Project Bluestreak makes collaboration between designers a piece of cake

What if designers, architects, builders and their clients — continents apart — could bounce design ideas or images back-and-forth, as though they were chatting or interacting on Facebook?

What if updating one another on their assignments, were as quick and easy as posting tweets on Twitter?

What if participants in a project could view video clips about it just as easily as clicking a YouTube link?

Now — thanks to Project Bluestreak — all this isn’t just in the realm of speculation.

The project, an initiative by San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk Inc., is currently in its beta phase. It melds social networking, online collaboration and 3D prototyping, noted Pat Keaney director, AEC collaboration products at Autodesk.

The Autodesk director spoke of the venture’s signficance in an interview with during the Autodesk University conference currently on at Las Vegas.

“We’ve searched around for a model that would provide stakeholders immediate contextual collaboration, and at the moment social nets appear to ideal.”

Autodesk Project Bluestreak is a Web-based environment for speeding up building information modeling through the open exchange of design information and ideas between desktop applications, Web services and people.

“Basically, users can create their own profiles, organize private groups, share project files and activity streams, and make notifications and comments, all via a browser-based interface,” Keaney said.

The company has opened the site up to the public and is seeking feedback from early users in the form of blogs.

Project Bluestreak supports the following browsers:

  • Firefox 3.0 and higher
  • Google Chrome
  • Internet Explorer 7 and higher
  • Safari 3.0 and higher

The project has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and a video showing how to use it on YouTube.

Project Bluestreak was introduced only last week is currently undergoing technology preview.

A U.K.-based architect, who works for a firm with offices worldwide, including in Toronto, says Bluestreak will serve a critical need in the industry.

“With more small- to large-scale firms working together on projects from disparate locations, instant communication has become more important,” noted Miles Walker, vice-president at HOK, a London, U.K. -based architectural firm.

HOK also uses other connectivity tools such as Cisco’s TelePresence system, which enables participants to engage in real-time online video conferences as though they were in the same room, even if they are in different continents.

Walker said Bluestreak, when perfected, would likely reduce his travel expenses. The executive estimates he has had to travel abroad around 12 times this year, despite using various connectivity tools.

Existing Autodesk software products such as Revit, which HOK uses extensively, allow users and stakeholders in a project to share various building information and to collaborate online on the project.

However, Walker believes this can still be improved upon.

“We do get to pass around and share data and images, but what’s lacking is the immediacy of conversation, which allows people to relate the essence of design.”

He envisions designers and architects based in different countries being able to converse and exchange ideas almost instantly rather than through e-mails and phone calls.

For example, HOK is now working on a mega-building project for a royal family in the Persian Gulf region. The project involves input from at least three separate HOK offices. “Perhaps a group-based social network would enable our teams to collaborate more seamlessly and further streamline the design process,” said Walker.

However other feedback on the project hasn’t been that positive.

In his review titled: Project Bluestreak. Dead on Arrival?,  CAD blogger Piotr Zurek finds the following flaws in Project Bluestreak:

  • Lack of any industry specific vision and functionality
  • Tries too hard to be “social”
  • Insufficient commitment on the part of Autodesk to this project

“… if Autodesk wants this project to succeed they need to commit some serious resources to it — possibly even go back to the drawing board and work out a clear vision of how to integrate all the latest collaboration technologies with their other product,” he said.

“Talk to Novell, talk to Google …. Use their experience, buy their expertise if necessary. Spice it up with what you have learned from Buzzsaw and Vault products and you’ll get something useful to every engineer, architect or draftsperson using BIM/CAx software every day.”

Project Bluestreak is one of the new initiatives Autodesk is pursuing to increase its customer reach, according to Carl Bass, president and CEO of Autodesk.

In his keynote speech at the conference, Bass said his company is also delving into mobile applications and cloud computing.

For example, the recently released Autodesk Sketch application for iPhone, enables users to turn their Apple smartphone into a sketch tool. “The popularity of this $3 application blew us away. In two weeks, we’ve had more than one million downloads.”

Autodesk’s software products have been available online for several years, but the company is further exploring the software-as-a-service (SAS) model with its Project Twitch.

This project is testing the viability of delivery of the company’s apps over the Internet.

Project Twitch enables users to try out the latest versions of AutoCAD, Revit, Inventor, and Maya without installing or downloading the applications.

“These apps run remotely on our servers and are delivered to you over the Internet,” Bass said.

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