Yesterday Shaan Hurley and I presented some of the technology previews available on Autodesk Labs. To set the context for the technology previews, I presented why Autodesk even has a Labs. I noted that when many people think of Labs, they think about a separate bunch of guys running around in white lab coats working on crazy experiments. At Autodesk it is not like that. Though we do have an Autodesk Labs software development team, Autodesk Labs is really a process. The technologies featured on Labs actually come from all parts of the company -– not just one group of guys in lab coats. Autodesk Labs is really our vehicle for connecting with you.
The primary way people discover new Autodesk technologies is the web site: labs.autodesk.com. The purpose of the web site is to make technologies available and let customer feedback shape their future. Our aim is to turn an invention into an innovation with customer participation. It’s fine to invent a new technology but it doesn't become an innovation unless it gets put in practice by the industries we serve. The labs process is designed to identify the inventions that should be innovations, and the ones that shouldn't.
Autodesk has a couple of contact points with the outside world. Going in reverse order, most of you work with shipping products via our Subscription Center.
But prior to that, some of you participate in beta programs. These are done under NDA. You help test, but you cant run around telling anyone about it. The emphasis of a beta is to make sure a product is ready to ship. Even though a beta may occur months prior to release, believe it or not, there’s not enough time to address suggestions like “Why don't you redo the feature this way?” or “I wish it did this instead of that.” During betas, our development teams really want to know if what they have built works or not.
Autodesk Labs was created to handle those kinds of questions. “What if we totally redid this?” or “What if we made it do something else instead?” When something is on Labs, it is early enough in the life cycle that questions like this are welcome. To open up to as large an audience as possible, there’s no NDA – Autodesk Labs is wide-open to the public. The technology is said to be in preview mode. In fact we're not even allowed to call them alphas or betas because that would imply that something is nearing release. In the case of Labs, it can go either way. Some previews go on to become products. Others die a quick death. So Labs is a step between research and beta.
Speaking of research, the Research guys work with universities on cutting edge research. They are free thinkers who can propose any idea that is “so crazy, it just might work.” That leads to innovations that would otherwise be unheard of. Autodesk Labs tries to be a bit more pragmatic. We focus on commercially relevant technologies that our customers can try. We want to find out if the newly possible is indeed practical.
So in terms of progression, ideally something starts in research, gets tried as a preview, gets a thumbs up from the Labs community, gets developed fully, goes to beta, get a thumbs up as ready to ship, and is available as a product or service.
The Autodesk fiscal year runs from February 1 to January 31. So right now we are in FY13. If we look back at the past 5 years, you can see that the Autodesk Labs process has been growing in terms of new, updated, and graduated/retired technology previews. The various divisions within the company are happy to leverage the Labs process. So with your participation, the process has been working. Thank you.
The art of explaning is alive in the lab.