Autodesk University 2011 Report

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Autodesk University 2011 Report
By Susan Smith

Autodesk CEO Carl Bass addresses attendees at Autodesk University 2011. (Photo: Business Wire)

Jeff Kowalski, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President of the Emerging Business Group. Autodesk, gave the opening keynote at Autodesk University November 29.

Kowalski reiterated what CEO Carl Bass had said about complexity, that it defines our lives right now.
He described five waves of this complexity:

1) Shift from people are making from owning their own products to access and experience.

No longer do people need to own everything. He used the example of Borders going out of business  Why did this happen? “People found better ways of accessing books, movies, etc.,” said Kowalski. “Kindle makes it possible to have a book anytime, without owning it. You don’t care about owning the movie, so Netflix gives you the experience of having a great movie with your family. You can also “Rent the Runway,” renting the fashion experience without having to own clothes.” Another example is TechShop membership which delivers on access and experience.

2) Business Unusual

With the cloud, we are destroying traditional ways of business. “You can do things more easily through the cloud and with the crowd.” said Kowalski. The founder of KickStarter only asked for $15,000 for a initial production run. Now a year later, his products sell on the  Apple store right next to other famous ones.

Other examples include AngelList, a community of startups, where thousands of investors are given access to much wider pool of opportunities. A pure network approach is offered by Li & Fung Limited – a $16 billion company, they make most of the world’s clothing, which gives them access to the world’s resources without having to own them.  As a result they are fast and flexible beyond belief. They can respond to the most volatile markets. “A great illustration of business as a pickup game where you build your team in the moment,” said Kowalski.

The idea behind is this open innovation – no one is as smart as everyone.
Recently NASA collaborated with Moon Express which has some of youngest engineers in the world. E.J. Sabatha  says that going to the moon was a complex challenge – “only decades ago only superpowers could do this. I don’t work for the government or for NASA, I’m 27 years old and I’m making a robot that is going to the moon. I was in the First Robotics program; this summer my work came to the attention of Moon Express.”
Sabatha says that “Our first mission is only the beginning, we’re going to change the boundaries of what’s possible, we can harvest resources on the moon. “

3) Digital Fabrication

Digital fabrication is powering the Maker movement, and as we are moving into the post industrial era, additive, subtractive or robotive assembly. 3D printers make it easier for people to design and create products. This is bringing manufacturing into spaces we couldn’t go before.

A company named Made in Space, prints things in 3D in zero gravity so astronauts can make things in space as needed.

They can also design machines at nano scale, building biology at the cellular scale.
Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop, said his company offers 17,000 square feet filled with every machine, woodworking, plastic, auto, waterjet, plasma cutter, textile tools – every tool you need to make everything on the planet. “We are a re DIY manufacturing company: for  $100 you can have access to every tool. The free time, disposable income, creativity of the creative, are the largest untapped resource on the planet. Little did you know that there are 40 million of them in the U.S. alone. “ They have billions of hours a year they use watching TV,” said Hatch. “We are routinely taking people off the street and they are creating products within weeks.”

4) Ambient Intelligence

Ambient intelligence is data gathered from sensors. These can help us maintain and collect data after we’ve built things. Sensors are becoming cheaper and easier to use, we can see data that was always there, but we were unable to see. There is a Q sensor that will monitor your stress level throughout the day. Nike Plus which is embedded in a shoe, measures distance and the rate at which you run. Nike has converted what used to be a product – a shoe – into a service and tool - and can stay connected to its customers in a whole new way.

A smart system gives you only the information that’s relevant at a given time and can figure out what it is when conditions change.

5) Infinite computing

Infinite computing promises to change the world of design in years to come, according to Kowalski. Instead of looking at computing as though it was a scarce resource,  it’s much more powerful, it doubles about every year. “You personally have more computing power than you had and cost is approaching zero, while all those other things are getting more expensive. It’s literally the cheapest asset you can apply to a problem. Computer s are really good at scaling their resources,” Kowalski said offering this equation:

1 computer x 10,000 seconds = $1
10,000 computers x 1 second = $1

This means you can explore many more design options in the same amount of time.

“We have to stop thinking of computing as some sort of precious resource and think of it as the infinite resource that it has become.”

The question of complexity comes up again: How are we going to deal with all this complexity? We have to get smart, says Kowalski, as there is a growing imbalance between natural intelligence and growing complexity.  “Complexity is increasing but our heads aren’t getting bigger. The advanced intelligence we wanted has been granted to us in a new way – the cloud and the crowd. Thru infinite computing we now have access to millions of machines and millions of minds. We now have a big mass brain, much smarter than one single brain.”

Chris Anderson, editor in Chief of Wired Magazine, talked about “The Internet of Things” and how there was a new way to have everything talking to each other via internet protocols that was not driven by big companies. He talked of “bottoms up, easy, cheap democratized technology.”

Enter Arduino – a very inexpensive open physical computing platform, with a microprocessor on a board that anyone can use. It costs $20, can be programmed with just a few lines of code, you can change physical world – motors, relays, screens – and then you type a few lines and see something moving in the physical world.

He brought up the fact that your phone in your pocket is also creating MEMS devices sensors that are falling in price faster than bandwidth and storage. “We are now getting these little gyromonitors, GPS – cost is now cents. “We are making smart sensors anyone to use anyway they want. When we combine super smart sensors and  using super cheap devices we can figure out the way we want the internet to be,” said Anderson.

As we created the web with a band of volunteers without organizations or college degrees, Anderson suggests that we can now build the physical world the same way. He talked about how his grandfather, Swiss engineer Fred Houser, invented the automatic sprinkler system. He had to get it patented to bring it to market. He then licensed it to a manufacturer to bring it to the marketplace. At that point he felt disempowered because it was too difficult to manufacture your creations yourself, and his inventions did not earn him much and he lost control of his dream.

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