Freesteel Blog » Can I Autodesk the house?

Can I Autodesk the house?

Monday, January 14th, 2013 at 6:56 pm Written by:

Carl Bass (CEO of Autodesk) sent a global email across the company announcing that he had made it easy for employees to install and use any Autodesk product on their computer.

Really? I thought. It’s a little late for a tech company to wake up to the Eat your own dog food principle. Better late than never. One’s got to participate and not leave everything to the boss.

Quote from an interview with in 2010:

By using the software himself, [Bass] is also trying to anticipate customers’ complaints.

“You install it, and say, ‘Why did it take me 40 minutes to do that? Why did it ask me 72 questions?'” Bass said.

…Bass is trying to enhance the software, which costs thousands of dollars, to give it a slicker look and more intuitive feel.

“It always seemed a shame to me that we might sell a $5,000 piece of software that doesn’t look as good as a $49 video game,” Bass said.

So I installed said £5000 piece of software called Autodesk Revit Architecture 2013, and decided that a good project would be to make an architectual model of my sandstone house in Liverpool.

But how am I going to learn to use this software? I don’t know architecture so I don’t know any of those unwritten conventions that are part of the process. I kept getting these crappy pop-up dialog boxes telling me there was an error when I clicked [ok]. There are slicker ways to signal it. Though I expect if you were an architect who had just paid £5k for this software, you wouldn’t be making these sorts of mistakes. There’s no such thing as a beginners instruction manual for operating an electron microscope, is there?

I thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if I could find a dozen or so other employees across the company also taking part in this dogfooding program with the same idea, and we could all be motivated to press on with modelling our own houses and showing our progress, like a bunch of folks in a novel writing group?

There seemed to be no means of communication to solicit for such participants, so I tried a reply to sender on the email.

And got an email back from Mr Bass within minutes.

This is a slightly better response rate than I have had so far to my questions on the internal Ask CEO Staff website. These tend to languish for many weeks before a wholly inadequate reply that for reasons best known to themselves the CEO Staff are too chicken to allow to be posted. I mean, what kinds of questions do they expect people to ask?

Anyways, having bothered the boss, I might as well try to carry this idea on.

After playing with the software a bit, it was clear I needed a footprint profile of the house.

I got Becka outside with her DistoX technology (electronic compass, clino and laser measuring device) that we use to survey caves, and did a circuit of the building.

Here is the data from the unit (interpreted by TunnelX):

*begin household


*date 2013.01.05

*data normal from to tape compass clino ignoreall

;from    to    tape(m) compass  clino
1-0	1-1	1.295	159.5	-2.8
1-1	1-2	2.159	70.4	0.4
1-2	1-3	3.094	161.5	1.3
1-3	1-4	5.497	56.3	10.8
1-4	1-5	3.382	338.7	-23.4
1-5	1-6	2.210	70.4	8.7
1-6	1-7	3.923	340.8	-0.1
1-7	1-8	2.293	268.7	7.2
1-8	1-9	2.452	321.8  -7.1
1-9	1-10	5.397	257.9	-0.1 
1-10	1-11	3.109	158.1	0.1
1-11	1-12	2.179	234.2	-0.1
1-12	1-13	2.642	152.6	-0.3 

*end household

We did it at about shoulder height, except in the southeast corner where we needed to get the laser point over the fence, hence the extra 1m in height.

Not very accurate, is it?

That’s because there are too many large metal structures associated with the building that were buggering up the compass readings. Clearly, this survey technology is only appropriate in a cave where there is no metal. On a building site, they probably use GPS and/or triangulation.

To salvage this survey, I forced all the compass readings to be the closest to one of 70, 160, 250 or 340 degrees.

This is what it came out like:

1-0	1-1	1.295	160	-2.8
1-1	1-2	2.159	70	0.4
1-2	1-3	3.094	160	1.3
1-3	1-4	5.497	70	10.8
1-4	1-5	3.382	340	-23.4
1-5	1-6	2.210	70	8.7
1-6	1-7	3.923	340	-0.1

; put break here because non orthogonal leg
;1-7	1-8	2.293	268.7	7.2
1-7	1-8a	2.293	268.7	7.2

1-8	1-9	2.452	340	-7.1 
1-9	1-10	5.397	250	-0.1 
1-10	1-11	3.109	160	0.1
1-11	1-12	2.179	250	-0.1
1-12	1-13	2.642	160	-0.3 

*equate 1-13 1-0  ; loop close

Almost perfect. The northeast internal corner that isn’t square was where we were avoiding a downpipe and water butt.

Architecture software seems to rely on the stuff being at right angles, so a rotation of 20 degrees is required to get it ready. But that’s it.

This does suggest we could make it work by using the compass to determin only the cardinal direction, so it only needs to be good to the nearest 40 degrees. Then we could blip blip blip around all the interior walls of the house — including ceilings and floors because the clino is still dead good — and produce an effective plan pretty quickly!

Then I could plug everything I know into their ecotect analysis something-something software to find out what I need to do, and actually participate in their technology trend #1 from their labs blog:

Reality capture (laser scanning, photogrammetry)

They are pleased with their two minute video of a talking head. “This is two and a half minutes well spent,” adds the CTO. All very well, but how about some examples?

At the moment, all I’m doing is hammering holes in the kitchen floor to find out what’s underneath.

Answer: It’s not at all what I expected.

Sand and rocks go down as deep as I can reach beneath parallel steel bars supporting the floor. Maybe there is a whole basement down there. You never know with these ancient houses.

Going to Cambridge tomorrow. Maybe there are some folks in the office there who are up for this and can teach me how to Revit.

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