Jeff Kowalski, chief technology officer at Autodesk, talks often of the augmented age we're approaching in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. Computational systems will augment human capabilities and allow us to create building products that are more advanced than we can create without computational help.
Autodesk calls this "The Future of Making Things," and it will be exciting to see our industry provide even more value to clients and project stakeholders. There is, however, great uncertainty in this new age, and I wanted to provide a tangible example of how this age is already upon us: I cannot change the spark plugs on my car.
If I open the hood of my current car, it would look nothing like the engine of my first car. On my first car, I could change the spark plugs. I also changed the oil and transmission fluid. I changed out an engine at one point. On my current car, it's unlikely that it would be possible for me to do any of those things without specialized diagnostic equipment, tools, detailed manuals, and training. Even with access to the Internet, I think most people would agree that doing these things without professional assistance wouldn't be a good idea.
So what's changed? Compared to my first car, which had maybe three sensors, my current car probably has 2,000 sensors. All of these sensors allow for incredible capabilities. Fuel injection rates are continuously adjusted according to temperatures, humidity, and driving style. Airbags surround the driver and occupants. A backup camera lets me see the curb below the bumper. And there's a GPS, which means I'm only lost if I choose to be lost. All those sensors are tied to computational power, which, other than the GPS and media center, operates without much intervention.
The augmented age in AEC will be similar. The benefits to performance, safety, and the environment outweigh the simple nostalgia I feel about changing spark plugs. The benefits of computational power in AEC will supercharge our ability to provide value to our clients and project stakeholders.