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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Autodesk Gets REAL

February 27th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

San Francisco is always a great destination, but even more so when the weather is sunny and warm as it was this week while we attended the REAL 2015 Summit, Autodesk’s initial foray into making sense of a term it coined – reality computing. In Autodesk’s vernacular, creating data is what ultimately is used to create reality, but more about what that actually means later.

REAL 2015 was nothing like any company-sponsored event I had ever attended. It was all about 3D capture (scanning/sensing), computing (modeling), and creating (additive/subtractive manufacturing). It was more like a sophisticated maker faire than a traditional trade show. I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical about coming to REAL 2015, thinking it was going to be a 2 ½ day Autodesk sales pitch/advertisement to a captive audience, but was pleasantly surprised that it was nothing of the sort, and was more analogous to a TEDx event, which is a very good thing.

Capture was put into the context of sensing that is becoming ever more ubiquitous (think smartphone cameras); Compute was about the cloud, mobility, social media, and analytics; and Create was about the increase of accessible fabrication. These three branches were talked about going from feasible to transformational, as well as Autodesk’s initiative as a company of then transforming implications to applications.

REAL2015: Where the sensors meet the maker

Carl Bass, Autodesk’s CEO took the stage the first morning of the event, but he shared the stage with two other “makers,” so the focus was not on him exclusively. Bass did make a passing remark about a specific Autodesk product, Autodesk Fusion 360, but the conference was well into its third hour before he did so.

He sees the future of making as a mixture of analog and digital techniques for creating a physical artifact through a process he called generative design. He also said that CAD is something of a misnomer because up to now, the computer has “aided” with virtually nothing during the design process. However, he said that’s about to change with the ability to design and manufacture unique products where the computer actually does “aid” the process. (This is where mention of Fusion 360 came in).

Bass also touched on Autodesk Spark, the company’s recent 3D printing initiative that is derived from open source hardware (the Ember 3D printer), software, and materials that offer freedom of shape with 3D printing. He emphasized the open source materials aspect of the program and said Autodesk is encouraging those involved with the Spark program to vigorously experiment with new materials.

The Spark program is about creating the tools (hardware, software, and materials) that are still missing for 3D printing. He was also quite blunt in saying that 3D printing in the home has been over-hyped, and print on demand through service providers makes more sense for home printing, but that the manufacturing industry has under-appreciated and under-utilized the potential of the technology.

When asked if everyone could be a “maker,” the answer was a resounding “No.” Making products was compared with making music; some people have talent for it, and some don’t. I totally agree with this sentiment.

I came to REAL 2015 trying to get a handle on the goal of Reality Computing, and came away with the thought that it is really about making the analog world computable. That said, I guess I’m on my way to a better understanding of what the term means and where it’s heading.

When asked if there would be a REAL 2016 event, I didn’t get a response from any Autodesk employee, but I hope Autodesk perceives enough value for this event to do it again. I, for one, hopes Autodesk continues this event in the future because of what is presented and who attends. I found a lot of value in the event, and so did all of the attendees I spoke with. Sure, it had a subtle marketing element, but with minimal hype.

More about REAL 2015 in coming days and weeks and some of the Autodesk technologies that were discussed, including ReCap, Memento, Spark, Ember, and Fusion 360. Also, details on some of the most interesting presentations we sat in on and the people we met.

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