Amar Hanspal on Autodesk, revolutionary new technologies, and shrinking knowledge barriers

The massive creative burst fuelled by the technological revolution is steered by a few companies. Heavyweights like Adobe, Microsoft and Google own the vast majority of products used by billions of people worldwide, and their collective product pool is responsible for most of the virtual content created across the world. But for users of more specialised design software, there is another name on this illustrious list, Autodesk.

Famously known for their AutoCAD computer aided design software, Autodesk has a product portfolio of close to 150 products, including 3D design and modelling software like Maya and 3ds Max and building information modelling software Revit. The Senior Vice President, Platform Solutions and Emerging Business, Autodesk, Amar Hanspal, was in the city recently, where he spoke about the many applications of design software at INK 2013. Excerpts from an interview:

A lot of people associate Autodesk mainly with AutoCAD, but of late the company has been moving into many other areas, Can you tell us a little about the direction Autodesk is taking now?

Yes, people think of us as the AutoCAD company, but 15 years ago, we moved into becoming a model based design company. So when you watch 3D characters on the screen, they’re using Maya, when you look at buildings they are often designed by Revit, industrial machines use products like Inventor, so we’ve expanded out portfolio to include not just design, but also things like analysis and simulation.

You spoke earlier about the importance of the cloud. What effort is Autodesk making to make products more cloud friendly?

A lot! We spend millions in research and development and recently we have started to invest more of that money on cloud based development. Our cloud based approach has been a combination of new products that we start from scratch for cloud and mobile platforms and existing products that we extend to the cloud.

What is your approach to developing for the cloud? Because fast internet access and high bandwidth is common in the West but not so much in a country like India, how do you strike a balance with these products?

First of all, we continue to build products that don’t require a cloud connection, so we give customers a choice on how they use the product. For products that are cloud native, like phone applications, yes they require some level of connectivity and good bandwidth. But I think you have to bet on the fact that, like electricity, over time everybody is going to have better bandwidth.

Also, when we watch from where people use our online products, India is among the top five in terms of users who access online content, so despite what people may think, the number of users is quite high.

In terms of emerging technologies, what are you excited about?

I think it’s really about hardware. I’m excited that the world of hardware is becoming more intelligent thanks to the blend of hardware and software. Like how the phone used to be just to make calls but the software experience has enhanced it to a new level. I drive an electric car and the software really governs the whole thing. Some days I step in and find the software has updated itself. So this intelligent hardware now offers a new driving experience. I think 3-D printers have tremendous promise to do amazing things in the future, especially in medicine and health, how you can print windpipes, bladders and so on. So I’m really excited about how intelligent hardware can help address these problems in the world.

Earlier, people often had to travel or study abroad to gain knowledge and experience, but with these products users have so much potential at their fingertips. How do you see your products improving knowledge and helping indigenous manufacturers?

I think some of design is about synthesising different points of view. You need all these perspectives. But it is true that connectivity changes the situation, even in my earlier days it was not as easy to gain knowledge and expertise. I think globalisation has broken not just trade but also knowledge barriers and now you have a lot of great products coming out of India. It is frightening but also exciting to think that your biggest competitor could be someone you have never met sitting on the other side of the globe.