Autodesk CEO: Cost-effective technology key to sustainable design

Smart green design comes down to the choices made before a product goes to prototype, says Autodesk CEO Carl Bass.

SAN FRANCISCO - Forces in technology are converging to make environmentally sensitive, smart design accessible to virtually everyone with a vision. That's not a surprising position from the chief executive of the world's most established computer-aided design software developer.

Those forces include the rise of tools that allow designers to simulate the impact of multiple design and materials choices for each project they tackle; the rise of "infinite computing" power that enables designers to tap into databases and processing power previously available only to those with expensive workstation computers; the proliferation of sensors that feed building analytics software; and the emergence of prototyping service bureaus that allow designers to "rent" manufacturing technologies previously priced out of their reach.

"Designers can better understand the things they are building before they build them," said Autodesk President and CEO Carl Bass, addressing attendees of the BSR Conference 2011 here last week. "The earlier in the process, the greater the impact can be. … Increasingly, we are seeing our tools used in sustainable designs."

That, in itself, is by design. Several years ago Autodesk began wooing designers interested in green or cleantech issues through its Autodesk Clean Tech Partner program, an initiative that provides up to $150,000 in software licenses to help explore environmental impact considerations ahead of time.

Bass said design software by itself isn't enough to bring smarter design to life. The ability of designers to "rent" or subscribe to information processing or prototyping resources is a development that has helped spur the sustainable design movement.

"I have never seen any idea galvanize the workforce so much," he said.

One example is TechShop, which Bass described like a "gym membership for people who want to make things." The is for designers, robotics engineers, engineers, hackers, and do-it-yourselfers who want to rent access to machine tools to work on projects. Instead of having to buy all these tools, you can rent access to all sorts of equipment. If you already know how to use them, great. If not, you can take classes.

Bass said sensor technologies that keep track of temperature, air conditions, humidity and other factors will be increasingly key for smart designs of all sorts, not just buildings. "People don't understand design implications of certain materials choices and their lifetime interaction, particularly when you have buildings that interact in a cityscape," Bass said.

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