Pollination is a customizable platform for environmental simulation with multiple user-friendly CAD plugins that seamlessly integrate with your favorite CAD or BIM software, and offers process automation locally on your machine or in the cloud. We’ve built a platform that stakeholders can engage with at their respective level of expertise. More importantly this engagement is facilitated in the same platform allowing for shared workflows and collaborative decision making.
If you are a current user of Ladybug Tools, then you already know part of our story. I started developing Ladybug Tools in 2012, mostly out of frustration with repetitive and disconnected workflows for environmental building design. Chris watched one of my YouTube videos while pursuing a graduate degree at MIT, was immediately hooked, and started learning how to code. His thesis at MIT is currently the foundation for thermal mapping workflows in Ladybug Tools.
For about 5 years, Chris and I worked on Ladybug Tools part-time, on weekends and weeknights with the support of an enthusiastic global community of contributors. So while we had ideas for how to improve the tools, we weren’t able to realize them until Ladybug Tools LLC became our full-time job.
A cloud computing service was always on our bucket list. Executing parametric environmental simulation using Grasshopper and Ladybug Tools allowed for brute force studies, but it took hours (or sometimes days) to finish running. At times your computer would crash midway, you would cancel to work on something else, or you would buy a dedicated machine just for simulations. A solution that freed execution time from our local machines was necessary, so in August of 2018, we added a dropdown for cloud computing service to our website and embarked on a journey that took us from finding an existing cloud computing platform to building our own.
So, why did we feel compelled to build our own platform from scratch? Why couldn’t we use any of the existing platforms? In our research, we found that existing solutions for cloud computing were either too expensive, had standardized and fixed workflows with opaque proprietary walls, or amplified garbage-in / garbage-out (GI-GO) with one-click automated processes. Simply stated, they didn’t provide the building industry the freedom and flexibility to model real world complexity. With Pollination we have four guiding principles: Customization, Collaboration, Democratization, and lastly, Automation.
To realize our principles, we had to make some decisions that don’t make the most sense from a business perspective. Our future, the future of the planet that is, resides at the intersection of ecology, technology, and design. Better buildings that regenerate ecology are only possible if the barrier to technology is minimized. Cloud computing clearly has a cost associated with it, but how can we make it more accessible, by not only making it affordable, but also easy to use? To answer this question, we asked ourselves more questions! How does the building industry operate right now? How will operations change in five year? Ten years? How can we use our platform to empower teams to create and share environmental simulations? How can we save time and resources to make better decisions at any stage of a project; from early design through occupancy?
We found ourselves rethinking everything: simulation workflows, input and output format, sharing and executing simulation processes, data analytics, and results visualization. Flexibility would require multiple modes of interaction with the cloud, while maintaining the ability to run or test locally. This is why in addition to a web interface and cloud computing option, Pollination comes with CAD plugins, recipes and an option for local runs:
The strength in our strategy for freedom and flexibility comes from Pollination’s simulation recipes. A recipe is essentially a workflow that automates a set of tasks to be executed in order to calculate design outcomes. If you want to run a daylight study for LEED compliance, you would select the LEED daylight recipe. Similarly if you wanted to run a baseline energy model according to ASHRAE 90.1, you would select the recipe designed specifically for that purpose.
Custom solutions are hard to build from scratch and yet the need for every project is unique. Some workflows can be automated to save time, but in most cases, you want the ability to make tweaks as required. With other tools, you either have to come up with a “workaround” or you are at the mercy of a software company to add a new feature for you. With Pollination customization comes as a core feature to empower you to build what you need. At anypoint, the recipes are fully customizable. You can create custom recipes for your office and share them internally with colleagues or you can make them public and share them with the Pollination community.
We understand the hesitancy to be locked-in to a single cloud based provider. Pollination is designed with several features to ensure that no customer feels stuck with our platform. For starters, we developed an extension for Pollination to translate a recipe to a “local recipe” which can be executed on your desktop computer. This gives you the freedom to run any simulation locally, while reserving Pollination cloud computing resources for when the scale of a project requires it.
A cloud-only solution results in an inferior user experience. Any manual change in the cloud that is not also mirrored by a CAD/BIM plugin introduces flaws in the process. The analytical model is no longer in sync with the design model. In Pollination, you can start modeling in Rhino during schematic design, switch to Revit during design development while using Grasshopper in parallel, or some combination of all three during your design process with zero data-loss while importing and exporting your model and associated data to Pollination.
Pollination gives you access to all the files that are generated during a simulation, including outputs directly from the simulation engine. You can download these files, load them into local applications or plugins, and take them wherever you want. It’s your data!
We think, in 2021, everyone deserves to be able to enjoy the power of automation. Pollination gives you access to automated processes that historically have only been available to larger companies with unlimited resources. With the ability to customize your automated processes in Pollination you can save time and money, while making better buildings.
Pollination emerged from a recognition that most currently available tools do not address the collaborative process of building design where all team members can contribute their expertise. This lack of flexibility not only hinders innovation and creativity, but it also fails to generate useful information that can educate and empower project teams.
Supporting an end-to-end solution like Pollination is a laborious process, but we saw this as a requirement to minimize friction and make the simulation process seamless for all users.
There is no vendor lock-in and every step of the process is transparent to give you control over your data and processes. We believe that freedom to access your data, locally validate workflows, and use tools other than Pollination is essential to enabling a collaborative process and we want you to use the best tool for you! In the short term it might seem like a counterintuitive business decision, but in the long run we believe it is the best decision for our users. So start using Pollination today to build a better-performing future one simulation at a time!