Kean Walmsley


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April 2014

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March 26, 2014

Pier 9

This is without a doubt the coolest office Autodesk has anywhere in the world. Pier 9, on San Francisco’s waterfront, houses the Autodesk Consumer Group, including the Tinkercad and Instructables teams, as well as members of Autodesk Research and visiting artists-in-residence. And it has the most phenomenal workshops, kitted out with cutting-edge technology.

The entrance

I’d been hoping to visit for some time but this was really my first real opportunity since its official opening back in September. I wandered across from our 1 Market office (which is also pretty cool, but relatively lacking in toys ;-) with Gaurav Sachdeva, a colleague visiting from Singapore. Gaurav also happens to be a keen photographer, so I took advantage of his presence to get a few snaps using something better than my mobile phone. The images in this post were all taken by Gaurav.

On arrival we were lucky enough to bump into Guillermo Melantoni, the Tinkercad Product Manager, who very kindly offered to give us a tour (access is restricted to people who’ve gone through training on the equipment available there: it’s just too dangerous to have tourists such as myself wandering around unsupervised).

Before we entered the workshop we were able to see some cool creations, such as 3D printed vinyl

3D printed vinyl

… and an Arduino-controlled drum kit:

Arduino-controlled drum kit

We had to don protective specs to enter the workshop area, of course.

Ready to enter the workshop

I can well imagine this is the kind of facility that Tony Stark would have at his disposal.

Iron Man

The equipment available was truly impressive: assuming you’ve followed the training you can use a waterjet cutter or an 11-axis CNC machine.

Amazing what you can do with pressurised water

A separate area contained the 3D printers, of which there were many.

3D printers

With the results on display, too, of course.

A 3D print

All in all it was an inspiring visit: Pier 9 is an incredibly creative environment and I hope the people working there realise how lucky they are to be housed in such an exceptional space. I’m really looking forward to visiting again!

March 24, 2014

Raster to vector conversion on the iPad

I was happy to see Scott’s announcement that a tool I’d seen demoed back at AU – and during my recent trip to Israel – has now been published to the iOS App Store (even if it’s really a Labs release, at this stage). It was developed by the Applied Research group in our Tel Aviv office, the team that brought you ShapeShifter.

It’s an iPad app called Vectorize It that allows you to generate vectors from raster images – whether taken by the iPad’s camera or picked from its image gallery – with the capability of opening the resultant vector drawing directly in AutoCAD 360.

The app uses edge detection – a standard computer vision technique – to extract vectors from the raster input. It also uses a currently internal mechanism – which will hopefully be useable externally, too, at some point – that transfers geometry definitions to AutoCAD 360 using a JSON-based format. Cool stuff.

Let’s take it for a quick spin…

To start with, you get the choice to take a photo, choose an image or use a provided sample.

Vectorize It

Taking a picture just launches the iPad’s camera app.

Taking a snap

At which point we get a preview of the preliminary results.

Previewing the results

We can fine-tune settings to adjust the lines that are generated.

Adjusting some settings

And once we’re done we get to preview again prior to save or export.

Preview once again before export

The export options allow us to go straight to AutoCAD 360.

Export options

Which both launches AutoCAD 360 and generates the vector geometry.

The drawing in AutoCAD 360

And once the drawing has been exported to AutoCAD 360, it’s of course also available in Autodesk 360 to be loaded into desktop AutoCAD.

In desktop AutoCAD

If you get the chance to try this app yourself, please let us know what you think. For products on Autodesk Labs to make it to official release, we really need to hear whether they’re useful for people (and where there’s room for improvement).

March 21, 2014

Per-post sharing and Disqus comments

Some of you may have noticed a few changes that have been made to this blog over the last week or so.

Firstly, I finally got around to implementing per-page sharing – for now via Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn – for individual blog posts. This took me longer than I’d have liked because I use Typepad Advanced Templates (which means I do a lot of hand-hacking of HTML to implement new features, giving more flexibility but requiring more work to do anything significant).

Sharing buttons

If there are other social networks you’d like to share to – Pinterest, anyone? – then please post a comment to let me know.

Speaking of comments: subsequent to Typepad’s announcement earlier this month of their support for Disqus commenting (pronounced “discuss” rather than “discus”, it seems), I went ahead and implemented the system for this blog. I haven’t looked especially deeply into the features it provides, but I had been received the occasional complaint about the previous commenting system (apart from anything else I had a lot of valid comments getting flagged as spam without any notification, which annoyed me intensely) and Disqus does appear to be “best in class” for blog comments, generally. Let me know what you think.

I imported the blog’s previous comments, but these appear to have come across without threading (such is life – hopefully that won’t detract too much from the usefulness of older comments). New comments will be fully threaded, of course.

This is a one way conversion, unless I choose to discard comments that have come in via Disqus. If anyone finds it particularly objectionable, it would be great to hear that sooner rather than later.

March 19, 2014

San Francisco

It’s nice being back in the Bay Area. I got in on Monday night and took BART into the city, checking into the Hyatt Regency (just across the street from our 1 Market office).

That first evening I caught up with my old team – the DevTech managers, now under Stephen Preston’s leadership – for dinner and then went for an over-priced green beer with my former boss, Jim Quanci. It was St. Patrick’s Day, after all. :-)

Then it was a short night’s sleep before the usual jetlag woke me at 3:30am. On the plus side, it gave me the opportunity to catch up on my Autonomous Mobile Robots homework. The first assignment – on “Locomotion and Kinematics (Legs)” had been brutal: my maths and physics were barely up to it, so I literally only scraped through. Thankfully the second assignment – this one on wheels rather than legs – was much more straightforward… this time I managed to complete it.

The next module is on “Perception”, which I’m really looking forward to: it’ll cover computer vision techniques, such as those we use for ReCap Photo.

It was great to see the view across the bay first thing in the morning:

View from the 9th floor

I spent most of the day in meetings, both with the ADN and AutoCAD Engineering teams, followed by drinks and dinner with members of the AutoCAD UX team and several visitors from Tel Aviv.

Before going to bed, I got to see the Bay Lights in person for the first time: I was very happy about that.

And by night

I’m now heading back into the office and will then travel back down to Santa Cruz for an offsite meeting for the remainder of the week. I’ll be back up in the city for the weekend and will spend a last few days in San Rafael next week before heading home across the pond.

March 17, 2014

9 days to design an advertisement for Morgan 3 Wheeler

I saw an announcement for this competition back at Autodesk University 2013, but haven’t yet posted about it on this blog. The competition is now in its final stages – the deadline is on March 26, 2014 at 10am PST – but that means exactly 9 days left to enter from the time this post goes live.

The concept is simple: you have to use one of three Autodesk products – Inventor, Showcase or 3ds Max – to create a rendering of the Morgan 3 Wheeler to be published as an advertisement in MOG Magazine.

Aside from installing one or more of these products – and they’re all available as part of the Autodesk Product Design Suite trial, in case – you will need to download the appropriate model(s) of the Morgan 3 Wheeler from the competition page. The good news is that they've provided decent models for each of the 3 products, so you won’t have to resort to using ReCap Photo, like I did. ;-)

Here’s a quick walkthrough video to get you started:


I’d love to have a crack at this, but a) I’m not eligible as I work for one of the sponsors and b) it wouldn’t be fair as I have some awesome tech at my disposal. I’d be very happy to hear that one of this blog’s readers managed to win, though – I suppose I’d have competed vicariously, at least.

March 14, 2014

Determining AutoCAD’s language using .NET

To follow on from yesterday’s post, today we’re going to look at a reliable way to determine the language of the AutoCAD product hosting your .NET module.

Thanks to Troy Louden for sharing this technique. Here’s the C# code implementing it:

using System.Globalization;

using Autodesk.AutoCAD.ApplicationServices;

using Autodesk.AutoCAD.Runtime;

 

namespace LanguageInfo

{

  public class Commands

  {

    [CommandMethod("LANG")]

    public static void WhichLanguage()

    {

      var cult =

        new CultureInfo(SystemObjects.DynamicLinker.ProductLcid);

      Application.DocumentManager.MdiActiveDocument.Editor.

        WriteMessage(

          "\nLanguage of your AutoCAD product is {0}.",

          cult.EnglishName

        );

    }

  }

}

When we run the code, we can see it simply tells us the language associated with the product’s “culture”. We’re printing the English version of the name, but the Culture object provides lots more information besides.

Command: LANG

Language of your AutoCAD product is English (United States).

That’s it – short and sweet.

And that’s also it for the week: all being well my next post will be from San Francisco.

March 13, 2014

Getting AutoCAD’s command-line arguments using .NET

I’m starting to get ready for a trip to the US: I’m heading out on Monday and will be home on Thursday of the following week. While I expect I’ll have time to write a few posts during the trip – thank you, jetlag! – I’m going to write a couple of very simple ones today and tomorrow, just to free up time for preparations.

Both posts came out of an internal email discussion on trying to determine the language of the AutoCAD product your application is running in. The initial question was focused on getting this information from the command-line arguments passed into AutoCAD, hence the topic of this first post.

Adam Nagy, from DevTech EMEA, suggested the following approach while acknowledging there might be issues if choosing to use the same object to get the command-line arguments themselves.

Here are two C# commands to get the command-line information from System.Environment:

using Autodesk.AutoCAD.ApplicationServices;

using Autodesk.AutoCAD.Runtime;

 

namespace CommandLineArgs

{

  public class Commands

  {

    [CommandMethod("CL")]

    public static void CommandLine()

    {

      Application.DocumentManager.MdiActiveDocument.Editor.

        WriteMessage(

          "\nCommand-line at AutoCAD launch was [{0}].",

          System.Environment.CommandLine

        );

    }

 

    [CommandMethod("CLA")]

    public static void CommandLineArguments()

    {

      var ed = Application.DocumentManager.MdiActiveDocument.Editor;

      var args = System.Environment.GetCommandLineArgs();

      ed.WriteMessage(

        "\nCommand-line arguments at AutoCAD launch were "

      );

      foreach (var arg in args)

      {

        ed.WriteMessage("[{0}] ", arg);

      }

    }

  }

}

If we run the first one we can see the full command-line, while the second chunks it up into separate arguments. Which you use is ultimately up to you, but you should bear in mind that – as explained in the StackOverflow discussion Adam mentioned – due to GetCommandLineArgs()’s use of CommandLineToArgvW(), you might get somewhat bizarre escaping behaviour especially if the command-line arguments contain backslashes.

Command: CL

Command-line at AutoCAD launch was ["C:\Program Files\Autodesk\AutoCAD 2014\acad.exe"  /product "ACAD" /language "en-US"].

Command: CLA

Command-line arguments at AutoCAD launch were [C:\Program Files\Autodesk\AutoCAD 2014\acad.exe] [/product] [ACAD] [/language] [en-US]

As you can see, the results are OK for standard AutoCAD usage. That said, for the particular scenario of wanting to determining the language of your AutoCAD product, there is a better way. More on that tomorrow.

March 11, 2014

The Autodesk Foundation & coding for a cause

Many of you will have seen last week’s announcement about the creation of the Autodesk Foundation. The foundation has been set up to formalise something that’s long been part of Autodesk’s culture: supporting charitable causes through direct investment, software donation and matching of employee gifts. This formalisation will also bring greater alignment around our support for the broader design community, which is something that’s new.




I’m particularly excited about changes being made to Autodesk’s employee volunteering program.

As an Autodesk employee I’m able to spend 4 hours per month of company time volunteering for qualifying nonprofit organisations (political and religious nonprofits as well as those with discriminatory practices are ineligible). That’s just company time, of course: we’re obviously able to volunteer our personal time, too. For every 10 hours of company time I log, Autodesk will give me a $100 “Cause Card” which I can use to donate money to the charity of my choice (which Autodesk will then match, too, up to a certain limit).

This is a great incentive to encourage Autodeskers to donate their time.

Which leads me to something I’ve been thinking about for some time… I almost wrote this post at the beginning of January – this has been a potential New Year’s resolution of mine for a year or two, now – but the launch of the Autodesk Foundation seems a great time to do it.

If you work for a nonprofit organisation and need some help with a programming project of some kind – ideally one that involves AutoCAD or other Autodesk software – then please send me an email.

I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to fit you in – I have no idea what kind of uptake this offer will generate – but I’d love to talk to you about your projects and find some way to help (or round up some colleagues who are better suited to helping deal with the challenges you’re facing).

An AguaClara plantAguaClaraAs an example of a qualifying project that I’ve been volunteering time on, over the last year or so: Cornell University’s AquaClara project – which belongs to the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department – designs sustainable water treatment plants to bring clean water to many who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. There’s more information on their wikipedia page.

From a technology perspective, the AguaClara team makes use of MathCad for engineering calculations and uses the results to drive AutoCAD to generate the final design. They had some specific requirements around sectioning that I’ve been able to develop for them. It seems the team has recently opened their 9th water treatment plant, which is just wonderful news.

Participating in this kind of project is extremely motivating (and one of the reasons I’m happy to be working at Autodesk rather than a bank :-). I’m looking forward to learning more about how nonprofit organisations are using Autodesk software to make the world a better place. And doing my bit to help!

March 06, 2014

Configuring 3 Wheelers at the Geneva Motor Show

Today marks the first public day of this year’s Geneva Motor Show. After having spent time on Monday setting up the configurator Autodesk provided to Morgan Motor Company, on Tuesday I went along to make sure everything was working well.

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, but we got there. To start with, the connection from the iPad to the system performing the rendering work locally using Autodesk VRED – the iPad connection is the only part of the system that requiring wifi, we don’t actually use it for the rendering itself – was intermittent and very slow. I whipped out the wifi spectrum analyzer on my phone only to find it (unsurprisingly) to be unbelievably congested. I chose a channel that seemed the least busy and then switched the router to that channel and made sure it only used 802.11n rather than b/g/n.

The connection then worked much better (thankfully), at which point the next hurdle presented itself: the brand new LG television that was being used as the primary display just stopped working. The message “Life’s Good” just blinked on and off the screen every second or so (trust me, it wasn’t). The suggestion was made to plug in to the stand’s power-wall instead, so we did that: half of the 8 screens being used to display videos, etc. were then dedicated to the configurator.

It looked absolutely stunning. Here are a few pics of me demoing the system:

Demoing to a journalist from Greece

Playing with a front view on the Potsdamer Platz

A view with the new Plus 4 in the foreground

I was scanning YouTube for a video of the press announcement and stumbled across a number of identical videos that had the system in the background (they were showing off the new Plus 4, in red above).

As I couldn’t (yet) find the video I wanted, I went ahead and uploaded one I’d shot (admittedly without a tripod.. although I think I didn’t do that badly considering I was holding the camera up for a little over 12 minutes).

To hear about the collaboration between Autodesk, scan forward to 3 minutes (and listen for about 30 seconds):




Finally, I prepared a few screenshots for a newspaper article that will hopefully be published in the local paper over the weekend, which I thought I’d share here:

Morgan 1Morgan 2Morgan 3Morgan 4Morgan 5Morgan 6

March 04, 2014

Autodesk and Morgan at the Geneva Motor Show

Yesterday I had a really interesting day. I spent it at Geneva’s Palexpo exhibition centre, helping Morgan Motor Company set up their stand for this year’s Salon International de l”Auto & Accessoires (i.e. the 84th Geneva Motor Show). It was really cool being there before even the press were allowed in (they get to attend today and tomorrow), while most of the cars were still under wraps:

Any colour you want, as long as it's red

I’ve been to the show – and visited the Morgan stand – before, but this year was very exciting for me as it marks the culmination of some months of collaboration between Morgan and Autodesk. This particular project had its genesis back in late August, when Jon Wells and I were chatting “off the record” after the interview I posted on this blog.

Jon expressed an interest in Autodesk helping put together a car configurator for their stand at the 2014 show, focusing particularly on the Morgan 3 Wheeler. I followed up with a few people internally – particularly with people who have worked on our Showcase product – but it wasn’t until Callan Carpenter (Autodesk’s VP of Global Services) visited Neuchatel in late September that I found out that our Consulting division had technology that looked like a great fit for Morgan’s requirements.

Of course there’s more to it than that (and probably much more went on than I had any idea of), but still: it’s at least part of the overall story.

So to cut a long story short, members of the Visualization team in Autodesk Consulting – headed up by Kevin Smith, an old friend and colleague – created a configurator based on Autodesk VRED that allows users to configure their dream Morgan 3 Wheeler based on the array of options available to them with the 2014 model.

There were some interesting challenges in this project: one of Morgan’s key selling points is the extreme personalization possible with their “bespoke” cars. For instance, for a modest premium you can basically choose any colour you want for your new Morgan’s paintwork.

Kevin’s team – Merten Stroetzel, Jeff Wilson and Jason Walter – developed a state-ofthe-art configurator for the 3 Wheeler. They took a primarily cloud-based system (known as Project Ansel internally) and created a locally-run configurator with features such as a colour picker for paint selection from the full colour spectrum.

The configurator makes use of an iPad as the primary input device – you use it to select colours for the pain and the leather as well as the various decals and options available to you – with the results generated in close to realtime and displayed on the wall-mounted screen.

Paint colours Leather GraphicsOptions BackgroundsViews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mouse can be used for finer-grained navigation beyond the 6 standard views, as needed. Admittedly the system would have been much more responsive with a cloud-based cluster doing the raytracing – there were a number of constraints that led us down the path of delivering a local implementation – but the results with an 8-core laptop doing all the rendering were pretty tolerable, considering.

Here’s the set-up in the stand:

The configurator at the Morgan stand

Here’s one of the more interesting configurations I generated while playing around with it:

Perhaps not my first choice, but still interesting

Just to re-iterate a point: these images are based on full 3D models – with some really impressing HDR background imagery – allowing you to capture high quality rendered images from any direction you choose. The interiors look simply gorgeous:

Gorgeous interiors

You can choose between a studio environment, a hangar (the default, used above), and the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin by either day or by night. The nighttime scene is just awesome: you even get to see the 3 Wheeler with its light on!

Morgan by night

Hats off to Kevin, Merten, Jason and Jeff, as well as to Mike Russell from our Sales team for making this happen (my own part in this story was very minor, but it was great to have been involved). Without putting too fine a point on it, Morgan has one of the more interesting pieces of car configuration technology on display at this year’s show. I’m certainly excited to see how it’s received by potential Morgan owners over the coming days.

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