Autodesk is an old school software company, having launched in 1982 and gone public in 1990, but that doesn’t mean it’s too fixed in its ways to try something new. Today, the company is launching a new Platform as a Service it’s calling Forge.com and a $100 million fund to help prime the development pump.
It will essentially make 3D development and displaying available for developers as a cloud service in the form of APIs and a software development kit (SDK) — and help fund some of the best ideas.
For the majority of its existence, Autodesk has been a 3D desktop development platform concentrating on a manufacturing audience, but customer needs are changing and the company has responded by building a cloud development platform.
“Our customers have historically done amazing things on desktop. But the desktop has finite compute resources available and the cloud has been able to solve these [limitations] with elastic resources,” Scott Reese, VP of cloud platforms at Autodesk told TechCrunch.
What’s more, the way these customers have worked is changing too. What was once a linear development process from idea to engineering, building and selling has itself been transformed as products are developed more collaboratively and we are seeing more customized manufacturing driven by 3D printing.
This new way of working requires a level of flexibility that is well-suited to the cloud, particularly with a resource-intensive technology like 3D design. As we’ve learned, just because an older company sees a need and invests in a new way of doing business, it isn’t necessarily a guarantee of success. It’s one thing to provide a cloud platform for building third-party applications. It’s another to get developers engaged in that platform.
The company believes it already has a head start on that with 4000 desktop developers, many of whom it believes it can convert to the cloud platform, while attracting new ones. To help make that happen, Autodesk is also announcing $100 million fund to help finance some of the best ideas.
The investment fund has been created to encourage innovative ideas built on top of the platform. “We are putting the money out there because we want to accelerate adoption,” Reese said. He said these could take the form of strategic or equity investments.
As a company with a long history of developing 3D software, it sees the cloud development platform as a natural extension of what it’s been doing and a way to accommodate a changing market, while attracting a new generation of developers.
Among the use cases, Reese envisions are 3D product renderings on eCommerce sites and interactive embedded 3D drawings to help explain how to install or set up a product better than any static 2D drawing ever could.
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Autodesk bought SeeControl, an Internet of Things cloud company in August and Reese could see use cases where the design can be data-driven — for example, offering predictive failure analysis for products.
The Beta program has attracted 450 developers, which Reese says grew mostly virally with only a small push from Autodesk. “It’s not about extending applications, but leveraging core technology around visualizations, relationships in data and making them accessible to millions of people,” Reese explained.
It’s worth noting that this is not Autodesk’s first attempt at the cloud. It also offers Autodesk as a cloud service, where users can pay as they go to use the software
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