Designing the Future at Autodesk University 2015

I just returned from a trip to the future – or rather, I just returned from Autodesk University in Las Vegas, which is kind of the same thing. Autodesk University is one of the most future-focused industry events of the year, where the company, which builds 3D design and modeling software for the engineering, manufacturing, automotive, construction and entertainment industries, provides training, introduces new technologies, and explores coming disruptions in the fields of modeling and design.

Autodesk really pulled out the stops for this year’s show (there were even Star Wars storm troopers in the keynote), demonstrating how advanced design software and supercomputer processing power are poised to change the relationship between human designers and their design tools—and improving the safety, efficiency, and performance of our built world while they’re at it.

Intel had a large presence at the show as well – Autodesk and Intel work closely together, as the compute-intense workloads associated with cutting edge 3D design and modeling requires a cost-effective, high-performance processing platform such as those powered by Intel® Xeon® processor E3 with Iris Pro Graphics. And, as you’ll see, Intel is also a sponsor of some of Autodesk’s most exciting research and development (R&D) projects.

During the opening keynote address, Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowlaski introduced several fascinating R&D projects.

Project Dreamcatcher

Project Dreamcatcher is an experimental design platform that brings generative design systems and artificial intelligence (AI) into product design and modeling. The Dreamcatcher  system allows designers to input specific design objectives, such as functional requirements, material type, manufacturing method, performance criteria, and cost restrictions. The research system compares past designer experience and can evaluate a vast number of potential designs—enhanced by machine learning and AI—that satisfy your design goals and constraints. Dreamcatcher then comes back with ideas and designs that we humans by ourselves might never have imagined.  These generative designs are typically stronger, more efficient and potentially less expensive.

As an example, Kowlaski showed how the aircraft manufacturer Airbus used the Dreamcatcher system to create a new design for an Airbus A320 interior partition.jpgAfter feeding in all the specs, design goals and constraints into Dreamcatcher, the system came back with several potential designs. After a collaborative back-and-forth between the human design team and the high-end system, the optimal design was chosen. Using generative design, additive manufacturing and advanced materials, Airbus engineers manufactured the new “bionic partition,” which is half the weight of the current partition yet even stronger. Airbus estimates that by redesigning the entire cabin of the A320 using these lighter and more optimized materials would cut fuel consumption and save half a million tons of CO2 emissions per plane, per year.

Primordial Project

Co-sponsored by Intel, the Primordial Research Project is another Autodesk initiative that Kowalski highlighted in his keynote.  For the Primordial Project, Autodesk teamed with the media company Bandito Brothers to leverage machine learning, generative design, pervasive computing and IoT sensors to prototype the first car ever designed by an AI system. The result? A new vehicle chassis design optimized for maximum driving performance and efficiency. Designed by AI, it could probably never have been devised by humans. We had a prototype of the Primordial Project chassis in the Intel booth at Autodesk University: Check out my Periscope video to have a look.

Powering the Graphics Future

What do all these futuristic graphics-heavy designs from Autodesk have in common? They are very CPU and GPU intensive. And that’s where Intel comes in. In the Intel booth at Autodesk University we demo-ed a number of solutions running the Intel® Xeon® processor E3 with Iris™ Pro Graphics technology built directly into the chip.

Not so long ago, if you wanted to combine raw computing power and rich visualizations (as required with graphics-heavy applications such as Autodesk’s simulation and animation software), you had to add a separate—and costly—graphics processing unit (GPU) to your workstation.

But with the Intel Xeon processor E3-based infrastructure, you get powerful graphics technology integrated directly into the processor, so additional GPUs aren’t required to deliver rich visualization of Autodesk simulation and animation software. This means you can deliver better and richer visualizations at a lower cost and TCO for graphics-intensive workloads. In fact, an Intel Xeon E3 v4 platform with built-in Iris Pro Graphics can deliver up to 90 percent of the performance of a standard GPU plug-in, but at about one-fifth of the cost. That’s cost-savings and performance that you can count on when you’re creating the future with graphics-heavy design and modeling software.

Intel’s presence at that show emphasized the cost effective value of the Intel® Xeon® E3 with Iris Pro Graphics vs. Nvidia Grid GPUs and the emerging Intel® RealSense cameras.  Intel Fellow & CTO of HPC Mark Seager participated in tech trends panel that highlighted high-end design with HPC based platforms.  Autodesk, Citrix, Boxx and HPE helped in booth by teaching 15 Tech talks.

Follow me at @TimIntel and #TechTim for the latest news on Intel and Autodesk.

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Tim Allen

About Tim Allen

Tim is a strategic relationship manager for Intel driving enablement for enterprise software companies related to the cloud, big data, analytics, AEC, commercial VR, datacenter, and IoT. Tim has 20+ years of industry experience including work as a systems analyst, developer, system administrator, enterprise systems trainer, product marketing engineer, and marketing program manager. Prior to Intel Tim worked at IBM, Tektronix, Intersolv, Sequent and Con-Way Logistics. Tim holds a BSEE in computer engineering from BYU and an MBA in finance from the University of Portland. Specialties include - PMP, MCSE, CNA, HP-UX, AIX, Shell, Perl, C++