Curiosity piqued by Carl’s announcement of 123D, I head to Autodesk to hear more. I’m full of questions. I am introduced to Tatjana Dzambazova, Autodesk’s fair haired, super-driven-yet-quite-personable Sr Product Manager, Consumer Products Groups, who, despite being in the final phase of product launch, pushes aside her stack of executive summaries, product descriptions, etc., to make time for me.
I am full of questions. What technology is it based on? Is it solid modeling? Can I see it? But it appears Autodesk is not quite ready to show the product. I wonder if Carl totally jumped the gun? Usually, Autodesk is full of information after an announcement. I am told more details are to follow “soon.”
But I do manage to get an understanding of the basis of 123D, who Autodesk hopes to help, and how it intends to gain.
Tatjana gives me a run down of the genesis of 123D. She looks familiar. Perhaps we know each other in her previous life, she volunteers. She was once in charge of Revit. She is modest. She has authored several books on Revit. However, her life is now 123D. She has been following the “maker movement” for some time. She was at last year’s Maker Faire, where inventors, tinkerers and craftsmen show their stuff. Over 40,000 attended the event held south of San Francisco. That sort of crowd dwarfs even the biggest CAD show (Autodesk University gets what, maybe 7,500 attendees at the most?). I imagine someone saw gold in them there hills of San Mateo.
The official product site, www.123app.com. Note the care taken to ensure hardware looks decidedly non-Apple.
But the maker movement goes back further. Way back. Wasn’t God the original Maker? Since, mere mortals have followed suit, starting with simple tools, moving on to complex machines, peaking in recent history in the industrial age and mass production. But those who call themselves “makers” now seem to be the ones who want to make things themselves –- personally --- often with their bare hands, taking back the right to do so from factories and assembly lines.
“We as a people have become disengaged from the act of production,” says Tatjana.
Makers take pride in craftmanship, uniqueness. They want to be able to have an idea and be able to give it life in the real world. Maybe it’s a new invention. May be it’s a variation of an existing product. Maybe it’s just a backlash against packaged goods, low quality, being told what to buy, everyone having the same thing, wearing the same things, when a collective quest for low price breeds big-box stores and a thousand unnamed foreign factories making inferior products with numbing uniformity… Ok, Roopinder's getting carried away. Now, where was I?
It’s not the first backlash against mass production. The Arts and Crafts Movement sprang up in England in the latter half of the 1800’s, hoping to revive skilled craftsmanship and stop what it saw as downhill trend in quality and public taste as result of mass production. I’d have to say the public won, bad taste and all, and the Movement more or less fizzled. Handmade goods increasingly were seen as quaint, backward.
Fast forward to modern time. Inventors, tinkerers, hobbyists, DIYers, and craftspeople have kept the flame alive. Autodesk hopes for more: a confluence of trends that will make the small flame a conflagration.
The ordinary person today has at their disposal tools and information they have never had before, not only software, but the Internet, cheap computing, the cloud – and all knowledge just a few clicks away. Let’s say you want to make a better mouse trap. Take pictures of one with ordinary point-and-shoot digital camera, upload its images to Autodesk's Labs Project Photofly to create a 3D model. Tweak the design using Autodesk Inventor at a TechShop (a DIY workshop with monthly membership) and actually produce a working model right there on the premises. Should you not want to or think you might injure yourself on TechShop’s formidable machines, any number of rapid prototyping services can make a plastic replica of the part. Da Vinci did not have it this good. Even if your brilliance extends only as far as the idea phase and you are totally challenged in its creation, services like Ponoko (which bills itself as a personal factory) will handle all of it –and even help you market and sell it.
Autodesk has partnered with both TechShop and Ponoko in what appears to be its bid to be the preeminent design software for the maker market.
More information soon. The official product site is www.123dapp.com, where the information is disappointingly lean at time of writing. But Autodesk does promise to email you when 123D is available.