depth with Southland Industries, a national MEP+F engineering design-build firm and how they become much more agile as a national engineering firm using a VDI solution. [5-min read] (Architosh). An important read for CAD managers in large firms.
Autodesk Announces AutoCAD 2020 for Mac and AutoCAD LT 2020 for Mac
Autodesk continues its annual release and updates to its flagship CAD program for the Apple macOS platform—a computer platform now with over 100 million active users worldwide. (Architosh) Die-hard Mac AutoCAD fans can rejoice! Another update!
The Open Design Alliance (ODA) to showcase BIM solutions in Milan
The ODA this year will be showing off some brand new software technologies for use by its member software companies. Of particular excitement will be new BIM solutions aimed at viewing BIM models in web browsers, new software development kits, including new solutions for IFC models. (Architosh) Die-hard Mac AutoCAD fans can rejoice! Another update!
C3D Labs Unveils B-Shaper for AEC and BIM Developers
The Russian CAD developer is not yet well known, but C3D Labs has compelling technologies and their new B-Shaper will be useful for AEC and BIM developers in particular as it solves an important problem—the conversion of 3D scanned object models to editable CAD/BIM 3D models. (Architosh)
Remember you can sign-up for architosh INSIDER Xpresso here -- a unique CAD industry newsletter with a special focus on emergent technologies (emTech) like AI, ML, robotics, 3D printing, AAD, computational design, and smart cities tech.
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Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
This is a free newsletter and companion publication to Architosh.com.
Companies mentioned in this newsletter where I have a financial interest will be listed in this section. This is consistent with Architosh's Disclosures statement on our Ethics page here.