December 06, 2004
Autodesk University 2004 Special Report
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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A heady claim, but also sympathetic to the fact that so many people work in climates of “organizational inertia” where they are still expected to be “agents of change.” “Everyone out here is an unsung hero,” claimed Bartz.

She brought home the fact that Autodesk took some important steps five years ago and greatly expanded their vision of what design software was all about. Today's Autodesk vision is “to make sure design information is in digital form, from the creation all the way through the entire process to the downstream user.”

The words “create manage share” were cited again, emphasizing what they mean in Autodeskese: create - smart 3D design data; manage - create intelligent electronic project documents; share - use online collaboration across an entire organization.

For building design and construction Autodesk has ADT, Building Systems, Revit, and Buzzsaw. Buzzsaw can be used to share your design information. Managing data can be done through Infrastructure - mapping and GIS, Map 3D, Civil Design, MapGuide, all of which dramatically improve project workflow.

“Our idea is that you have to have practical common sense ways to transition to these technologies,” said Bartz. “We are dedicated to helping you make the change. Our idea of the change strategy is to get you from where you are today to where you want to be.”

Scott Borduin walked attendees through a few “very cool” demos. The first one, called “dynamic input,” enables the user to see the command line data right at the cursor rather than having to look at the bottom of the screen for it. Now the user can keep his or her eye right on the design the entire time. Another demoed capability was that of “dynamic blocks” that can stretch an object such as a table (the object used in the demo) and snap it to the right length using a dynamic block editor to array chairs so that there are the correct number of chairs around the table.

Civil 3D was a brand new product introduced last year that is the first civil product designed from the ground up in 3D. All change management is done in Civil 3D, all the annotation is automatically updated. There are various models that can be used such as a corridor model, subdivision layout, anything that requires a plan and a profile.

Sheet set manager can be used to lay out and will grab a plot view. The engineering model is smart enough to know what needs to be changed in the model. It can create construction documents, update them, iterate your design, with less chance of errors.

Data management is not intrinsically cool according to Borduin, but it is cool to be able to make a new version of something on screen, and copy the design, in this case a mechanical assembly. Vault patches up the relationships and creates a brand new assembly, saves it out and puts it in appropriate locations on the disk. It took an entire four minutes to complete, as opposed to hours in the old file management way of doing things.

DWF is about sharing data. DWF Composer is now able to do more than in the past, according to Borduin - you can use a free Windows print driver to insert sketches, digital photos and more. Composer lets you build up DWF packages as well as compose. You can use the markup tool to markup any DWF and you can navigate by markups. You can send the drawings out to clients who own the DWF Viewer and they can view it also this way.

DWF Viewer downloads have cross the 5 million unique user mark, which means there is one new user every 6 seconds.


Dean Kamen
This year's keynote speaker was Dean Kamen, an award winning inventor, entrepreneur, and advocate for science and technology, who holds over 150 patents for medical devices, and has expanded frontiers of healthcare worldwide. He is founder of FIRST and DEKA Research & Development. He has won numerous awards, owns an island of the coast of Connecticut, and has been dubbed “the pied piper of technology” by Smithsonian Magazine. Kamen warned the audience that he is not a professional speaker, but nonetheless gave a very entertaining and heartfelt presentation.

One of DEKA's most widely anticipated products is the INDEPENDENCE IBOT Mobility System. Developed for Independence Technology (, a division of Johnson & Johnson, the IBOT is a stair climbing device for the physically challenged that allows them to travel up and down stairs and over uneven terrain.

“Some of my clients have asked me to speak and typically ask me to talk about how to be innovative,” said Kamen, moving around on another of his inventions, a motorized platform device called the Segway. “Giant companies are like big football players having a midlife crisis and asking me how to look good in a tutu. Innovation needs a lot more people involved; if you take offense you must be one of those managers and not an innovator.”

“I can't teach you how to innovate,” he said, “I can only give you a perspective on how to create an environment more conducive to innovation.”

One of the themes of innovation is surprises, said Kamen, and most people in business don't like surprises. Kamen has always collected old technology, and believes that you can learn a lot about people by looking at these old tools. He showed a slide of a south pointing chariot designed in China in ancient times, noting that most technology was developed because “most cultures spent a lot of their time finding effective ways to kill each other. The reason for this invention was that the Gobi Desert was 1500 miles wide and if they traveled on the desert during the day they'd be seen so they needed to travel at night but also stay on course.” Although this invention was not one
that enjoyed
lasting success, in producing it, they had essentially created an adding machine hundreds of years before Babbage.

“The Chinese knew a thousand years before they built this thing that if they took a piece of lodestone and put it in the bucket of water, it would always float to the top of the pan. What they had was a compass,” noted Kamen. “Great technology alone is not want makes innovation.”

The compass was an innovation, which allowed people to understand the scope of our world. Innovation is about inventions that change how we think and live.

Kamen talked about the fact that research inevitably requires that you risk failure and face unpredictability, quoting Einstein, “If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

Sometimes our own reluctance to give up what was once true keeps us from innovation. An example: although DEKA was known to many clients as makers of health care products, the people who made a new stent for Johnson & Johnson were from the helicopter industry.

Ten years ago Kamen founded
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization dedicated to motivating the next generation to want to learn about science and technology. Kamen has personally recruited top leaders of American industry and education to participate in this organization. The FIRST robotics competition pairs professional engineers with high school students across the country, to enter a national championship where they will create and compete robots - held at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.

Kamen believes that children and teens need to see what opportunities there are in science and technology and criticizes American society for its obsession with sports at the expense of teaching about real life endeavors. Kamen claims, “You have teenagers thinking they're going to make millions as NBA stars when that's not realistic for even 1 percent of them. Becoming a scientist or engineer is."

Big on one liners, Kamen ended his talk with this one from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world…indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

It was one of the few times I had seen a standing ovation given to a guest speaker at a technology event.

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-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.


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