Autodesk Takes Simulation To The Cloud With Project Centaur

CAD on the cloud maybe still a long way off. The things that are really close are time and resource intensive processes such as rendering, simulation, analysis, etc. I just got off a web meeting with Ravi Akella and Jeff Wymer of Autodesk wherein I was given a demo of something Autodesk is calling Project Centaur, basically simulation on the web using the cloud. I will get to what exactly this is in a moment. But first let me tell you what problems Autodesk intends to solve with this technology.

Firstly Autodesk is trying to put simulation in the hands of each and every Inventor user, not just specialized simulation experts, who frankly don’t use  much of Inventor anyways. They are trying to offer a highly simplified work flow for design optimization. Secondly, they are offering a technology that allows users to work asynchronously. For example, while your design is being optimized in the cloud you can continue working on other things. And lastly, they are offering users the power of high end computing way superior than their desktop machines.

So how does Project Centaur work? Basically Project Centaur is an add-in that works inside Inventor. It takes the geometry and optimization inputs from the user and sends it across to the cloud where the actual simulation happens. After the simulation is complete, the results are sent back to the user right inside Inventor. He can then pick the optimal solution and apply it to automatically modify his geometry.

Click image for larger view

I was given a demo which showed this technology in action. The demo involved optimizing one of the parts of inventor assembly. Given below are screen shots explaining the process.

The Inventor assembly. The part to be optimized was one of the claws.

The add-in is invoked by clicking the “Optimization” button on the far right of the ribbon. Click the image for a larger view.

The add-in pops up a floating ribbon with commands that suggest a simple and sequential flow of actions to be performed by a user.

The first command lets the user sets the material of the part. As with most commands in the ribbon, hovering over them drops down a brief explanation of the command including a short video explaining the process a little further.

The next thing is to add constraints.

After adding constraints you apply loads.

Next you specify the parameters of the model that you wish to optimize in your design.

Before you click “Optimize” you can click “Settings” to setup your optimization. You can set the number of values for each parameter, a parameter range as a percentage and a target safety factor.

Clicking “Optimize” uploads your design and optimization parameters to the cloud.

While the servers in the cloud are cranking away at your design, you can continue with your work. Ravi went ahead and created this drawing. When the optimization results came back a message popped up letting him know. Click the image for a larger view.

Here is the optimized design. Click the image for a larger view.

By default the add-in shows the optimum design along with four more designs that come close to it. If you want to see other designs you simply move the sliders for safety factor and weight and they will show up. Select whichever you want and apply it to your design. Your inventor model will be automatically modified.

So how much will this cost? I asked whether the price of this service (which is exactly what it is – a service) will be dependent on processing time, size of the data or complexity of the data or a combination of the above. As of now Autodesk has no idea. They are busy developing this technology and evaluating the feedback received from customers. I asked about concerns of intellectual property. Currently Autodesk is using Amazon S3 and claims that the security in place there is the best there is. Jeff mentioned something interesting. He said that they had given their customers a set of sample parts and assemblies to try out the system. However, they found that 80% of the data that went throught the system was the customer’s own data and not the sample designs provided by Autodesk. So in their opinion, customers are quite comfortable with their intellectual property being sent outside their company firewall and processed in the cloud. But nevertheless Autodesk did put up a disclaimer on the add-in splash screen which read, “Inventor Optimization Technology Preview does not provide data security and Autodesk assumes no liability for the security of proprietary data“. (see third image above)

So how can you get your hands on this technology? Its quite simple. Join the Autodesk Feedback Community by registering at and look for the “Inventor Optimization Tech Preview” project.

CAD on the cloud maybe closer than you think. 😉

  • Mook

    Is it really a service which would require 3rd party to become involved, or a capability to optimize based on user specified criteria? I'm skeptical that this capability would be useful in real world designs.. to take just one example, note how simplified the boundary conditions are – pinned or fixed. I would imagine that many parts would require springs (K) and releases in any specified direction, not just “pin” with more advanced designs requiring nonlinear BC's. What are the failure modes (buckling, fatigue, strength, etc?) of the design? Are elements modeled using shell, membrane or solid, etc, etc. Every design situation will be different with many variables that could make or break the validity of the design. Geometry and material data would be useful as a running head start, but to do what ADSK seems to suggest this optimization will do doesn't seem realistic at all.