There have been few buzzwords this year than “metaverse” – and Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost will readily admit that the concept is approaching “peak hype”.
“You know the hype cycle, right? he asked ZDNET last week, ahead of the company’s annual event, Autodesk University. For those unfamiliar with it, the “hype peak” phase is followed by a “disillusion trough” phase.
Nonetheless, Autodesk is all about the metaverse concept. The company makes software widely used by “makers” – which includes architects and engineers, product designers and manufacturers, and media and entertainment professionals. This is the type of customer base that could clearly benefit from the promise of XR – virtual reality, augmented reality and everything in between.
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“In the future, people will collaborate in virtual spaces on building design and solve construction problems, and solve on-site construction problems and on-site manufacturing problems,” Anagnost told ZDNET. “Virtual collaboration, or on-site augmented reality, is going to be very important to our customers.”
At Autodesk University, the company announces its latest initiative to prepare for the metaverse. It’s partnering with Epic Games – the video game maker known for Fortnite – to bring more immersive, real-time collaboration to the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. Later this year, Autodesk Revit customers will have access to Epic Games’ Twinmotion as part of their subscription.
Revit is a building information modeling software tool for architects, engineers, mechanics, designers, contractors, and other industry professionals. Twinmotion, on the other hand, is real-time 3D visualization software used in industries such as architecture, consumer products, transportation, and fashion.
“Epic will always be better than us in real time,” Anagnost said. “We’re always going to be better at deep design intelligence and what it takes to actually design a building or simulate a real building.
“We think there’s absolutely an ‘industrial metaverse’ or a ‘design metaverse’ that we want to support, so we’re going to use best-in-class technology to make that possible,” Anagnost continued. “We’ll take technology from partners like Epic Games, we’ll probably take technology from companies like Meta, if they have a better avatar than us. Our goal is to create vertical value on top of those things that allow people to solve real-world design issues in virtual and augmented spaces.”
Earlier this year, Autodesk acquired Wild, a virtual platform for architecture and engineering. Autodesk is now integrating elements of Epic’s Unreal Engine into Wild’s workflows.
Meanwhile, Autodesk and Epic Games are part of the Metaverse Standards Forum, a collection of companies and organizations that want to influence the baseline standards that will serve as the foundation for an open metaverse.
With so many big companies already invested in the metaverse, its development may seem like a foregone conclusion. So what will bring about the “trough of disillusionment”?
According to Anagnost, the biggest challenge for the Metaverse right now is hardware. Current iterations of VR and AR headsets are likely a few generations away from mainstream adoption, he posits.
“Nobody really likes wearing those glasses, do they?” said Anagnost. “It’s the UI paradigm that will matter. That will be the big tipping point for this.”
Once that technology barrier is lifted, “we want all of our software and other features to be ready for that,” he added.
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The metaverse will also be valuable for connecting geographically dispersed design, construction, and manufacturing teams. Autodesk customers, like all businesses, suddenly found themselves grappling with distributed working challenges once the pandemic hit.
Autodesk was already well on its way to moving to cloud-based products when the pandemic created huge new demand for cloud-accessible tools and data. To that end, Autodesk is announcing three industrial clouds this week that it plans to build over the next five years and beyond: Autodesk Forma, Autodesk Flow, and Autodesk Fusion.
The main purpose of these clouds is to connect all the disparate teams working together. For example, Autodesk Forma – the industrial cloud for AEC – will unify building information modeling workflows for teams that design, build and operate the built environment.
Meanwhile, Autodesk Flow is an industrial cloud for media and entertainment. It connects customer workflows, data and teams throughout the production lifecycle, from concept to final delivery.
Autodesk Fusion 360, for the design and manufacturing industry, is already cloud-based. Now, this product will be part of the Autodesk Fusion Industrial Cloud, along with Autodesk Fusion 360 Manage with Upchain and Prodsmart.
To drive its customers to the cloud, Autodesk first tackles the large data files that its customers work with. The cloud doesn’t really run on files, it runs on databases. Autodesk creates “cloud information models” to essentially take data files and slice them into granular data that can be moved to the cloud.
Anagnost expects a mixed response to news from Autodesk’s large customer base.
“The excitement will come from customers who have already started to adopt this stuff and want us to move faster,” he said. Skepticism, he said, will come from customers who want to see continued investment and updates to existing and ubiquitous tools such as Revit.
“For our industry to realize its potential, it must overcome serious challenges,” he said. “Our customers are grappling with new demands for sustainability. They are grappling with new cost structures, new types of supply chains…and they are all facing labor shortages. So this fundamental capacity issue that our industry needs the cloud.”