Building Apps Requires a Stable Platform

Autodesk’s Forge developer conference draws developers to highlight tools they can use to build applications.

Autodesk held its first-ever developers conference, the Forge DevCon, in San Francisco at the historic Fort Mason Park.

Compared to today, the original Autodesk developer’s network was downright simple. There was one program, AutoCAD, and it worked on a PC. For an entry fee, developers got access to an application program interface (API) and created their applications. So successful was the original Autodesk Developer Network, or AND, that it generated thousands of add-ons. In their totality, they constituted the universe of specialties where each specialty could find a tailor-made solution. AutoCAD, once the ultimate tool of choice for CAD, came to be seen as a platform you bought only so you could attach other applications to the tool you really needed in your specialty, whether it be mechanical design, civil engineering, piping—even electrical schematics. Specialized “flavors” of AutoCAD became the norm, and “vanilla” AutoCAD was considered the tool of rubes.

At the first-ever Forge DevCon, or developers conference, it was none other than Jim Quanci, an Autodesk veteran who ran the old developer network, who acted as the emcee.

But for developers who want to build on top of Autodesk applications today, life has gotten more complicated.

Now there are a hundred Autodesk applications. They run on PCs, Macs, the cloud and mobile devices. Databases, file formats and user interfaces are all over the place. In addition, change cycles, mostly fueled by the speed of online advances, have never been shorter. The cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), falling prices, changing pricing, and business and distribution models have left developers crying “Help!”

Autodesk took a broad view of this crazy, heaving landscape and has tried to bring some sanity and stability to the developers’ world with the Forge platform.

New and Improved APIs Announced at Forge DevCon

New APIs were announced at the conference:

  • Viewer—lets developers display 2D and 3D geometry and data, as well as comment and mark up over 50 file formats for cloud and mobile apps
  • Model Derivative API—allows the translation of one file format to another; extracts data that can be passed to other applications
  • Design Automation API—allows AutoCAD scripts to be run on the cloud, for example, convert DWG to PDF in batch using cloud processing
  • Authentication and Authorization—uses a “key” and a third party that permits limited access and specific functions without having to expose all aspects of user identity
  • Data Management API—works across various Autodesk cloud apps, including A360, Fusion 360 and BIM 360 Docs; lets users upload and download using one interface
  • 3D Print API—provides 3D print preparation to print management, with tools for mesh repair or slicing, healing models and more
  • Reality Capture API (photogrammetry tools)—takes digital photos and creates 3D models; includes geotagging that is usable with UAV (drone) photos, orthographic correction and cloud access

Forge Investments

Autodesk announced a whopping $100 million fund toward the end of last year that was to be available for investment in companies that planned to use the Forge platform. At DevCon, the company announced its first three “winners” of the Forge Fund. Autodesk is remaining close-lipped about the amounts of investment in each company, the amount of equity exchanged or other terms of the deals.

3DR—the maker of the sleek black UAV, was one of the lucky recipients of the Forge Fund. The maker of the sleek black quadcopters has worked on several products with Autodesk, one of which was the mapping of rock formations in Colorado, which was demonstrated in an event orchestrated for the press about two years ago. Chris Anderson of 3DR is proving to be a master fundraiser, already having received $126 million for his company even before the Forge Fund.

The cleverly titled MakeTime also received an undisclosed amount of funding. The company will “make” parts using machines around the country that have spare “time.” MakeTime also has been successful in raising funding prior to the help from Autodesk to the tune of almost $12 million.

Finally, Seebo, an Israeli startup, also received undisclosed funding. Seebo will make use of Forge APIs in its efforts to let products get connected and join the IoT party that is already in full swing. Seebo had already raised $14 million before the Autodesk funding.

Forge Pricing

Pricing for Forge seems to vary from free to $400 per month. For example, to get developers to jump on Forge, Autodesk is giving them initial access at no cost for three months after DevCon (through September 15, 2016). They then must pay $400 per month for the platform. Developer can have access to a broad sampling of Autodesk software development kits (SDKs), covering A360, Fusion 360, PLM 360, its viewer, etc. Pricing seems to be tentative, with the company even asking the conference audience members if they thought the pricing was fair. Autodesk seems eager for Forge to gain traction and to have the developer community know about Forge and use it to develop applications for their products. See the Autodesk site for pricing.