Yesterday marked the 6th year after the initial release of Ladybug! Today, I want to continue the anniversary tradition that we have followed in past years of updating everyone about what happened in the last year and the plans for 2019!
2018 was a critical year for me. As most of you know I left my job in January and started working full-time on Ladybug Tools. What most of you don’t know is that I became a dad around the same time. It was a make it or break it year!
Well…the good news is that we made it! We secured two grants, organized several workshops and public talks all around the world, worked under a few contracts as consultants, and secured a number of projects for the upcoming year that are aligned with our software development goals. We are still far from having a stable business but at least we are certainly not broken!
Here is the short list of what I think worked, what almost worked and what did not work!
Our workshops this year were undeniably a success. It was great to travel around the world, meet the community outside the US, share our thoughts through public presentations and receive face-to-face feedback. Except for the presentation in Denmark, which we are still waiting to be available, the rest are available online. Here is the one for London, and here is the one for Australia. We recorded a full 6 days of our workshops in Sydney and we will be gradually adding these recordings to our on-demand video platform. They all need to be edited in order to capture both the instructors screen (for people wishing to follow along) and the dialog/explanations given to the participants. So it will take time for us to get them all up but the first series is already there!
I should thank all the individuals, offices and universities who helped us with organizing and promoting the workshops. Planning for such workshops is not trivial and organizing them in a different country makes it extremely difficult. If it wasn’t for your help, we couldn’t do it. As simple as that. Thank you!
From the start, we made the choice NOT to go after venture capital funds since we knew that pressure to reach short-term exponential profitability could compromise the value of the software and our goals as a community. That left us with the following funding options for the time being: workshops, consultancy, video tutorial subscriptions, and competitive national grants. Luckily enough, we were awarded both of the grants that we applied for.
The first one is a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. The image below shows the ultimate deliverable and, in short, the goal of the project is to make Ladybug Tools cloud-enabled. For this first phase, we are working on enabling our Radiance-based simulations. The project is under development and has been through several pre-beta iterations without an official release. We are finally very close to getting it right and stay tuned as we should have an announcement soon with an open invitation for alpha testing!
The second grant is from the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (or IN2), which operates with funds from the Wells Fargo Foundation. Ladybug Tools LLC was one of 5 companies that was selected to receive such funding this year and the vast majority of our grant money will go to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in order to help us with critical software development goals. Many of you are aware that the Honeybee[+] library has been exclusively for Radiance-based simulations for the last 2 years and this IN2 funding will help us finally bring OpenStudio integration and energy modeling capabilities to the Honeybee core. This software development is a necessary pre-step before we offer energy modeling capabilities for the Ladybug Tools Dynamo plugin, cloud-enabled energy modeling capabilities (following in the footsteps of the SBIR grant above), and many more opportunities that await once we have energy modeling implemented in a cross-platform manner. See the video below for a brief description of what the grant is about.
Starting the Patreon page was like a public referendum in the midst of the slow, bureaucratic process to obtain funding, where the public voted emphatically and immediately in our favor! The reality is the the funding from our Patreon account has not been enough for us to survive but it has certainly helped us get started and, perhaps most importantly, it was a tangible sign that what we do matters. The funding that we received from Patreon showed us that a full-time pursuit of Ladybug Tools is worthwhile and gave us the confidence to seek the roles that we have now. Thank you for supporting Ladybug Tools and you should know that your help will not be forgotten! More on that soon.
The main goal of our first year as a business was to secure enough funding to have @chris on board full-time. That happened in November! If you have been part of the Ladybug Tools community, it should be clear to you what that means. It is a big deal and it was critical to have him on board.
Migrating our forum from Grasshopper to Discourse definitely belongs to the “what worked” category of this past year but Chris and I recognize that we haven’t been as active on this forum as we used to be. We talked about this recently and we both agreed that we should be better and more regular about our forum participation. We can partially blame it on the workshops or traveling or working the equivalent of two full time jobs to get the business started. We also realize that, with the natural growth of the project, there have been more questions to the point that one or two individuals can no longer help everyone. Despite all of this, we can still do much better!
I apologize to everyone who took their time to post their questions or suggestions to the forum and didn’t get a timely reply from us or the community. We will do better this year!
The Institutional Partnership has been successful but not enough to make it to the “what worked” category. In comparison to the number of schools that are teaching Ladybug Tools the number of partners are very small. If you are a student and want to have access to on-demand videos or a teacher who teaches Ladybug Tools and need some help with your syllabus and want access to videos for your students convince your school to apply for an institutional partnership. The cost is less than what they pay for a single license of a similar software. If you think we should modify the partnership to be more applicable to your school let us know.
It might be unfair to what Chris has done to put our on-demand videos under this category but it is here since we clearly didn’t release the videos as frequently as we promised. Part of the blame can be placed on the busy schedule of this past year and some more blame can be placed on us trying to hold ourselves to an impractically high quality of video production. Looking retrospectively, we have realized that most of us still get the value out of videos without the need for fancy and time-consuming editing processes. So we have developed some techniques that should make video production a bit quicker and allow us to cover the missing half of video content that we wanted to publish this past year. Also, we recorded the workshops in Sydney, which should make up for a good fraction of this missing content with more than 40 hours of footage that will be up shortly. We owe a great thank you to our Patrons for being really patient with us.
I put both Butterfly and Honeybee[+] here together to shorten the list but they have two different stories.
Butterfly has been an interesting project. Installation issues became the main pain point for the project. For those who were able to get Docker for Windows installed, Butterfly has been a successful project which has simplified the process of creating OpenFOAM cases. For the rest, it has been a pain in the neck and almost useless. There are alternate solutions to get Butterfly running but it has been a challenge to find more time to dedicate to Butterfly and the development of the project is currently 100% dependent on me, which is not healthy for any software project. I have personally stopped checking the issues and questions for Butterfly until I find enough time to be able to address the issue. If you are looking to contribute to an insect, Butterfly is currently the most in need.
Honeybee[+], on the other hand, had a strong start. It opened up several new workflows that are both useful and unique. However, the reason why it is in this category is because of challenges that arose while loading the results for annual studies when the number of analysis points were increased. Even though the issue has been resolved in the Honeybee development branch, I have yet to integrate it into the recipes or push a new release of the Honeybee[+] plugins. The lack of releases was intentional, though, and here is why: Honeybee[+] is the core of our SBIR project which is under heavy development. I soon realized (and learned the hard way), that it will be a lot of work to keep the project updated for Grasshopper and Dynamo while making major changes to the library to address a series of very different needs for a cloud-native application. Since Honeybee Legacy is already good enough for most of the current needs of the industry, I decided not to update Honeybee[+] until we have the implementation details figured out. This should come to a resolution soon and we should have a new release at some point this year.
The Dynamo plugins have been in the similar category as Butterfly. While we are very happy with the overall implementation and how we managed to pull off the initial releases the plugins, it still needs stronger integration with Revit. Also, Dynamo’s limitations have stopped us from improving data visualizations. We also don’t have as strong of a community of Dynamo users. As a result the project will stay in “Almost Worked” category until we can address these issues.
Among the several ideas that we tried this year, the industry partnership turned out to be the most challenging. The idea behind the industry partnership was to get funding from AEC firms to work on Ladybug Tools as a collaborative industry-wide project, following in the example of other open source projects that receive support from the businesses that use them (ie. Python being supported by Google, Microsoft, and many other tech companies). This was very challenging to pull off for several reasons, which would take a full post to describe. In short, the AEC industry is still far from working collaboratively on open source projects. AEC offices are not tech companies and we should have known that. As a result, we stopped all company-wide package deals for a few months and we currently offer a limited version of the original industrial partnership that only includes office-wide access to on-demand videos.
In no specific order here are the list of people who have been critical to Ladybug Tools in 2018:
Antoine: @AntoineDao has been a breath of fresh air! He is the force behind setting up the continuous integration, semantic release and Ladybug Tools presence on PyPI. He has been keeping us up-to-date with the new technologies and making sure we use the right tools!
Alexander Jacobson - Most of you probably don’t know about this project but Alexander has been writing some high-quality written tutorials for Energy modeling with Honeybee! There are still work in progress but you can check them out here. So good! Right?
Top contributors to Discourse - The algorithm can be subjective but based on Discourse definition here are our 10 top quality contributors in 2018! Thank you all for your contribution.
With all the development work for [+] libraries and upcoming deadlines for the SBIR grant we had to put workshops on hold for a few months until we pass the deadlines. As I mentioned before, we have recorded the workshops in Sydney and will make them available online to make up for the lack of in-person workshops until we get back on the road.
We will try to provide better support on Discourse as well as the development. Please keep pushing us forward by providing feedback and sharing your thoughts. Ladybug Tools is only as good as its community and let’s not forget that just being “good” is not enough!
With best wishes for 2019! Let’s go and get some real work done. If we do our job correctly, by the end of 2019 we should be on the brink of a new age of cross-platform, cloud enabled environmental simulation!
Oh and if I may have a single wish for this year it would be that everyone set up their profile pictures on Discourse and GitHub. Trust me! No one likes a community of anonymous contributors.