There hasn’t been a hotter buzzword this year than “Metaverse” — and Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost will readily admit that the concept is nearing “the peak of the hype.”
“You know the hype cycle, right?” he asked ZDNET last week ahead of the company’s annual event, Autodesk University. For those who don’t know, the period of “peak hype” is followed by a “trough of disillusionment”.
Nevertheless, Autodesk is fully committed to the concept of the metaverse. The company makes software that is widely used by “doers” — which include architects and engineers, product designers and manufacturers, and media and entertainment professionals. It’s the kind 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 to design and solve construction problems, and to solve design problems on site and solve manufacturing problems on site,” Anagnost told ZDNET. “Virtual collaboration or augmented reality on site is becoming very important for our customers.”
At Autodesk University, the company announces its latest step in preparing for the Metaverse. It is partnering with Epic Games — the video game maker best known for Fortnite — to bring broader, 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 professionals in the industry. Twinmotion, on the other hand, is real-time 3D visualization software used for industries such as architecture, consumer goods, transportation, and fashion.
“Epic will always be better than us in real time,” Anagnost said. “We’re getting better and better at developing deep design intelligence and figuring out what it takes to actually construct a building or to simulate a real building.
“We believe there is absolutely an ‘industrial metaverse’ or ‘design metaverse’ that we want to support, so we will use best-in-class technology to make that possible,” continued Anagnost. “We’re going to take tech from partners like Epic Games, we’ll probably take tech from companies like Meta if they have a better avatar than us. Our goal is to build the vertical value on top of these things that enables people to solve real-world design problems in virtual and augmented spaces.”
Earlier this year, Autodesk acquired The Wild, a virtual architecture and engineering platform. Now Autodesk is integrating elements of Epic’s Unreal Engine into Wild’s workflows.
Both Autodesk and Epic Games are now part of the Metaverse Standards Forum, a collection of companies and organizations interested in influencing the fundamental standards that should serve as the basis for an open Metaverse.
With so many large companies already investing in the Metaverse, its development can feel like a foregone conclusion. So what will Disenchantment Valley bring?
According to Anagnost, hardware is currently the biggest challenge for the Metaverse. The current iterations of VR and AR headsets are probably a few generations away from widespread adoption, he posits.
“No one really likes wearing those glasses, do they?” Said anagnostic. “It’s going to come down to the user interface paradigm. It’s going to be the big game changer for that.”
Once that technological barrier is broken, “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 design, engineering, and manufacturing teams that are geographically dispersed. Autodesk customers, like all companies, suddenly faced the challenges of distributed work after the outbreak of the pandemic.
Autodesk was already well on its way to moving to cloud-based products when the pandemic created tremendous new demand for cloud-accessible tools and data. To that end, Autodesk is announcing this week three industry clouds to be built over the next five years and beyond: Autodesk Forma, Autodesk Flow, and Autodesk Fusion.
The main goal of these clouds is to connect all the different teams working together. For example, Autodesk Forma – the industry cloud for AEC – will unify building information modeling workflows for teams that design, build and operate the built environment.
Autodesk Flow is now an industry cloud for media and entertainment. It connects customer workflows, data and teams across the entire 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 Industry Cloud along with Autodesk Fusion 360 Manage with Upchain and Prodsmart.
To take its customers to the cloud, Autodesk first tackles the massive data files its customers work with. The cloud doesn’t really work with files – it works with databases. Autodesk creates “cloud information models” to essentially take data files and break them down into granular data that can be pushed to the cloud.
Anagnost expects a mixed reaction to the news from Autodesk’s large customer base.
“The excitement will come from the customers who have already started embracing this stuff and want us to move faster,” he said. The skepticism, he said, will come from customers who want to see continued investment and updates to existing, ubiquitous tools like Revit.
“For our industry to fulfill its potential, it must overcome some serious challenges,” he said. “Our customers are struggling with new requirements in terms of sustainability. They’re struggling with new cost structures, new types of supply chains… and they’re all struggling with labor shortages. So the fundamental capacity problem that our industry has, needs the cloud.”