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The White House Maker Faire
Where Obama said "Today's DIY is tomorrow's Made in America"
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Jesse and Obama
Jesse Harrington the Maker Advocate of Autodesk and this month's TCT cover star,
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Obama fires a rocket
The White House Maker Faire was a roaring success
This magazine has been around for a generation now and in that time CAD has remained in the hands of select few trained experts but as Bob Dylan once penned “Times, they are a-changin’”. There’s been a seismic shift towards getting 3D modelling into the hands of the populous and the next generation may well see CAD become as ubiquitous as the editing of photographs is now on platforms such as Instagram and Photoshop.
There’s one company at the forefront of the shift taking CAD from the hands of trained experts, there’s one CEO who has led the way in democratising the software that has been, for so long, so inaccessible at both a price level and pick-up-and-play-level.
“Carl Bass our CEO is a maker at heart,” Autodesk’s Program Manager and Maker Advocate Jesse Harrington told TCT. “He owns his own makerspace and woodshop on the East Bay of California and he has a very firm belief that software is only as good as the things that are made with it.”
Bass first joined Autodesk over 20 years ago and has been the CEO since 2006, Popular Science recently described him as “The Maker King” and “Maker” sits proudly at the forefront of his Twitter profile bio. Jesse Harrington Au talks about his boss with the same kind of enthusiasm one might talk about their sporting hero, with unbridled zest for what he has achieved and set about achieving.
“Over five years ago Autodesk started looking at the maker movement, there is this really nice synergy between digital fabrication and DIY, which is right where we sit,” Harrington explained. “We have been the leader in getting out really great software to all these DIY people that want to start building stuff. We want to make sure that we have the solution for anybody just starting off, so we developed a line of products three and a half years ago called 123D. The 123D family of products is made for the maker market, the software is tailored to make it easy to start digitally fabricating.”
Education leads to graduation
The ever-expanding Autodesk 123D portfolio now includes five apps, as well as various web-based applications that are designed to lower the entry-level of CAD.
One such app is TinkerCad, a popular web-based platform that grew exponentially under previous stewardship before unexpectedly shutting down. The outcry from the community and in particular the maker movement was such that Autodesk couldn’t just leave so many potential designers stranded.
“Tinkercad has such an energetic, fantastic and thriving user base that when it closed down we saw an opportunity. These people are the creators, the makers – these people are really enthusiastic about design, we couldn’t just let them fade out so we picked it up,” said Harrington. “It is an amazing package; it is very easy to use; we like to stage it is with very young kids, they can start with Tinkercad and then from there they can move up to the 123D software, or use it in combination with something like 123D Circuits so they can add circuitry, all of those things work with this really nice flow to progress people onto the next stages. “
And that’s precisely the point, the opening that Carl Bass has been so eagle-eyed to spot; these Tinkercad, 123D and other entry-level CAD users are Autodesk’s next customers. Lest we forget that this is a multinational corporation that makes its money from professional software suites, the company has spotted that CAD is no longer just in the hands of designers, engineers and architects, it is has, as the buzzword suggest, been democratised and if Autodesk can get them early, well, there’s some customers for life.
“It’s pretty obvious to see where we are heading; we want people to graduate from one program to another and to make it easier to hone your skill processes as you progress. I think back to five years ago, I spent two years in a design school learning how to use SolidWorks, I spoke to 7-year-olds at The White House Maker Faire who use Tinkercad and are picking products like 123D Catch up of a weekend and making digital models on their smartphone.”
That White House Maker Faire that Harrington mentions really marks the turning of this underground movement into a full-blown revolution. Our cover star; the bust of President Obama was presented at the event by the Smithsonian Institute, Obama himself said in attendance: “Today’s DIY is tomorrow’s Made in America,” and Autodesk are hoping to become the complete eco-system in which these burgeoning industries are built.
To become the de facto organisation to the maker movement Autodesk announced perhaps their greatest leap in the company’s 32-year history, from software to hardware. Back in May Autodek announced their 3D printer and open-source platform Spark – a sort of Operating System for 3D printing. Carl Bass compared this platform to the Google Nexus and Android projects and thinks the multi-faceted open-sourced software plus hardware approach pays off.
“Spark is really interesting, it falls right in line with our history for the last few years; we’re all about innovation, we’re all about the sites like Instructables and Creative Market, we’ve started developing a larger collection of collaborative communities,” Harrington told TCT. ”Spark is this really amazing vision, what we’re trying to do is create an open platform for development both on the hardware side and the software side, we absolutely embrace and love the 3D printing movement but we see that there is so much potential to grow.“
“The Google Andorid platform is totally an inspiration for Spark, we understand that our users are rocket scientists,” he continued. “If we can give them a little bit of room they can make some amazing things. Getting this machine into people’s hands is so exciting, we want to see what they come up with, we’re really looking forward to next year to see what comes out of it.”
The Autodesk machine itself will be a resin-based sterolithography printer, and just as in the world of FDM, where we now have materials like TPU, Woodcomposites, Nylon etc. Autodesk hopes that their open-platform allows the users to mimic these developments.
“When people get Spark we hope that they start experimenting with material science, we hope they start experimenting with the printer,” Harrington noted. “This is a device we’re giving people to take apart and to say create your own industry based on this platform, that will help Autodesk grow because the better and bigger 3D printing gets the more people will turn to great software like ours.”
It is clear from Autodesk’s intentions that they are not just dipping a toe into the 3D printing and maker markets anymore, they have cannonballed right into the deep-end and the sheer size and ambition of the company could leave competitors trembling in their wake.
But why does Jesse Harrington Au think that there’s been such sudden interest in the maker scene, so much so that the White House have stood up and taken note? So much so that traditionally industry focussed business like Autodesk, 3D Systems and Stratasys are keen to get a slice of the pie?
“There’s a combination of three big trends that has led to the explosion in the maker movement; there’s the rise of DIY, there’s a rise of young entrepreneurs using crowdfunding to get their ideas off the ground and then there’s the whole 3D printing scene. The design world as we know it has been turned on its head because of economies, those three factors combine to form the maker movement. When you see those plus the STEM programs, which is the biggest buzzword in the education community, they’ve all merged together at the same moment to form this revolution. When you go to a Maker Faire you see all of those elements in action, at the White House Maker Faire it was amazing the array and the breadth of the makers that were there, there was everything from established 3D printing companies to people that ran FabLab’s in Africa, it was just a total array of people that are involved with this movement.”