(See Part 1. This is Part 2 of 2.)
Today is December 2, but I am actually writing this on November 20. I am preparing this future blog post today, because I have been in on the meetings where team members like Maurice Conti, Bill O'Connor, Erin Bradner, Bob Kelly, and Jonathan Knowles have been preparing the keynote presentation for AU 2014. I took their proposed text and whittled it down to my own summary. Things can change between now and when it is actually delivered, but here is my take on the key points that CEO, Carl Bass, delivered.
Make It Easier to Work with Computers
Computers and software are great tools, but only if the data they are computing is in the right form. When they know what to do, computers can do awesome things, but they are almost useless when we have problems we can't communicate in terms they understand. The history of computing is narrowing the gap between what computers naturally do well and what we can express in terms they can use. Technology is the driving force behind the biggest changes in the future of how we design, engineer, and make things. There are two fundamental shifts in play:
The first is narrowing the gap between the physical and digital world — essentially what's on the two sides of the screen.
The second big change is getting the computer to understand the relationships and interactions of the people and companies doing the work.
In each case, our ability to represent the problem in the computer determines how well we can use the computer to solve it.
Expand beyond Mouse and Keyboard to Scanners (point clouds) and Cameras (photographs)
Let's start with how we describe the physical world to the computer. The goal is to convert the physical world into a computable form so the computer can actually be helpful. We've been working on capturing the world around us for a while, but we've always been limited by the available technology. When you capture in 3D using photographs and scanners, you're giving the computer a model that it can do more with. It can analyze it, add metadata, and generally use this computable model to reason about what you're designing. We now have the tools to describe the world to the computer in a way it can easily work with. And we can do it in a workflow that makes a lot more sense. The computer can now take on a lot of the foundational work to build a model, so users can spend more time designing and analyzing their projects.
Interactions Go Digital Too
In addition to digitizing physical objects, our communication and social interactions are being digitized as well. In the old days, storage, connectivity, computing and security were scarce. As a result, people hoarded their data on their computers and collaborated in an episodic, point-to-point way. This mindset is the origin of the "sharing" model that began with email and ftp and got re-enforced with SharePoint and accelerated with Dropbox. It was a breakthrough then — but today it stinks. It's not up to the job. Just like our first attempts to capture physical reality were crude, so are the existing collaboration tools inadequate, especially for designers, engineers, and their teams. That's why we built A360. With the rise of social media, we've started to transfer a lot of real-world social interactions into the digital world. Of course, this has mostly happened in the personal realm, but now we're taking what's become the new norm, and building a platform for your professional life. By digitizing collaboration, we're empowering our communities, ecosystems, and supply chains to grow bigger and more dispersed. Projects are increasingly including the people best qualified to do the job, not just the ones that work nearby. In a sense, a computer is able to collaborate with you because it is actually able to do something on your behalf, without being told to — like render Fusion 360 models behind the scenes. Another way we want to support the way you collaborate is to make these tools available to everyone who needs them, anywhere, any time, and on any device. So today, you can share your work with everyone you need to, and they can access it on their desktops or laptops, Macs and PCs, or your favorite mobile device.
Professional 3D Printing for Manufacturing
The flip side of how we're helping take 3D models and turn them into physical things is how we get the models out from behind the screen and back to the physical world. One simple and direct way to bring digital models into the physical world that has caught people's imagination is 3D printing. 3D printing is great because shape complexity is free — the printer doesn't care if you're printing a solid cube or something super complex. But, we've really haven't delivered on the promise of 3D printing: it's easy to see where it's going, but we're not there yet. Today's 3D printers are the equivalent of the first PCs or the first cell phones.
- Machines are too slow.
- Materials are too limited and expensive.
- The process is too unreliable.
That's why Autodesk has announced 3 things for 3D printing:
First comes Spark, which is an open 3D printing software platform that will make it easier for everyone to 3D print. Spark connects digital information to 3D printers in a new and streamlined way. It's an open platform so that everyone can join in and use its building blocks to push the limits of 3D printing. And to encourage the broadest possible community to participate, we're making Spark free to license.
We just announced the $100 million Spark Investment Fund to invest in entrepreneurs, startups, and researchers to push the boundaries of 3D printing.
And the third thing we announced was the Autodesk Ember printer. It's a reference implementation to show how much better a 3D printing experience can be when you have integrated hardware and software. It's also an open hardware platform: we're sharing the plans with everyone that wants to build their own printer, or you can hack one of ours.
Robots: The Next Step after 3D Printing
But the future of making is not just about 3D printing — far from it. A lot of innovation in robotics is helping us bring our digital data into the physical world. Robots have an advantage over 3D printing in that: they can deal with large scales better than 3D printers, they're relatively inexpensive, and they're ubiquitous. It is exciting to see some of the ways Autodesk customers have been repurposing industrial robotics to help them realize creative ideas in the real world by driving them directly from their digital models.
Bring 3D Printing and Robots to AEC
While CNC technology has been used to make parts for almost all of the products around us — cars, planes, machinery — it's now being used to make unique objects — not just those things made in batches of thousands or millions. For example, they can even be used to 3D print a house. We have a huge opportunity to bring digital tools to the actual construction site. Let's be honest, helping make all of us humans involved in the process more accurate, reliable, and productive would be a good thing. Digital collaboration tools are a great start, but they don't bridge the gap between the digital process and the physical construction site. At Autodesk, we are excited about how much is going on today in the world of digital fabrication, and how quickly our ability to bring things from inside the computer out into the real world has evolved in the last few years.
Make It Easier to Do Business with Autodesk — Subscribe to Autodesk
We've been talking about some of the tools that are making your workflows easier and more powerful, but improving your workflow and collaboration is also about innovation on the business side. So we're working hard to make our tools easier to access. Because your projects change, your staff grows and contracts, and you're working in a global environment, we're thrilled to announce that we'll be introducing an offering called Subscribe to Autodesk in the coming year. Subscribe to Autodesk will give you access to our entire portfolio of products for a single price. We'll have low entry-level pricing so you can get started working without a big upfront investment, and you'll be able to use your tools on any machine, on any platform, anywhere in the world.
Our Solutions Are Free to Education
Going forward, the most important resource needed is new designers, engineers, and builders/makers. In the long-term, the key to your success is finding well-trained, creative people who have grown up using the tools of the future. That's why we're really proud to announce that Autodesk is making all of our software available for free to ANY student, faculty or institution ANYWHERE in the world.
Thanks Maurice, Bill, Erin, Bob, and Jonathan.
Digital design is alive on the lab.