This last week I got a last minute invite to see the Autodesk Gallery and tour their Lab space at Pier 9. Autodesk makes software for designers, entertainers and engineers of all sorts. It’s an amazing company that was headed by Carl Bass who stepped down this year. I first heard Carl talk a few years ago at a fundraiser for The Crucible when I wrote about his quote from one of my favorite designers Buckminster Fuller. At the gallery at One Market, we looked at models of the second tallest building in the world in Shanghai and talked about how they used software to create the “twists” in the building to save energy. There is a public park every 14 floors in the building. We also looked at a soccer ball that two Harvard graduates created called Soccket. This invention creates and stores energy inside a soccer ball that might get kicked by day and then charge cell phones and other needs by night in rural villages. They used software for a 3D printer and figured out that air pockets would be the best way to keep the battery safe during all that kicking. Their lab just down the street at Pier 9 has “artists” in residence who take just four months to create new tools that make the world a better place. Autodesk gives them whatever tools they need and only asks that they create an Instructable to share what they’ve learned. In their lab, I saw the 3D printers and hydraulic drills that operate on Autodesk software that make all kinds of innovation possible.
At one point, we had a mini debate about the creative process and if this was taking all the creativity out of design because artists no longer have to sketch drawings with their software. They can create a set of requirements and the software can create the images of what’s possible. We all agreed (an eclectic group of artists, engineers, educators, academics and one business person!) that the technology was a vehicle to opening up more creativity because it could show us things that we didn’t think were possible.
The afternoon was another one of those views into the future and what is possible for today’s students if they get access to the tools and training. They can truly change every aspect of our lives. It was quite fitting that morning that I had interviewed Vince Bertram who leads Project Lead The Way, a program designed to transform how high school students think about their futures as entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists. Vince confirmed—they get that Autodesk CAD software for free and all he has to do is provide the schools with great teachers. Sounds like a good deal to me.