BIM is far from the only technology that could revolutionise the industry. Daniel Kemp visited Autodesk University in Las Vegas to find out about innovations with enormous potential to change construction.
The potential of 3D printing has been much-discussed in the industry for more than a decade, with such printers now able to create remarkable products, such as the working car pictured above.
But developing a cost-effective way to mass-print materials in 3D is still a long way off.
Industries like aeronautics and healthcare look set to benefit relatively soon, but the long-term potential for construction is huge.
A number of 3D printers are now on the market from big players including Stratasys and 3D Systems.
Software developer Autodesk is also trying to move into this hardware market for the first time, demonstrating the potential opportunities by releasing its first 3D printer, Ember.
Ember is supported by free open-source software, Spark, which the developer hopes will encourage research by firms to make the process quicker and more efficient.
Popular design software is increasingly migrating to a cloud-based model.
In future, huge amounts of designs and data will be stored in the cloud, able to be accessed by multiple devices and multiple people in separate locations at the same time.
It’s the latter point that is key, with software companies developing systems that use cloud-based data to allow different people to work on a BIM model simultaneously.
This isn’t far away now, with Autodesk CEO Carl Bass saying that the cloud is “a natural hub for you to collaborate”.
He adds: “In this new world, collaboration and design management are built into everything. It’s not just another task layered on top.”
The principle of generative design is to start with your goals, and then explore all the possible permutations of solutions through successive generations of design, ending up with one optimised solution for your needs.
This radically different design method could theoretically revolutionise not only the way we make materials, but whole buildings, pieces of infrastructure and systems.
Potentially, objects could be generatively designed, modelled and printed in 3D – like the motorcycle swing arm pictured.
As Autodesk chief technology officer Jeff Kowalski puts it: “Generative design mimics nature’s approach to design.
“We need to stop telling the computer what to do and instead tell the computer what we want to achieve. The outcome is a tool that works in a life-like manner and supports the way we solve problems naturally.”
Of course, at the moment, this requires quite a large amount of computing power, and takes a fair amount of time to run through all of the possible designs. But the possibilities are huge.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, have a number of applications for construction.
As well as taking photographs for marketing purposes, drones can also be used to survey sites, both for data and safety reasons.
Additionally, they can be a useful tool in producing aerial photographs of site progress.
The cost of drones has fallen dramatically in recent years, opening them up to any company that might want to use them.
It seems likely that as their presence increases, new uses will be found for them.
Where physics and chemistry have been used to create materials in the past, biology could be the next leap forward for construction.
A prime example of this in action is the Hy-Fi pavilion, built by architect The Living for the New York Museum of Modern Art last year.
Each of the bricks used to construct the pavilion were grown in moulds, using agricultural byproducts and a type of fungus.
Even more amazingly, once the bricks are no longer needed they can be composted down, before being combined with the fungus again to grow new bricks in new moulds.
A truly recyclable material that is structurally sound with no waste byproduct? Strange, but true.
Dynamic models for design
A research team from MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has produced one of the first instantly responsive, dynamic design models for use in city planning.
The team built the model using Lego bricks and some clever computer technology, with a model in Autodesk Revit representing the area in 3D.
As you pick up and drop buildings on the physical model, the virtual model updates automatically – as well as information telling you whether you are complying with local legislation and zoning laws.
A potentially revolutionary tool to help develop new ideas for town planning, and to better represent those ideas to affected locals.
Video game crossover
3D modelling software is of course used extensively in the video game industry, with developers like Autodesk providing software for both the construction and gaming industries.
Crossover between the two is set to increase – as 3D BIM models become more sophisticated, realistic models developed for video games like Call of Duty (pictured) could increasingly be adapted for use in building models.
It’s not just visualisation – what if you could then interact with the building model to see how it responds to stimulation, altering it in real time in a completely life-like model? Game engines may make this tantalising possibility a reality.
Marty McFly was supposed to be riding on his hoverboard in 2015 – and that dream is now on the verge of becoming reality.
Hendo Hoverboards was launched with the help of Kickstarter funding and has developed a working prototype of a hoverboard.
But its developers are thinking much bigger than that. They believe that one day, entire buildings could potentially be levitated above the ground using similar technology – making them virtually immune to earthquakes.
Construction News attended Autodesk University in Las Vegas from 1-5 December as a guest of Autodesk