Autodesk University at 13 proved to be nothing like an immature, inexperienced teenager. The event, held Nov. 28-Dec. 1, 2005, entertained as usual with its product evangelists, trendy music, creative themes, attention-grabbing presentations-and this year a helium-ingesting COO. At this year's event, Autodesk sought to "Connect the Dots"-a theme seen throughout the venue complete with a live dot character passing out Tootsie Roll's Dot candies-and encourage its attendees to "Empower Ideas," "Expand Ideas" and "Realize Ideas."

Helping to "Connect the Dots" were notable sponsors Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and AUGI, the company's international user group. The event was held at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando.

At the general session on Tuesday, the record-breaking number of 5,000+ attendees were wowed with an opening presentation that was loud, colorful and sensational. Introducing its media and entertainment customers to the event for the first time, the 3D world acted as the foundation for the event's theme to "Realize Ideas." In a gaming platform, a user selected a vehicle of choice, the "Autodesk Realizer" sportbike, which was fueled by DWF, the company's digital design tool. The player in the game was supported by AUGI, and during the course of a project, deadlines were squashed and budgets met. It was quite a presentation.

Evangelist Lynn Allen highlighted Autodesk's long-standing relationship with Microsoft; boasted of the company's $1 billion mark in revenues reached in 2004 as well as Autodesk customers such as the engineers designing the Freedom Tower; and emphasized two new online offerings-AU Connect, a "matchmaking" networking service Autodesk developed to encourage peer and sponsor connections, and AU Online, an extension of the event through a portal containing 100 of the 400 courses offered at AU. Allen then introduced company President, Chairman and CEO Carol Bartz to the stage, whose recent accolades include making prestigious "power people" lists of the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Fortune and Forbes.

Bartz continued her mantra from years past, that of leaving paper behind for the more automated and efficient digital world. And, as is fitting for most Autodesk customers, emphasis was placed on the 3D world over the 2D world. For surveyors, the 2D world is still very much the mainstay, but many still desire tools to create impressive presentations. To this end, Autodesk will be releasing VESPA, a post-drawing illustration tool. Applied to AutoCAD drawings, VESPA adds graphic effects to CAD layers; the result is a representation that emulates a smoothed Monet look or a psychedelic '60s montage of bright colors (see an example at

Other offerings for surveyors, mappers, GIS-ers and civil engineers in the infrastructure sector include improvements to Autodesk Map 3D. Autodesk Map 3D offers users connection tools (to spatial databases) as well as projection, organization, rendering and publishing tools to connect others to data on the web. Feature classification seamlessly connects others to work by standardizing features within projects.

Bartz noted that Autodesk responds to change that involves what she calls the "senior-to-freshman transition," where users learn a particular system or product inside and out and then have to start over learning a new product. Why would people want to change, she asked. "It's inevitable if a company wants more opportunities, more productivity on jobs and more success," Bartz said. "I beg you to understand. Change is inevitable. The ball's in your court, but we're on the court with you. We're part of your success."

COO Carl Bass touted the concept of doing more with less in the face of relentless competition and encouraged users to connect collaboratively with a three-tiered system: Create (smartly), manage (securely by eliminating outdated data) and share (immediately). According to Bass, the best time to adopt technology is not during boom times when users are more likely to please only their best customers, or in the bust times when users may be too pessimistic, but rather in a decent economical time like now. The ROI is short, and good, beneficial implementation leads to sustainable growth, he said.

Furthering on Autodesk's approach to open standards, the company announced on November 28 that it has positioned its next-generation web mapping platform-MapServer Enterprise (later to be MapServer Cheetah)-as an open source project. The initiative allows developers to use mapping solutions to streamline processes and gain an edge over competitors, and allows users to develop and distribute spatial and design data over the web or intranets. The effort is supported by the MapServer Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization currently consisting of MapServer Technical Steering Committee members, the University of Minnesota MapServer Project, the DM Solutions Group and Autodesk.

Also of interest to surveyors, mappers and civil engineers are Autodesk's steadily growing Topobase and Civil 3D products. Topobase, acquired from European maker c-plan AG in July, springboards from Bartz's main message to attendees last year-to create, manage and share data in the name of streamlining work. Topobase software users will save time on updates and maintenance issues through the consolidation feature of the product. Its open standards model, based on those of the Open Geospatial Consortium, allows for integration of other manufacturers' applications used by customers, such as ESRI's many offerings. Company-specific rules maintain consistency for all users while specific project requirements are customized in each model. All information is based in targeted modules encompassing the entire work process model based in Oracle Spatial. Chris Bradshaw, vice president of Autodesk's Infrastructure Solutions Division, stated that 7,700 units of Civil 3D have been sold within its first year of release and that the nine million download mark for DWF Free Viewer had been reached.

In four days chock-full of professional networking, data gathering and entertainment, more than 5,000 attendees reaped valuable information to realize their ideas in a place where imagination proves to run wild.

Autodesk University 2006 will be held at the Venetian Resort Hotel in Las Vegas Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, 2006.