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Are You Ready to Ride the Waves of Disruption?

autodesk university
November 29, 2011

Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski We may not know it yet, but we’re all surfing 5 waves of disruption—the theme of this year’s General Session. Opening the session in front of one of the biggest screens I’ve ever seen, Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski addressed “something near and dear to our hearts”—our concerns that the world is more chaotic and our uncertainty about the future.

These waves of disruption are headed for all of us, but as Jeff said, we can ride even the biggest wave with the right mindset and the right skill sets. AND it can be an exhilarating ride. Here’s what’s coming at you:

Wave #1—Access and Experience

From books and music to films and even fashion (!), we’re moving away from the concept of owning things to a model where we access things—for example, e-books from Amazon, movies from Netflix, clothes from Rent the Runway, and tools from TechShop, a membership-based business which delivers access to expensive equipment in its 7000-square-foot workshop.

Wave #2—Business Unusual

E.J. Sabathia of Moon ExpressUntil recently, if we had a good idea, we had to use traditional methods to finance our entrepreneurial efforts. But that’s all changing. Now we can bypass these funding channels and use the cloud to fund our venture. For example, Kickstarter is a an online crowd-funding website for funding creative projects. Companies like LunaTik have used Kickstarter to bring their products to market through the magic of crowd-funding. Angelist connects entrepreneurs to angel investors via the Internet.

We’re also reversing the flow of innovation. Under the old model, innovation flowed from R&D efforts in large companies down to smaller businesses. Now business ideas flow upstream. Players of the puzzle game Foldit, which was developed as part of an experimental research project at the University of Washington, solved a difficult problem related to the HIV virus in only a few weeks. E.J. Sabathia, a  27-year-old engineer, came on stage to talk how he is using Autodesk software at Moon Express to develop lunar micro-rovers that can harvest lunar resources.

Wave #3—Digital Fabrication

3D printers are making it easier to design and create things. This ability to create (literally “on the fly”) is being tested in gravity-free environments so parts can be created as needed in outer space. Other efforts are being directed at intergenetic engineering competitions where students are taking on the problem of global malnutrition or teaching bacteria to heal cracks in concrete or grow bricks. 

Architect Jeffrey McGrew of Because We Can Architect Jeffrey McGrew of Because We Can took the stage to talk about his design-build studio which he runs with his wife Jillian Northrup. They use digital fabrication to design and build just about anything.  Jeffrey said that they are able to make things that use very little materials and almost assemble themselves. 

Next, Mark Hatch CEO of TechShop explained how today the largest untapped resources are free time and disposable income. TechShop is taking people off the street and giving them tools—and they are launching products in just a few weeks. For example, Square enables small businesses and other users to accept credit and debit purchases by swiping cards through a small dongle that plugs into a mobile device’s audio jack. Solum designed a measurement system that allows growers, service providers, and agronomists to make immediate and accurate measurements of soil nitrate levels,

What does this mean? Open innovation “just went nuclear.” More than 60% of innovations today come from the consumer. 

Wave #4—Ambient Intelligence

Ambient intelligence refers to electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive. In a world of ambient intelligence, devices work in concert to support people in carrying out their everyday life activities in a natural way. Sensors in these devices gather data. Fitbit tracks the wearer’s activity throughout the day, monitoring steps, stairs climbed, and calories burned. Other examples include Nike+ running shoes, Affectiva’s wearable, wireless biosensor that measures emotional arousal via skin conductance, and the SFpark app, which collects and distributes real-time information about where parking is available so drivers can quickly find open spaces.

Wave #5—Infinite Computing

Infinite computing is changing the meaning of design. Today, computing is an almost-free resource and is available even from mobile devices. We need to change our mindset and stop viewing computing as a precious resource. It’s infinite.

Jeff Kowalski concluded his talk by saying “How are we going to deal with all this complexity? We need to get smarter” and we can do it not by evolving larger brains, but by using a combination of what is already available to us: The Cloud + The Crowd. We already have access to all of this brainpower. AU is a great place to explore the possibilities.

Open Innovation and Cheap Technology Are Changing the World

Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine, took the stage next to talk about how open innovation and access to cheap technology is changing the way we design and do business. According to Chris, the past decade was about finding new social and innovation models on the web. The next decade will be about applying them to the real world. Digital fabrication changes everything.

Chris’s grandfather invented the automatic sprinkler system, and endured the challenges of getting his invention patented and then working with a manufacturer to produce it. It was hard being an inventor and an entrepreneur in the 20th century.

Today, Chris created his own feature-rich sprinkler system just to prove he could do it easily using cheap, open technology. Today, we all have access to cheap technology. With today’s open innovation, our customers create and improve products for us. Giving people the tools to find their own solutions is the best way to change the world.

Tools Amplify Our Capabilities; Push Us Beyond Our Natural Limitations

Carl Bass, Autodesk CEO and President Next, Autodesk CEO and President Carl Bass came onstage to talk about how we don’t need bigger brains to meet today’s challenges because today’s tools can give help us to capture and shape our ideas and collaborate and coordinate with others on projects. Now we can let the computer do the work. Products like Autodesk® Cloud, which can give you access anywhere to your tools and your work, enable us.

He listed other examples of new tools that amplify our capabilities, including Autodesk® SketchBook®, which is used by more than™ lets us make quick conceptual sketches, and Autodesk® 123D™ Sculpt is easy enough and fun enough for even an 8-year-old to use. Autodesk Labs Reality Capture is “democratizing” reality capture. And Autodesk’s new PLM offering streamlines product and project business processes.

The always-popular Lynn Allen concluded the keynote by talking about some of the highlights of this year’s AU, all designed to help AU attendees ride those waves of disruption.

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