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For 40-year-old Autodesk — known for its design and creation software (including AutoCAD) used by professionals in industries such as architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, and entertainment — artificial intelligence (AI) has become a must for creativity and collaboration.
“A common theme is helping the designer,” said Tonya Custis, director of artificial intelligence research at Autodesk, whose team includes 15 AI research scientists based in San Francisco, Toronto and London.
But AI will also help Autodesk expand in the metaverse† According to Custis, Autodesk’s use of AI also helps address challenges around “geometry understanding” – to contextualize the geometric world around us – which will be “super important” as the metaverse expands, in terms of accelerating animation and CGI processes as well as in architecture and engineering.
“It’s about how we can understand the geometry of the world around us — not just of objects, but of space,” she said, adding that Autodesk’s AI efforts will be “definitely” important because the metaverse evolves. “For example, how is a room organised? What are the things in it? How can we break it down into geometry and what are its functions – because a computer doesn’t know that.”
AI investments democratize technology
Media attention acknowledges that Autodesk, along with companies such as Meta, Roblox, Microsoft and Nvidia, may play a role in building the metaverse†
That may be the role Autodesk’s investments and acquisitions are playing: The San Rafael, California-based company recently announced an investment in Radical, a New York-based developer whose proprietary AI combines modern deep learning strategies, human biomechanics and computer graphics. to estimate, track, and reproduce skeletal joint rotations in 3D from a single conventional video feed. From videos to metaverses, this data can be used to automate the animation of 3D characters and avatars — requiring no special hardware, training, or custom coding.
Investment in Radical follows on from Autodesk acquisition of Moxion, with its cloud solution for digital newspapers, in January and last November acquisition from cloud-based animation pipeline software company Tangent Labs.
“Autodesk has a lot of tools that people use to create things in the professional space of things like animation and movies, but when it comes to content creation, these tools are becoming more ubiquitous,” Custis says. “So Autodesk’s investment in a company like Radical democratizes a lot of that technology.”
Autodesk’s AI to help, not hinder
But Autodesk is most famous for its work in architecture, engineering and construction, especially through their AutoCAD software. “In particular, my AI research team is working on things like generating floor plans, while there are a number of projects that product teams are working on using machine learning to make command sequences easier, to make it easier to import information from drawings,” she said . “A lot of architects like to use paper to create their designs and then they have to be translated to CAD – so that’s a real waste of time for them.”
Since many AutoCAD users are experts—often even earning degrees in using the software—there’s a fine line between automating being useful and taking away control. “It’s a lot about how we provide algorithms that automate things that make sense and save them time, but also give them the agency to make choices, or give them recommendations that they can then choose,” she said. “It’s definitely a collaborative AI environment on the AEC side.”
For manufacturers, Custis said her team works a lot with Autodesk’s Fusion product, including deep learning for 3D CAD models. “For example, we teach the computer how to assemble assemblies, such as all the parts you need to build a unicycle,” she says. “And then can we teach specific robots to do that, once we understand what the steps are, what it takes, how the pieces fit together?”
AI and generative design
Autodesk also has a strong focus on AI-based generative design, where “designers or engineers input design goals into the generative design software, along with parameters such as performance or spatial requirements, materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints. The software examines all possible permutations of a solution and quickly generates design alternatives. It tests and learns from each iteration what works and what doesn’t.”
While debate around the use of large language models is all the rage right now, they provide use cases that are highly relevant to Autodesk, especially in media and entertainment, Custis said.
“It’s definitely something we’re looking at closely and we’re actually working with OpenAI as well,” she said. “I think generative modeling is really exciting in our space — the trajectory in machine learning is usually where we do things on text first, then things on photos, then things on videos, then we do things in 3D — so all of this happens. now.”
Autodesk’s ultimate goal, she reiterated, is to use AI to give users more time to be more creative.
“We don’t want to replace them, we don’t want to take their jobs away from them,” she said. “But we do want to give them more flexibility and choice about how they use their time and support that creativity.”
As for Autodesk’s impact on the metaverse, Custis said the future remains to be seen.
“There’s a place there and a lot of the work my team is working on in AI research is quite applicable,” she said. “But I can’t speculate how those specific things will turn out.”