Report by Deelip Menezes:
The second day of COFES 2008 began with the keynote speech by Karl Ulrich, a CIBC professor from Wharton. He spoke about his upcoming book, Innovation Tournaments: Creating, Selecting and Developing Exceptional Opportunities. Basically he described an approach to pick the best idea for a business venture from a list of ideas.
There were some enlightening aspects, but it seemed to me that everything else was more or less simple common sense -- with the addition of a litany of charts, graphs, diagrams, and statistical analysis jargon. I always have a problem with overdoses of charts and graphs, and so maybe that’s what turned me off.
After the keynote, I attended the Autodesk technology suite briefing. A technology suite is basically a hotel room where a sponsor gets to present a few ideas to as many people who can fit into that room. The Autodesk suite was pretty much sold out.
Buzz Kross, vp of Autodesk’s Manufacturing Division, explained his vision for digital prototyping. I have heard about digital prototyping for a while now, and was interested in hearing it from the horse’s mouth and, if possible, question the horse as well.
Buzz mentioned a few things about Autodesk first, calling it the largest CAD company that spends $150 million annually on R&D. (I wondered, with a budget like that, how come AutoCAD 2009 isn’t very different from AutoCAD 2000. When was the last time a concept as radical as layers or blocks was added to AutoCAD? I hope they are not spending all that money to make fancy things like non-rectangular viewports and pretty interfaces.) Over the next ten years or so Autodesk will acquire companies that have technologies that will aid in giving Inventor the capabilities of digital prototyping.
So what exactly is digital prototyping? From what I understand, it's solid modeling + other features that validate, improve, test, etc. the solid model. A simple example would be a finite element analysis module what works inside of Inventor. Which begs the question, how is this different from what is being done now in other CAD systems?
When Buzz stated that digital prototyping would "completely replace" physical prototyping, I had to make my presence felt. I pointed out that a company designing a product such as a mobile phone is not going to rely on digital prototypes alone. Someone would need to actually hold a physical prototype in his hand and put it to his ear to get the"feel" of the product that they are going to spend millions on. You simply cannot "feel" a digital prototype, however intelligent and sophisticated it may be. Buzz admitted that he had no answer as to how a person would "feel" a digital prototype, but still maintained his position that physical prototyping would eventually be done away with. Well, if Buzz turns out right, it means that the rapid prototyping industry (and maybe a few others) are going to go up in smoke. Interesting.
In response to my question about varied user interfaces between their products, Buzz mentioned that Autodesk was working on something they are calling "Airmax" -- that’s AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit and Max. No, it’s not all of them wrapped into one (what an organized mess that would be!). It is something to do with giving each program a unified user interface. It looks like some of this is already in AutoCAD 2009, for I doubt they spent all that time and money on AutoCAD 2009's ribbon interface, only to drop it for something else soon. And as I type this, I wonder why Maya isn’t part of Airmax?
Later in the day, there was a program called "Maieutic Parataxis." (Maieutic means the midwifery of knowledge; parataxis means the juxtaposition of ideas without connection or conjunction.) I am quite positive that the person who came up with this -- must be either Joel Orr or Brad Holtz -- must have been high on something. As it turns out, Maieutic Parataxis was several groups giving rapidfire five-minute presentations on products, services, startups, and ideas that they were working on.
One of them was Mike Riddle, and I was disappointed that he did not show his SmartNotes or Thinker products like he hoped he would in an interview with Ralph Grabowski in upFront.eZine. The "oohs" and "aahs" went to the Australian Centre for Visual Technologies and their Videotrace technology. Maieutic Parataxis indeed!
Finally, all the COFES attendees were filed into buses and taken to the Arizona desert for Evening under the Stars, a western cookout among the cacti and large telescopes to gaze at the stars.
Tomorrow is the last day. I do not see another Maieutic Parataxis in the schedule for tomorrow. And I am not sure whether that is a good or a bad thing!
[Disclosure: COFES provided complimentary registration and a USB drive.]