Deelip Menezes reports for WorldCAD Access from COFES 2008:
COFES 2008 started Thursday afternoon with presentations on varied topics, the first by Kathleen Maher from Jon Peddie Research. She spoke on "The Practicality Gap" -- the causes for good products failing.
Second was Ken Hall from Gensler, who spoke on "The Sustainability Paradox". He painted a sad picture of how we are using our resources as a civilization, and what we need to do to prevent doomsday. From what I gathered, neither our governments nor we citizens appear to be in the mood for implementing his recommendations.
CAD At the Nano Level
The third presentation interested me a lot. Mark Sims is with Nanorex, a company that has developed the first CAD system for nanotechnology. The CAD system is called NanoEngineer 1 and looks a lot like any parametric solid modeler, except that it uses atoms and molecules for building blocks. (It even has a model view and a feature tree, except that it is called a "model tree" here.) In short, nanotechnology involves creation of custom molecules and fiddling around with them in order to create things that I haven’t quite understood yet.
NanoEngineer 1 lets users create 3D virtual molecules and string them together to form complex compounds. The output of the modeling process is a plain text file containing a bunch of numbers and codes which can be sent to companies that build these compounds and ship them to you by mail. Reminds me of rapid prototyping.
NanoEngineer 1 is the result of four years of development, and is due to be launched on April 24, And guess what? Nanorex is releasing this as open source! It has an API which can be used by programmers like me to make plug-ins. However, I am going to stick to developing plug-ins for normal CAD systems for now, for the very simple reason that I can understand them. I am not yet comfortable with poking around molecules.
I had heard a lot about nanotechnology, but never got to understanding it. Mark Sims' presentation explained a lot of what's going on in the field of nanotechnology research and implementation. I must admit that most of the core fundamental stuff went over my head, but at the same time, seemed to be quite interesting. Maybe I will read up on nanotechnology soon.
The Future of Engineering
The fourth presentation regarding “The Future of Engineering” was given by Peter Marks of Design Insight. He described how and why the USA had a period of excellence in the 1900s. Their innovation and engineering supremacy over the rest of the world made it a superpower and led to a strong economy. Then he shredded each and every factor that worked for the US in the 1900s, and showed how these factors are now obsolete or no longer work for the USA anymore. Basically he set the stage for the US to be royally screwed in the 2000s. Although his views were quite pessimistic, I must admit that they closely resembled the reality that we see today.
He touched on many factors, one of which was outsourcing. In my opinion, outsourcing is not a solution for the USA, but rather a problem. The USA is no longer outsourcing only manufacturing and services; it is also outsourcing knowledge activities, like research and development -- things that are going to come back to haunt them in the future. When you end up making other people smarter than yourself, you are going to end up finding yourself in a compromising position.
After the presentations, there was an informal poolside gathering, and later spouses were called to join with the eating and drinking. In my case, my spouse is sitting pretty on the other side of the planet.
Friday is when the real action starts.
(Deelip Menezes is the owner of SYCODE, a programming firm specializing in CAD translators, located in Panaji, Goa, India. His Weblog at http://www.deelip.com carries additional reporting on COFES.)