Contents -- #4
- The Editor's View: Welcome to INSIDER Xpresso 4
- Special Report: Master Builder 2.0—GRAPHISOFT Shapes Its Future Around Integration
- emTech: Let's discuss how Smart Cities, AI, AR, AAD, Robotics, 3D printing and more will transform the CAD industries.
- The Briefing: A breakdown of the biggest CAD and 3D industry news
Welcome to INSIDER Xpresso #4
WELCOME to the fourth 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.
Our launch issue focused on a five-person experts panel on AI in architecture and computational design as its Special Feature. Issue #2 had a special feature on the NBBJ incubated software startup Visual Vocal. In Issue #3 we had a deep feature on Finland's Varjo with is VR-1 headset with Bionic Display. In Issue #4—which is highly delayed—we delve into GRAPHISOFT's future a bit with the information they shared with their users and the press. Our news highlights section at the end captures the biggest stories in May in the CAD industry news and there is a dense pack of stories and content in our em(Tech) section, as always.
Again, this issue is quite delayed, even beyond our delayed new date. Now I know that attending back to back conferences does not mix well with finalizing an INSIDER Xpresso release! Thanks for your patience.
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 email@example.com.
Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP
Editor-in-Chief -- Architosh and INSIDER Xpresso
Master Builder 2.0—GRAPHISOFT Shapes Its Future Around Integration
The Hungarian BIM maker lays out a compelling case that integration is vital to the future of AEC—offers sneak peek at how they intend to set themselves apart.
GRAPHISOFT has a plan. It has a plan about how different stakeholders in the AEC industry can work together that goes beyond the notion of sharing BIM models.
The problem with BIM model sharing and data exchange is that on many levels it isn't quite working. There are two problems in particular that impact GRAPHISOFT along with most others in the AEC industry. The first problem is the battle over a common file format for a means to exchange data. The global AEC industry is largely wrestling with a battle between a proprietary file format by Autodesk—much like what happened in the 2D CAD era—and an open industry standard format that is less than perfect.
The second problem is that in many if not most cases, the need to exchange BIM models as a way for disparate teams to work together is total overkill. Take for example the exchange between an architect and her structural engineer. If the architect wants to suddenly lengthen the overhang on a roof, what the engineer needs to evaluate that change structurally is for that change to be reflected in the analysis model—a different thing than the structural elements in a BIM model. What if the architect could simply send that change as the analysis model? And what if that analysis model was live-linked between the architect's tools and the structural engineer's tools? And what if only the part of the analysis model that changed was sent, not the entire analysis model?
This is a vision about integrative working and data interoperability in AEC that is more efficient than BIM model exchange. Sure, AEC teams will still need to transfer BIM models, but not in every situation. What Huw Roberts, CEO of GRAPHISOFT calls "parameter-level" data exchange is the next level of AEC interoperability and AEC project collaboration.
An analytical model for structural engineering is shown inside a future version of ARCHICAD, with new per-element parameterization data linkage to a RISA analytical model.
Of Digital Twins and APIs
In a talk at the GRAPHISOFT KKC in Las Vegas, Huw Roberts said he likes the term "digital twin" because it goes far beyond the digital geometry of something real in the world. "It has a lot more information than a BIM model," says Roberts, "because it describes how you got there, about the voids, clearances" and other metadata surrounding the importance of a geometrically defined element that exists in the world.
GRAPHISOFT's ARCHICAD 23 now supports ports and voids as intelligent non-object elements in the BIM model. While perhaps not sexy features in the new version 23 release, voids and ports are vital additions to grids, clearances, and spaces—all elements of the BIM model that if it wasn't a building but a living body we could describe as "tissue-less." There is nothing in a void you touch, or in a port. Or in the clearances data attached to these elements.
"It has a lot more information than a BIM model because it describes how you got there..." -- Huw Roberts CEO, GRAPHISOFT
This is part of the metadata of buildings in the real world and the data found in a digital twin. Both the things you can touch and the things you cannot are elements in an ARCHICAD BIM model and GRAPHISOFT's vision for "element-level" data exchange transcends what is possible today.
In a series of presentations that looked at the future of GRAPHISOFT, KCC attendees got an interesting view into how their ARCHICAD models and their attendant data and metadata could communicate with other applications—and not just BIM applications or even 3D applications but any application.
The goal is to attack the ways data in AEC lives in silos—even in the BIM world. If GRAPHISOFT can liberate the data and information that tends to get bound up in specific applications with their specific file format types, a faster, more streamlined, and more integrative way of working can emerge. Viktor Varkonyi, new Division Head of Design and Planning at Nemetschek said on stage that "it could be fair to say that even the BIM manager is in a different silo than the architect." To radically de-silo data pushing beyond BIM file format exchanges—one of the core expertise of a BIM manager—is necessary and vital.
Python API connections in a future version of ARCHICAD shown above, live-linked to data in Excel.
To help push this element-level data integration GRAPHISOFT has previewed new support for API-based data exchange. The company has long had a C++ based API (application programming interface) so that part isn't new. What is new is the data that this API can now touch, working down to multiple finite parameters on a per-element basis. A Parameter-level transaction environment can move the AEC discipline from what the company labeled "detached design" to "integrative design"—in the same spirit of the master builder of the pre-renaissance era.
To make the point about just how detached the A, E, and C disciplines are, a RISA representative came on stage and noted that few architects, very few, know what tools their structural engineers use to do their structural analysis work. When working with a per-element basis various stakeholders can begin to be capable of developing more integrative workflows.
In addition to deeper C++ API technology, the company showed support for lighter-weight APIs like Python and JSON. These demonstrations were met with much approval from the KCC audience and the many partnership speakers on stage already working with early versions of this technology. A very impressive example that got attendees very excited was a Python API example that worked with linked data from Excel.
The API story is still evolving but the examples shown on stage at the KCC in Vegas were impressive. JSON and Python are lighter-weight languages that offer more accessibility and greater potential for synergy and custom development, both by end-users and by software companies. API integration is all the rage in the current SaaS world. Take a look at Asana, for example, and the sheer volume of API integrations possible is getting mindboggling.
The KCC showed one architect after another building out bespoke, firm-specific, custom workflows using various means but most often Rhino-Grasshopper. The AEC industry can expect a lot more. What isn't clear is how these new API-based technologies will work with web-based common data environments (CDEs) in the industry, including the future Nemetschek Group level solution that has already been discussed on Architosh at length. More clarity on that front remains a target for this publication, but in the meantime, GRAPHISOFT seems ready to push in a new direction that provides both a deeper and wider level of creating more integrative workflows that cut across data silos.
[Editor's note: This special feature on forward-looking GRAPHISOFT technology will be further expanded upon in future issues of the Xpresso newsletter. A version of this article with more images will be published on Architosh soon.]
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 course, we have made the newsletter richer by offering more than the emTech section—importantly a special feature article.
With Python and JSON in particular, SaaS tools in AEC may quickly find new connections to ARCHICAD's data in future versions—data that is now drilling down to the parameter-level of elements of the BIM model. It will be difficult for a while for the importance of this all to make sense. But as time goes on the value in what GRAPHISOFT previewed as future technologies will grow quickly and become much more apparent.
em(Tech) in AEC
This month’s emergent technologies (emTech) section is a bit brief compared to normal as we prepare for upcoming conferences in the week ahead. Our summer issues for July and August will be jammed pack as we unroll treasures of information coming out of key AEC conferences we are attending.
We have AI in Architecture, Smart Cities, Robots in Architecture, Robots in Construction, and AR/VR and Computational Design news below—many items are very brand new to the market and not yet known.
AI in Architecture
Princeton architects Barbara and J. Robert Hillier have recently made the largest donation in the school’s history to the College of Architecture and Design at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). The donation will be focused on research into the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in architecture. The news from Princeton’s Weekly Community Newspaper states, “The use of technology and AI in architecture has soared in recent years, now spanning all aspects of practice. But there is [a] concern that those who don’t incorporate emerging technologies (emTech) into practice will be left behind.”
"What I'm fearful about is that with AI, you will lose humanity. So the question is, how do you take this technology and human experience and make them work together?"
“The gift will allow NJIT to do research on how architects can embrace artificial intelligence (AI) instead of getting put out of business by it,” Hillier said. “What I’m fearful about is that with AI, you lose humanity. So the question is, how do you take this technology and human experience and make them work together?”
Author’s notes: It is excellent to see a financial contribution of this size (though the exact size wasn’t given) that is squarely aimed at research into the core questions about how AI will impact architecture and practice moving forward and to focus on its impacts in the area of keeping architecture driven by “human experience”—a description that is as broad as it is ill-defined in terms of how architects operationalize their design and delivery methods.
ArchDaily is working with the curators of the “Eyes of the City” section at the Biennial aiming to stimulate a discussion on emerging technologies, particularly, artificial intelligence (AI) and how they might impact architecture and urban life. And André Brown, professor, and Head of the School of Architecture at Victoria, University of Wellington, New Zealand, writes about “What intelligent cities mean for our lives.” He mentions a study commissioned by Google that showed that the workday of an architect has changed by 42 percent in recent years (compared to other professions like police officers, 13 percent). He writes, “There are a lot of positive consequences of the use of AI and other digital tools in architecture—we can use them to design everything from better traffic flow to buildings that are increasingly sustainable.” The article is aimed at a general audience and another example of the rising popularity of AI in everything, however, Brown makes some key global observations, importantly that architecture and cities embracing emerging technologies like AI don’t lose sight of human needs and perspectives.
Dr. Ying Jin, from the Department of Architecture at Cambridge University, UK, has built a computer model rich in data to help determine the future of Greater Cambridge. Called LUISA, the model is a lens to look at the future of working, living and traveling in and out of Greater Cambridge. From an article titled, “How to tend an economic bonfire,” in Research Horizons, one learns that Cambridge’s growth is a bit like an economic bonfire. “You can get a bonfire going and expand it as long as you keep feeding the center,” says Matthew Bullock, one of the founders of the business and academic organization Cambridge Ahead, “but you can’t pick a bonfire and move it somewhere else.”
The LUISA computer model is helping Cambridge in the UK better plan its growth in relation to its "bonfire economy" by treating development in jobs, housing, and transport as one single system. (image: screenshots from Research Horizons, Cambridge University)
Author’s note: It seems Cambridge is like Silicon Valley terms of commute times, soaring housing prices and stress. In 1997, the average housing price was 4.5 times the median salary. Now it is 16 times, making Cambridge the least equal city in the UK. The LUISA computer model appears to be a virtual lab for the future of Cambridge. It works with data at a very granular level and using methods honed over three decades of analyzing the Cambridge area. As such, it can see employment rate data at a richer level than national government figures. LUISA is unique because it can treat development in jobs, housing and transport as one integral system.
“The Sins of Smart Cities” is a new article by Ruth Miller, published in the Boston Review. It asks, “what happens when we reframe complex social and political issues as technical puzzles?” To answer that question, the article discusses two new books that challenge the concept that modern cities thrive best when they make heavy use of data and technology. These two books argue that over-reliance on both has several pitfalls. The first book is from Ben Green, and is titled, “The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future.” The second book is by Daniel T. O’Brien, “The Urban Commons: How Data and Technology Can Rebuild Our Communities.”
One cautious note that is discussed in this article is that cities today are “undoing the damage created by last century’s misguided dreams.” As we move forward with so-called smart cities in this next century, we would be wise to note our failures in planning in the last.
There are interesting criticisms of these two latest books in the article, including criticisms aimed washing over issues about race and the reliance of quantification. There is also the issue of cities and their impatience to capture the smart cities crown (the rapid pace of technology roll-out). Miller brings up Wired’s 2008 essay, “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.” She writes, it “is remembered to this day as best capturing the breathless impatience for the surrender to data.”
In her conclusions she writes:
“The Urban Commons and The Smart Enough City both challenge us to think critically as we develop our public data infrastructure, but the latter forces us to see how thinking critically about data means looking beyond the mirage of objectivity. For every generation, a new type of infrastructure consumes the focus of public investment, and so far every generation of public planners have relinquished our infrastructure to biases that fail their obligation to serve the whole public. If cities are to break this cycle, they must accept that even our technical problems are political at their core.”
Robots in Architecture
This is a regular (emTech) section for the Xpresso newsletter that we have only treated lightly thus far. Unlike AR and VR, for example, we have not yet published a special feature in this domain but aim to very soon. One of the surprising things I learned when we flew out to Seattle to talk to the McNeel folks about Rhino and Grasshopper (see: Architosh, “Inflection Point: Disruptions, Platforms, and Growth with Rhino + Grasshopper (Part 1),” 17 May 2016) was that Grasshopper had become the most popular languages to control industrial robots. You can actually see examples of that on the main pages at The Association of Robots in Architecture here.
The international association was founded in 2010 and is engaged in both soft and hardware development in robot pedagogics. A spin-off association of Vienna University of Technology, ROB|ARCH developed KUKA|prc, a plugin for Grasshopper that for the first time enabled robot control from within an architectural software. ROB|ARCH does an interesting thing that reminds this author of the early days of Architosh—it has mapped out where in the world robots are being used in the creative industries. (see image) The map includes a list that notes the homepage of each location and the robot type used. Notable American schools that have robots for use in architectural work include Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, SCI-Arc, UCLA, and Pratt. There are a few other American schools on the list as well and of course notable colleges and universities abroad like ETH in Switzerland. There are also some architecture firms themselves which possess a robot. Perkins + Will in Los Angeles, for example. And Snøhetta is another.
Map of world with industrial robots used for design and architecture—not construction.
Architect Patrick Schumacher, a partner at ZHA, believes that people need to adapt and learn to love the new architecture created by advanced technologies. He was speaking on a panel on the future of technology in architecture, hosted by Dezeen. “I don’t think we need to answer necessarily whether people like it right away or whether they buy into an aesthetic. I think we need to be market leaders,” he said. The article from Dezeen states that Schumacher believes people should begin to learn to hate "the old" because it's wasteful of time, material and energy, and calls for an aesthetic revolution.
Robots in Construction
The construction industry may have been the last the of the AEC discipline areas to come to advanced technologies but with shortages of labor and skilled workers in a busy economy, contractors are actively looking at and putting to use robots on the construction site. A new market report forecasts that as much as 7,000 robots may take on construction work by 2025. The report further notes that robot suppliers to the construction market saw revenues of $22.7 million in 2018 but that will rise ten-fold to $226 million by 2025.
A Brokk robot handles demolition on a job site far faster and safer than humans with tools.
INSIDER Xpresso #02 brought focus to TyBot by Advanced Construction Robotics, a robot that ties rebar much faster than humans for large decks and bridges. A new startup out of New York, Toggle, automates rebar cages bending inside its factory, not onsite. Both systems are examples of robotic automation in construction.
So who are the major players in construction robotics? According to this report, Global Construction Robots Market, the dominant companies by market status, size, share, and profitability and overall growth are:
There are a host of other companies, some of which we have discussed in Xpresso #02 which you can find a link to at the bottom of this report.
- Brokk AB (Sweden) — robots specialists going back to 1976 focused on demolition robots
- Husqvarna (Sweden) — demolition robots much like Brokk.
- Conjet AB (Sweden) — hydro demolition robots.
- TopTech Spezialmachinen GmbH (Germany)
You can also see other companies in the video above (which we highly recommend).
AR, VR, and Computational Design
A VIVE X startup called Mindesk has secured nearly $1 million in an initial seed round from HTC Vive, Barcamper Ventures, A11 Venture and Invitalia Ventures to develop real-time CAD collaboration software in AR/VR. What makes Mindesk different in the AR/VR space is that you use AR/VR for actual modeling within those environments. In other words—immersive modeling. Some basic forms of immersive modeling exist in other tools (The Wild, for example). With Mindesk software you can connect programs like Rhino to do immersive modeling in AR/VR.
Mindesk also works with Grasshopper and the Unreal Editor and supports multi-user collaboration. It works with HTC Vive, Vive Pro, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality devices. It also supports a vast set of 3D modeling file formats. A 15-day trial version is available.
Nate Miller of Proving Ground and the Proving Ground team has launched a new video podcast. In their very first episode, they talk about RhinoInside, which we mentioned in INSIDER Xpresso #03. RhinoInside is so lightweight it can run inside other CAD and BIM tools and supports API to API connectivity. RhinoInside is getting very integrated with Revit, apparently. The question that emerges in this segment is if Grasshopper is now sitting inside Revit via RhinoInside and it now has the ability to author Revit families, is it now really a Dynamo killer? Nate says that Dynamo introduced really great new things into the conversation in generative design.
Nate and Co. explain that an advantage Rhino+Grasshopper has over Dynamo, besides a vastly larger and more capable ecosystem of tools, is its very fast geometry kernel and its ability to handle meshes and really good intersections, areas that Nate says are a sore spot in the Dynamo and Revit world.
3D Generative Innovator is also mentioned by Nate, which is a new tool by Dassault as part of its CATIA R2019X release. Blender and Houdini also have powerful node-based modeling technologies, where you can go from node to code. Back to the Dassault Generative Innovator (see images below), DS has created a fully cloud-based generative node-based modeling environment in the same exact spirit and format as say Grasshopper or Dynamo. On the left side of your screen you have your node workspace and on the right side of the screen your 3D viewport. DS says its new 3D Generative Innovator unleashes “unconstrained creativity” that combines graphical visual scripting and interactive 3D modeling with the ability to use one or the other interchangeably at any time.
Dassault's latest CATIA R2019X includes the new 3D Generative Innovator technologies for full-on node-based visual scripting driving advanced modeling in the same vein as Grasshopper and Dynamo or Marionette.
The new generative environment is meant for creatives in Architecture, Engineering and Design/Styling roles to quickly design, explore and validate variations of complex repetitive forms. The output from this environment is fully flexible enabling models to be used through "design detailing" through manufacture via the complete portfolio of roles of the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform.
Tidbits for the Salon (or things to talk about at dinner parties)
A climate change minimizer changes his mind after decades arguing against the realities of the evidence. Jerry Taylor, formerly of the libertarian think tank—the Cato Institute—explains why things changed for him with climate change.
In the wake of doctored Nany Pelosi video which Facebook knowingly propagated, Finland is giving classes on fighting fake news—a population-wide education campaign that reflects Finland’s total defense doctrine, where everybody in society, not just the government, is responsible for helping to defend the nation.
During the Cold War with the US and USSR, trade with the Soviet Union was only 1 percent. The Tech Cold War Trump is starting with China is between countries where the trade percentage is far from just 1 percent—rather approximately 1/6th of all US trade. China has reminded Trump and the US that America’s tech industry is dependent on rare Earth metals of which China is by far the dominant supplier. Meanwhile, British chip designer, ARM (Advanced Risk Machines) has suspended work with Chinese Huawei, the number two smartphone maker in the world. Huawei’s future Kirin processors were optimized for AI-based applications and were based on licensed ARM designs. ARM cut off Huawei because of the US-ban imposed by the Trump administration due to “US-origin technology.”
Driverless cars working together can speed up traffic by 35 percent, based on a University of Cambridge research project that demonstrated various real-world scenarios. They built a small fleet of miniature Landrovers and tested them on a dual lane roadway system. Take look at the video(quite fun interesting to watch). When autonomous vehicles work together by communicating situations they accounter that intelligence can help a coordinated response to all cars in the approximate area.
Alexa and Google Home already have the capacity to predict with 75 percent accuracy if a marriage or relationship will be a success just by analyzing verbal communication between the partners. Not only that, these technologies can interrupt an argument with an idea about how to resolve it, according to the latest research.
Exxon Mobile predicted that we would hit 415 ppm (parts per million) in 2019 for CO2 readings. The latest measurement as of May is 415.39 ppm. Nearly four decades ago an oil firm’s own climate scientists predicted with unnerving accuracy the trajectory of carbon levels.
Amazon rolls out new machines that pack orders far faster than human workers. The machines cost $1 million each but they do the work of 24 people. Author’s note. The way companies will tout these new machines as making work safer for other humans and enabling greater efficiencies that will lead to other new jobs in other areas of the company will be par for the course as the years go by. And the public will just have to watch to see if 24 jobs lost by a machine create 24 or more new jobs somewhere else in the organization.
Biggest CAD Industry News This Month
(the biggest news and features in April)
Varjo Announces Ground-breaking Mixed Reality Headset—XR-1 Developer Edition
The Finnish VR/MR hardware innovator made major news in at the end of May with the final details of its long-awaited MR headset. The break-through technologies in this truly pro-level device have also earned both the attention and the investment money of Volvo Cars. (Architosh). Must read news item!
Volvo Cars and Varjo Announced World's First Mixed Reality Application for Car Development
Volvo's early work with the XR-1 by Varjo was so compelling the company made a substantial investment in the Finnish tech company as well as developed a groundbreaking app which enables test drivers to drive prototype with the MX-1 on their heads—a world's first. (Architosh). This is definitely radical technology and a must read story!
Bentley Systems OpenStation Designer Now Available
Bentley's new OpenStation Designer is a one-stop-shop for architects and engineers working on the infrastructure design of stations in rail and subway lines. It includes the LEGION modeling and simulation technology the company acquired recently. (Architosh).
GRAPHISOFT announces releases ARCHICAD 23
A venerable BIM application for architects working worldwide has its latest version with further powerful performance improvements, optimizations, new connections to dRofus and Solibri and multiple interesting new features. (Architosh).
Epic Acquires Twinmotion from Abvent—Joins Unreal Engine Suite
One of the biggest news stories of the month, Epic acquired Twinmotion and will be advancing it deeply and at a faster rate than in the past. Adding more resources to its development, Epic has strong enterprise plans for the future versions of Twinmotion technology. It is not clear if this product name will remain as well. In the meantime, Epic announced the current version is now free for life use while they work on the next versions of the technology, due in Q4 2019. (Architosh) This was a huge news item and users can get free software as well!
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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