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Intellect

BYU prof’s design technology acquired by software giant Autodesk

Innovation called “T-Splines” can unify geometric models for engineering & design

Brigham Young University’s Tom Sederberg and his team solved a problem that has troubled the computer-aided design industry since 1980.

As a reward, their start-up has been acquired by a software company that brings in nearly $2 billion in annual revenue. Before the deal, T-Splines had just seven employees – Sederberg’s son and a handful of former students with “an adventuresome streak.” Autodesk, by comparison, has 7,000 employees and clients around the world in the manufacturing, architecture and entertainment industries.

“We initially thought they’d like us to license our technology to them,” said Sederberg, a BYU computer science professor. “They said, ‘No, we want to buy the company.’”

Most computer-aided design programs share a common limitation: Creative designers can make a visually appealing model, but it doesn’t work for engineers who need to analyze how a product would hold up under stress.

The math Sederberg wrote for T-Splines fixes that problem and also provides more flexibility to designers, as noted in this “Engineer vs. Designer” podcast.

“With T-Splines, you can actually use the same model in both places,” Sederberg said. “The potential is that it can marry the two industries of computer-aided design and computer-aided engineering.”

Getting to this point wasn’t easy, of course. Here are the key milestones for the development of T-Splines:

  • Dec. 2002: Prof. Sederberg formulates an alternative method for geometric modeling
  • July 2003: The research team presents the concept at an international conference of computer graphics
  • April 2004: Team places 2nd at BYU Business Plan Competition, awarded $7,500
  • Nov. 2004: T-Splines founded with three employees
  • Aug. 2006: National Science Foundation awards $500,000 grant for further development
  • Sept. 2007: U.S. patent for T-Splines issued to BYU; the company introduces a plug-in for Rhino software
  • Dec. 2011: T-Splines acquired by Autodesk, a software company with 7,000 employees and nearly $2 billion annual revenue

Autodesk has indicated that they will continue to support the T-Splines plug-in for other platforms. Sederberg is hopeful that the technology will be incorporated across all Autodesk software products.
“The technology acquisition will strengthen our Digital Prototyping portfolio with more flexible free-form modeling and will help achieve even closer integration between industrial design and engineering workflows,” said Buzz Kross, senior vice president, Manufacturing Industry at Autodesk. “T-Splines technology will benefit designers and engineers that require watertight surfaces for downstream analysis and manufacturing.”

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