A new experience for me at this years Autodesk University 2015 Keynote is my Media Pass. It allowed me to sit in the front row and was able to live tweet, take notes, and experience the event up close and personal. It was a bit overwhelming to keep up, but what an experience!
Autodesk University 2015 Keynote
Like all years, the keynote really sets the tone for the rest of the conference. What really made this year’s keynote was the “special” guests, plus Jeff Kowalski was really on his game this year…. and the hip hop dancers were amazing. Autodesk created a party-like atmosphere, and there seemed to be a real buzz as people exited the hall.
Lynn Allan was first, as she always is, to introduce the 23rd Autodesk University. Escorted onto the stage by storm troopers no less! So COOL!
Carl Bass “Reframing”
Keeping with the party atmosphere, Carl Bass (Autodesk CEO) came onto the state to ACDC’s Thunderstruck, much less corny than years past. His theme was “Reframing” and he shared stories of customers he’s met and visited, highlighting customers who are solving “not just the old problems“. There are some people / companies out there doing some really amazing stuff and I really like these stories. Autodesk does a good job of focusing on the success and the people and although they make it known their software was involved it really becomes secondary to the story.
Bob and Kelly at ConXtech design and build steel buildings. They have created their own system (mechanism) of fitting the steel together. It is a system based on a simple dovetail joint but designed so that assembly does not require welding or onsite riveting. With this system, they are able to erect over10,000 sq ft of building per day, with a very small crew. Other problems they solved: They built their own jigs so that they could weld horizontally (30% faster than vertical welding) and when ConXtech ran into difficulties getting pre-qualified for seismic, they built their own testing system as nothing existed. They “reframed” the way they worked
I don’t know where I’ve been hiding but I haven’t seen or read anything on the new Apple campus, I knew they were doing it but didn’t really know what. Its impressive… 3 million sq feet, $5 billion to build, a big “donut” that has Steve Job’s design all over it. Carl talked about precast concrete panels made to super precise tolerances, with embedded RFID chips to track it throughout the process. It made him realize that they were really assembling, not building, and that the building and manufacturing industries are converging.
“The building industry is looking more and more like the manufacturing industry” Carl Bass
The last example was Kevin Zinger who was building car batteries in China until he found out that a typical car generates 1/3 its environment impact as it rolls off the assembly line. So he created Divergent to create cars that are not just energy efficient, but efficient in the making. Making cars… but “making sure we’re working on the right problems.”
“Are we working on the right problem”?
Carl wrapped up his examples discussing the Internet of Things (IoT), which you will see a lot of from Autodesk. Carl described how IoT creates closed looped systems to capture, analyze, and react to problems. His example was an airport deicing company that ran our of deicer during a storm and it grounded 450 planes. This company implemented IoT completely reframe how they did things. They now monitor how much is deicer is used, how long it takes to apply, how much is left, when the next load is coming, and how much environmental impact there is from the chemical.
Carl addressed the growing fear over the potential for technology to replace people creating a shortage of jobs. Carl explained that the problem isn’t going to be a shortage of jobs but a shortage of talented people. He asked “How will you attract and maintain talented people?” He continued explaining people care more about doing meaningful work than the perks. They want to be passionate and work on something that is meaningful to them.
Andrew McAfee is the co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. If you are going to watch the recording of the keynote and only want to watch one presenter, he is the one to watch. He started suggesting that at a boring dinner party ask “What have been the most important developments in human history“. The geeky response is “what does the evidence say?” The real answer is that not one single event has significantly changed human history and social development until the development of the steam engine and the industrial revolution. (~240 years ago). These two events have lead to a higher standard of living even with an exploding population, but at the cost of diluting the world.
Andrew discussed how during the 1900’s there was a growing fear that the exploding population would lead to famine and human interaction to decide who lived and who died
This has not happened. We are eating better, living better, we’re wealthier, etc… So what happened?
- Innovation: when whale oil became too expensive to use we switched to kerosene in our lamps. We shouldn’t “low ball” human innovation
- Dematerialization: we are past the peak point of our commodity usage, we require less and are using less.
- Computerization: we have a bottomless thirst for software and code
We (as Earth’s population) have two remaining challenges:
- We need to stop cooking the planet
- We require less labour which is putting increasing pressure on the middle class
There are some positive signs… the whales are back in New York!
The next great era of human work “Augmented Age”
Jeff Kowalski was up last, and he was on his game today. His presentation was well delivered and definitely motivated me.
Jeff started by explaining how our relationship with tools has been directive, they are passive… they do what we tell them and nothing else. Technology is making a giant leap from Passive to Generative… your goals and constraints are the inputs and the computer explores the solution space and provides ideas, many we probably wouldn’t have thought of or considered.
“With Generative Design, Complexity comes for free.”
Airbus & Autodesk are working on a partition panel that sits between passengers and the flight crew. The current panel is already light and strong, but Airbus doesn’t think it is good enough. Autodesk ran their generative analysis solution on it and the new design is half the weight, but much stronger than the original. Airbus has calculated the weight savings is equivalent to removing 96000 passenger cars per year.
The first part of the Augmented Age is Generative, the next is Intuitive – the ability to learn is making computers better partners for design. You will be able to show something you’ve designed to the computer and it will tell you if it works, creating a true partner in design.
Technology is becoming Empathic. It learns you, your likes, dislikes, and starts to understand what you want and suggest what you really need.
The fear is robots will take jobs but Jeff believes you will not lose our jobs to robots, but to others who do clever things with the robot.
Dr. Hugh Herr
A truly inspirational story, Dr Hugh Herr (a MIT Professor) started by explaining how he is a “bunch of nuts and bolts from the knee down” but that he can run, jog, and skip. He lost his legs in the early 80s from frostbite he got from a mountain climbing excursion. Dr Herr was told he’d never be able to mountain climb again… but he did.
“My body wasn’t broken, technology was broken”.
Technology has the power to heal. Ask yourself, do you see weakness or the opportunity to make things better? Technology will free us from the shadows of disability.
Something that is interesting and scary at the same time is his explanation that “Bionics” will lead to a future, where the designer will design themselves.
Making Things People Want
Jeff came back and talked about the nervous system of the things, we make, and how it is still rudimentary. In a funny example, but one that makes you think, he asked “What if barbie is really lonely?“. What if the toy manufacturer could track their toys right from design to creation to the actual use? What’s missing is a nervous system connecting us to the things we design and manufacture. Once things are connected we’ll be able to make better designs, react to actual use, know if people actually like it, and be able correct existing products (for example apply a patch).