Our team is part of Autodesk's Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). At Autodesk, the role of OCTO is to tell stories about the future and make them come true. OCTO's charter is to explore, distill, and apply what's next for Autodesk and explain why it matters. Our job is to stay one or two time horizons ahead of the company and create or prevent strategic surprise.
Autodesk's Innovation Continuum is our way to demonstrate the critical value of experimentation.
The continuum shows us that every innovation in human history passes through five very distinct phases in the course of its evolution. When considering our innovation efforts, it is important for us to consider where technology is in this innovation lifecycle.
At first, the innovation is thought to be "impossible" — meaning it simply can't be done or hasn't even been conceived of yet.
Next, the innovation enters the "impractical" phase — meaning that, while it may be technically possible to do, it's not a viable option for a wide range of people and companies yet, often because of the time, expertise, or expense required to make it happen.
In the next phase, the innovation becomes "possible," or widely possible. Suddenly, a dramatically larger percentage of the market/population/world can access the innovation. This is the phase where industries are formed, careers are made, huge amounts of money are generated, media coverage spikes, and the world can be changed.
In the next phase, the innovation becomes "expected." The innovation has taken hold and is no longer considered a means of competitive separation as it typically available from a wide variety of suppliers.
At the "required" phase, people really can't operate without the innovation, but they don't really notice it either. This is great since it means it's become essential, but it also means the innovation has now become a commodity.
Exploration, distillation, and applying what's next are often based on Research & Development (R&D), so R&D has a place on this continuum. R&D efforts are typically conducted during the Impossible phase with the goal of advancing the technology towards being Required; however, at Autodesk, we also look at our OCTO R&D efforts with an additional lens.
The money that gets invested in the leading edge of the continuum can be seen as risk capital. It's OCTO's job to take on risk on behalf of the rest of the company and bring technology along the continuum into the wider, more deterministic, organization. In doing this, OCTO is investigating what lies beyond our traditional tools. In an age where infinite computing is the new baseline, our old model of manually pushing our wills through our fingertips, and into our design tools isn't going to be enough. Until now, if you couldn't draw it, you couldn't fully imagine it, and you certainly couldn't make it in the real world. But in this new era, we're going to have to let go of our old tools. And at OCTO, we're exploring how we can.
Among other things, we're exploring several areas which promise to take us into this new era:
The first of these areas of exploration really exemplifies how letting go of our tools will help us design for a new era of complexity. Generative design mimics nature's evolutionary approach to design. Designers or engineers input design goals into generative design software, along with parameters such as materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints. Then, using cloud computing, the software explores all the possible permutations of a solution, quickly generating design alternatives. It tests and learns from each iteration what works and what doesn't. With generative design, there is no single solution; instead, there are potentially thousands of great solutions. The designer chooses the design that best fits his/her needs.
OCTO is investigating the role that robotic systems can play working alongside humans to augment their capability and creativity. We're expanding their capabilities by connecting them to things like cameras, scanners, generative design, and additive manufacturing systems. This gives the combination of humans and robots the power to do things they never could before.
Internet of Things
And finally, we are exploring the role that the Internet of things can play in how the products, that our customers design and make, perceive the world around them and how this usage data can be fed back into the design process. In the DESIGN, MAKE, USE cycle, not only do we want how something is made to get factored into the design process but also how it is used. The end result will be more things, better things, that are designed, made, and used with less, as in less negative effects on people, things, and the planet.
So Autodesk is working to advance technologies that will serve our customers but do so in a way that limits the amount of resources we expend in doing so. If a technology is not suitable for our customers, it's best that we fail soon and fail small when making this assessment. OCTO gives Autodesk the ability to do both. For technologies that are suitable, we pass the torch to the product development teams that move them along the continuum.
Pragmatism is alive in the lab.