Autodesk is betting big on AI

2022 was the year of the industry clouds; 2023 is the year of AI.

Karen Moltenbrey

Without question, 2023 has been the year of AI. Beyond the fun that it can provide, like giving Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost cat ears and cat whiskers, AI solves real-world problems, ones that Autodesk users face daily. Not only are they facing more pressure at the macro level, around the demand to produce more, they continue to deal with various headwinds around supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, for instance. Autodesk has been working to introduce a technology that will assist those in AEC, design and manufacturing, media and entertainment, and other industry segments by automating tedious tasks and linking data to provide a big-picture view for all involved in a project. Last year, Autodesk introduced industry clouds; this year, it is introducing Autodesk AI, with the goal of accelerating productivity and innovation.

What do we think? Let’s face it, conditions for the design and make industries have gotten hectic over the years. People are feeling the pressure to do more with less, whether they are working at a production studio, construction site, or factory floor. For some time now, people have been talking about AI, with all the promise it holds, and now it is here. Large tool makers are embracing AI and integrating it into their tool sets. Lately, we’ve seen companies like Autodesk is positioning AI to alleviate non-creative tasks, to perform complicated work in superhuman fashion, and to enable humans to see the forest through the trees of data obscuring their view. Indeed, it can be extremely helpful, especially for those at large companies tackling large projects. It can also help smaller companies be more competitive. The question is, Are those smaller companies ready to embrace such a major change to the way they’ve always worked, some of whom are still using 2D? Or maybe the question should be, can they afford not to change?

Autodesk is all in on artificial intelligence

This year, like in past years, Autodesk University focused on how the landscapes of the company’s customers are changing around them. Yes, the conference returned to Las Vegas after last year’s post-Covid stint in New Orleans, but there was a much deeper meaning to that statement. In recent years, those working in the design and make industries have adopted new tools and processes, adapting to new ways of working. At last year’s Autodesk University, the company announced industry clouds including Flow, Fusion, and Forma, which are connecting data and making users more agile through better communication and information through a seamless data pipeline. However, 2023 ushered in another big change, one that utilizes those clouds and promises to fundamentally change how creators/makers work.

So, with great fanfare and little surprise, the company at this year’s conference announced Autodesk AI, technology available in Autodesk products and native to its Design and Make Platform that provides generative capabilities and assistance to users of its design and make tools. Autodesk AI is Autodesk’s solution for providing AI technology that powers the platform as well as the company’s industry clouds. This will enable Autodesk users to more easily solve problems by leveraging the technology and putting it to work using a team’s own data.

“Autodesk AI is the assistant that lowers the learning curve for designers and engineers, supercharges their productivity, and accelerates innovation,” said Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk’s president and chief executive officer. We are at the cusp of a new era. Technology is going to change the tools you can use, he adds, emphasizing that the technology will augment a person’s work.

Today, people are working with huge amounts of data like never before, doing work that is not creative, not productive. Autodesk AI, Anagnost says, enables people to change how they work by automating the non-creative tasks that bog down teams. The platform also enables designers to analyze that mountain of data and glean insights from it.

The gist of Anagnost’s statement has been echoed by many of the leading companies in the design and make industries during the past year. And with good reason, as generative AI holds so much transformational potential. Moreover, users generally seem ready to welcome the technology into their workflows. He quoted an upcoming 2024 “State of Design and Make” special report on AI, whereby 77% of companies surveyed responded they are planning to increase or strongly increase investment in AI during the next three years. And, 66% of the leaders surveyed agree that in two to three years, AI will be essential.

According to Autodesk, it has been on a transformative journey for the past decade, which led to the introduction of the industry clouds, and the company sees AI as the next step in that journey—the next frontier, if you will. Autodesk AI uses the same cloud data to eliminate repetitive tasks and free people up for higher-value, creative work.

While Autodesk’s big public embrace of AI was front and center at Autodesk University, the company has been applying, developing, and investing in this technology for years, Anagnost notes. Autodesk has already added AI capabilities in tools like Flame and Maya with AI-powered Maya Assist, which uses natural language prompts as an interface to Maya. In addition, Autodesk AI Lab has published more than 60 research papers on AI and GenAI.

“We were the first to introduce generative design for manufacturing in Fusion more than six years ago. We are now unlocking all kinds of opportunities to automate repetitive processes, analyze shop floor operations, and augment creativity using AI,” said Jeff Kinder, executive vice president of product development and manufacturing at Autodesk.

During the first day’s keynote, Anagnost, Kinder, and other Autodesk leaders highlighted some companies that have embraced AI and other technology to transform the way they work, including electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian Automotive, all-cloud-based VFX/animation studio Jellyfish Pictures, and others. And now, Autodesk is encouraging all of its customers to embrace technology-based disruptive workflows, making Autodesk AI available across the company’s portfolio with the following unique capabilities, with further AI augmentation to come.  

Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC)
  • Autodesk Forma provides rapid analyses (wind, noise, operational energy) for making smart early-stage planning and design decisions that improve outcomes.
  • In InfoDrainage, the Machine Learning Deluge Tool gives feedback on the best placement for retention ponds and swales to help prevent or reduce the impact of water disasters.
  • AutoCAD leverages AI to help drafters iterate faster by reading handwritten and digital markups, and determining the intent of the user to recommend context-aware actions to easily incorporate changes.
  • Construction IQ harnesses AI to predict, prevent, and manage construction risks that might impact quality, safety, cost, or schedule.
Product Design and Manufacturing
  • Recently acquired Blank.AI’s generative AI capabilities will enable conceptual design exploration for the automotive industry, leading to accelerated outcomes and 3D models that can be rapidly created, explored, and edited in real time using semantic controls and natural language without advanced technical skills.
  • In Autodesk Fusion, customers can automatically generate product designs that are optimized for manufacturing method, performance, cost, and more.
  • Fusion workflows are also being developed to enable automated creation of templatized computer-aided manufacturing tool paths that can be adjusted by the user as needed. And automated drawings will provide interactive experiences around sheet creation, view placement, and annotation workflows.
Media and Entertainment
  • Generative scheduling in Autodesk Flow automates scheduling for media and entertainment productions by managing the constantly shifting variables between teams and budgets. Generative scheduling produces results in minutes for a process that has traditionally taken days, enabling teams to predict, plan, and right-size resources to ensure creative bandwidth where needed.
  • Autodesk Flame uses AI technology to automate manual tasks for artists like keying, sky replacement, beauty work, and camera tracking.
  • AI-powered workflows in Maya (currently in beta) provide a new way for artists to interact with Maya scene data using natural language text prompts.
  • Through a collaboration with Wonder Dynamics, AI will power a Maya plug-in used to automatically animate, light, and compose computer-generated characters for live-action scenes.