We are on the cusp of the biggest change in how we make things since the industrial revolution. And this isn't just about new technology — it's about changes in culture, politics, and attitudes. There are three major catalysts for such a big disruption:
Means of Production
How we think about design, is changing because the process of how we make a physical thing is evolving. Techniques like additive manufacturing pave the way to allow designers to design things that previously were un-makeable. As such, we simply don't design, manufacture, or build things the same way as we used to.
The Nature of Consumer Demand
Today, customers care more about how and where things are made. Interest in locally made, produced, and sold items is growing everywhere. Bespoke things are preferable over generic, off-the-shelf things.
"Product" is a proxy for all the "things" that are made (whether it's a building, highway, car, phone, or even movie or video game). Things are now deeply connected to each other and to other interconnected digital systems. The bottom line is that things don't function in isolation anymore. They are smart. They talk to each other, affect each other, and even change over time.
The Autodesk Gallery at One Market in San Francisco celebrates design — the process of taking a great idea and turning it into a reality. With about 60 different exhibits regularly on display that showcase the innovative work of Autodesk customers, the gallery illustrates the role technology plays in great design and engineering. One of the elements of the future of making things is generative design. Autodesk has everything from research projects like Dreamcatcher to products that we sell like Autodesk Within.
So it makes sense that we would have a few exhibits in the gallery on generative design.
Darwin in the machine
Whether it's a facial or hip joint implant specifically created for one patient or an efficient radiator constructed with minimal material, generative design (using a computer to generate thousands of possibilities given requirements defined by a human) can produce the best design in less time than even an army of human designers.
Companies use generative design capabilities to create not just good, or even great, designs, but the most optimized designs. Once design parameters are defined for a specific project, the software goes to work, using evolutionary algorithms to generate solutions by mimicking the way nature accepts or rejects designs. Incorporating the advantages of additive manufacturing and employing design targets like weight reduction and load requirements, the software creates lattice structures that use a precise amount of material, exactly where needed. Many of the resulting designs can only be fabricated using 3D printing.
Using software that mirrors the design process of Nature, a generative-design generated-chair design can be of equal strength but dramatically reduced weight — requiring less material. The Living, part of Autodesk, has been working on research and development projects in the fields of architecture, art, industrial design, aerospace, computer science, engineering, manufacturing and synthetic biology to create new types of buildings, public installations, prototypes, and architectural environments.
A novice designer might design a basic chair.
Told that the chair costs too much to make and is too heavy to ship, the designer might remove some of the supporting material.
But would even a team of designers come up with a chair design that is optimized to use the least amount of material yet provide the greatest strength?
A generative design algorithm running on computers in the cloud can do precisely that.
Bio Computation and Next Generation Aerospace
Airbus used cloud computers to generate and evaluate thousands of possible structures, designed using synthetic biology and principles from architecture, for their concept plane that depicts travel in 2050.
Autodesk continues to offer desktop applications, packaged into collections but also offers cloud-based services that leverage the connectivity of the internet and the ability to apply more than one computer to a problem — particularly in the areas of analysis, simulation, and collaboration.
Imagining a City of Evolutionarily Optimized Buildings
Instead of the traditional design/analyze/update approach, what would happen if a designer simply provided constraints and allowed infinite computing resources in the cloud generate thousands of possibilities and evaluated them? Using Revit Architecture and Project Vasari/Autodesk Green Building Studio (now Insight 360) application programming interfaces (APIs), IDEA Studio residents developed a plug-in to automatically generate, analyze, visualize, and rank various design configurations.
Imagine you're an architect and your client asks you to design a building. He has two requirements:
- Minimize energy use.
- Maximize rentable floor space.
That sounds totally reasonable, right? So as an architect with lots of CAD prowess, you design a building in pursuit of those two goals. You run an analysis. The results show that your rentable floor space is too small. So you increase the size of the building. Now your projected energy costs are too high. So you iterate by making adjustments to your building design until both criteria are met.
But what if you could just give those two requirements to the computer and let it generate the right answer? What if instead of generating one correct answer, it could generate thousands, and let you pick one?
Perhaps you pick one based on aesthetics or how it might fit in with the other buildings in the neighborhood.
Yes, generative design can do that. It shifts the job of an architect from defining the solution to carefully defining the requirements so that the computer can generate the solution. As the architect, you're in charge of the problem space instead of the solution space.
The Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a guided tour on Wednesdays at 12:30 pm and a self-guided audio tour available anytime. Admission is free. Visit us.
Generative design is alive in the lab.