I have been rubbing my temples trying to answer the question Why? Why did Autodesk end the technology previews for point cloud feature and shape extraction without graduating the technology for commercial release as they usually do? And as I pondered the question, it all became clear.
Commenting on the decision Scott Sheppard from the Autodesk Labs blog wrote: at this time we have no interest in extending these technology previews. The feedback that we would receive would not apply since our future plans would be based on another technology.
Reading between the lines, performance for this preview was below the bar because it relied upon an underperforming point cloud engine that couldnt display enough information of the required quality for acceptable feature extraction performance.
All rather clear you might say, Autodesk provides these technology previews to crowd-source feedback and refine product strategy. If the strategy has changed, the technology needs to be withdrawn. But what about the Autodesk customers that were hoping to buy these products soon to make them an integral part of their scan-to-model workflows? I guess they will have to look elsewhere to satisfy their feature extraction needs in the near-term.
The Pointools Plug-ins for AutoCAD, Civil3D, Architecture, and Plant3D etc. immediately spring to mind. They were commercially available before Autodesks catch-up technology preview was posted and they remain available today. They leverage the Bentley Pointools Vortex engine to display billions of points on screen, and they include some simple feature extraction tools to convert points to geometry.
Another great offering is the Point Sense Plant product from German firm kubit. Unlike the Pointools offerings which read the Pointools POD file format to display point cloud data, kubits product uses the same point cloud file format as AutoCAD but adds some very powerful tools for semi-automated pipe feature extraction.
Good news! With alternative options, AutoCAD users will not be left high and dry while Autodesk rethinks its strategy. Sheppard continued, The situation has changed with the acquisition of Alice Labs, and it will take some time to integrate the Alice Labs technology into other technology previews, if we decide to do that at all.
Sounds to me like the Alice Labs technology will replace the current AutoCAD point cloud engine. Thats got to be a bonus for AutoCAD users but perhaps a little worrying for kubit. Having put all of their eggs into the one AutoCAD basket, kubit cannot afford not to rewrite their products for the new engine. But in doing so they will be delaying new innovations and products as their development team works to effectively make the sideways step from the old engine to the new; leaving kubits own competition to steal a march in the new feature race.
I asked Matthias Koksch, managing Director of Kubit GmbH what he thought of the move to replace the PCG engine with the Alice Labs technology, There is no need for our users to be worried. The integration of Alice Labs is a great opportunity for us. We are Autodesk developers for a long time and with the addition of the Alice Labs engine, Autodesk is doing exactly what we expected. They have invested in technology to have a better point cloud engine in their products which can help to serve the masses. We are focused on industry specific point cloud functionality on top of their foundation. As a result, the better their engine, the greater the benefit for our users and for us. It simply provides us a more competitive package.
Good news then. But what of the effort required for Kubit to harness the new engine? Koksch continued, Moving from one engine to another engine is not really an effort. The complete architecture of our software and the Autodesk APIs allows us to easily work with another engine. We did this already with the current PCG engine from Autodesk and our own PTC engine (for older AutoCAD versions).
Setting the scene for future announcements and perhaps giving the briefest suggestion of future workflow strategy, Sheppard explained why the Alice Labs technology is better than the current Autodesk engine. We believe Alice Labs has the best technology for:
Viewing clouds in full density without heavy overdraw
High visualization speed
Fast access to points for interpreting algorithms
With a fast, powerful engine in place, Autodesk will be able to follow the lead set by Pointools in response to its own users by enabling point cloud reuse without reverse engineering to streamline scan-to-model workflows and increase the value of 3D laser scan data for many more users.
By withdrawing this technology preview Autodesk is demonstrating the value of its unrivalled Labs approach to product strategy, development, and testing via crowd sourced feedback. There isnt a high-technology business book in print that doesnt insist on market testing product offerings BEFORE commercial release to assess viability and performance, thus ensuring the highest levels of satisfaction from the people who matter most the users.
Since its launch around 5 years ago Autodesk Labs has been instrumental in birthing some of Autodesks coolest new technologies and in the process has repositioned Autodesk as an incubator for innovation. Its often said that there are no bad ideas, but you never know how good an idea is until you test it. I think its fair to say that Autodesk Labs continues to prove its worth.