The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas overflowed with 10,000 CIOs, designers and professors rushing past robotic displays and hired-hand stormtroopers to get to one or another of 700 classes and presentations at Autodesk University 2015, Dec. 1-3. The software company announced an investment in Skycatch—a drone startup—and the release of an open-source, cloud-based application protocol interface (API) called Forge, with its own $100-million fund to support developers.

“I love the Forge announcement and where Autodesk is going with the platform,” says John Jacobs, CIO at JE Dunn Construction Group Inc., Kansas City, Mo. He says his team plans to take advantage of the cloud-based Platform-as-a-Service from Autodesk Inc. San Rafael, Calif. The PaaS has an open API and developer kits to allow software developers or large general builders to build cloud-based apps that integrate with Autodesk offerings.

“For a company of our size we have the ability to integrate applications,” says Jacobs. His team developed a preconstruction estimating program that was consistently less than 5% off from reality, he says. “It was so accurate no one believed it,” say Jacobs. But no matter how good the numbers were, workers wouldn’t use it. They couldn’t visualize it, he says. But by integrating that app with Autodesk 360’s Large Model Viewer, Jacobs' team could finally visualize the estimating program and everyone started using it. “My field guys can look at that fully-coordinated model in 2D and 3D. Autodesk changed the game for us,” he says.

Autodesk’s $100-million Forge fund invests in developers who write applications powered by the Autodesk API—in exchange for stake in the developer’s app. Forge also has a developer program with its own inaugural conference coming in June to support and connect developers. Other cloud-based initiatives are on the horizon for the company.

In the first quarter of 2016, Autodesk is releasing new cloud-based construction document management software called BIM 360 Docs and previously referred to as Project Alexandria. “It’s data management for AEC in the cloud,” says Amar Hanspal Autodesk's senior vice president for products. “It’s not just document management but BIM in the cloud.” As Hanspal says, Docs handles more than documents, it’s a platform to make, manage, change and share 2D and 3D models, designs and documents.

Autodesk's investment in Skycatch, a company that makes drones and software to automate them, was a part of a $25-million round of funding for the drone startup. Data captured by the drones can be input into Autodesk’s new ReCap 360, a cloud-based reality capture software, says Hanspal.

It seemed throughout the conference as if every fourth word from Hanspal and Carl Bass, Autodesk CEO, was “cloud.”

“We’ll have a platform of cloud-based products and services that people will put together in ways that make sense for them,” said Bass, waxing futuristic at a media Q&A event. He went on to say that now most Autodesk offerings come as separate products. “In the future they’ll all run on a common platform and share common services,” he said, adding that the product offerings will be seamless and users will pick and choose which products they want to access, and everything will be in the cloud.

Even while Bass was talking, other events kept attendees busy. Conference goers volunteered to help 3D print prosthetic hands for disabled children for a non-profit called e-NABLE. And in the corner of the large conference hallway a roped-off section guarded attendees from wandering into The Hive, a robot and human building experiment where humans help robots build a dome structure.