Rocket racing

Posted on 3 Dec 2009 by The Manufacturer

Ed Machin reports from day two of the Autodesk conference in Vegas...

I rise to the sun parked resolute and fat against the sky; plus ca change, eh? Truth be told, but keep it under your hats (the bosses might be reading. On second thoughts…), I could do with some of this jetlag lark more often. I’m waking before dawn without fail, office by seven, productive employment here I come, baby, yeah.*

I haven’t been this buzzing about a manufacturing Keynote since, well, never. That it’s my first one is neither here nor there. To paraphrase Ice Cube, it’s going to be a good day today — for some of us, at any rate. Tiger has released a statement confirming his ‘transgressions’. Needless to say it’s all over the American media outlets, yes, ESPN included. Listen, dammit, it offers the most incisive coverage going, and I shan’t apologise for wanting to dedicate my life from here on in to worshipping at the temple of its sparkling magnificence. There, I’ve said it.

Creating 3D Factory Floor Layouts. Bag a free Pepsi — Note this is not a product endorsement. It was rubbish; flat and warm — prior to entering, and take a seat next to three life-affirmingly dapper Milanese gentlemen. The room is nowhere near as busy as some of the other sessions I’ve attended, which is a shame as it’s right up there with the Elvis ‘performance’ as my conference highlight thus far. For the uninitiated, this thing is like The Sims, only a lot, lot better. At its most fundamental, Autodesk’s Navisworks enables both entire factory and individual product line 3D visualisations — realising optimal layouts and significant productivity/efficiency increases.

Shibal Bagchi, a dead ringer for the young Mahatma Gandhi, runs us through a detailed product demonstration, highlighting Navisworks’ capability to aggregate multi-CAD and Cloud data into a single, lightweight factory representation. A vibrant question and answer session ensues, with the Milanese chaps stretching our man’s software knowledge to the very limits of its capacity. Bravissimo boys. Meet Autodesk CEO Carl Bass in the hotel lift. Can’t help but detect the distinct aroma of a mutual respect society developing between us in the short time we spend together. I’m almost certain he feels the same. Mention my ‘blog’, which Bassy — yup, we roll like that — pretends he will read, bless ‘im. Grab two bags of Doritos at the gift shop and retire to my room to get the, by now, hourly ESPN fix needed to keep me functioning. Is this what all-consuming love feels like? I guess so. Catch up on work emails. It seems the wider manufacturing sector is, just about, coping in my absence. Lament the lack of fruit available on room service. C’mon, who I am kidding, right? I want something’s flesh; burger and crispy fries it is. Again.

Manufacturing Keynote. This. Is. Astonishing. We receive a truncated introduction by Autodesk’s Senior Vice President, Manufacturing Solutions, Robert ‘Buzz’ Kross, who, if nothing else, has inspired me to employ a similar naming device. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Edward ‘Never To Work Again’ Machin. After a brief video presentation of manufacturers 888 Racing and Dynamic Structures, Kross calls to the stage our Keynote Speaker, a smallish, apparently unassuming gentleman by the name of Dr Peter Diamandis. He, incidentally, is also the spit of Richard Lewis. And then he begins to speak.

Now I have been know, on occasion, to cloak myself in a Thinsulate shield of cynicism, but this guy is something else. Beginning with an affirmation of his belief that “nothing…nothing is impossible,” Diamandis goes on to, well, to blow our collective craniums, man. Drawing on the inspiration of Charles Lindbergh when a nipper, our space-obsessed hero founded the X Prize Foundation, a non-profit prize institute that designs and manages public competitions intended to encourage technological development that will benefit mankind. Somewhat lacking in ambition, then, our Peter. Not content with helming projects such as the Ansari X Prize for Suborbital Spaceflight, in which he challenged teams to build private spaceships and thus open the commercial space frontier, Diamandis is seemingly on a crusade to single-handedly fireman’s lift humanity into a new Age of Aquarius. He is, I think it is fair to say, succeeding. As such, his current projects include prize offerings to increase the speed of human genome sequencing; launch, land and operate a roving lunar vehicle; design viable, clean and super-efficient cars; and develop and promote the widespread adoption of clean aviation fuel, among many, many, many others. The poor souls who work with me know I am loath to use such words frivolously, but this man is a genius — end of.

Diamandis concludes with a video of his latest personal project, entitled The Rocket Racing League. No, mother, I’m not making this stuff up, much as it feels like some sort of stupendously orchestrated art prank. Pitched as the lunatic lovechild of NASCAR and rocket-powered flight, competing Rocket Racer planes will utilise liquid oxygen and either kerosene or ethanol fuel to power them along a two mile, virtual 3D ‘track’ — projected in the pilots head-up displays — 1,500ft above terra firma. Upon completion of the video, and having lifted her jaw from its resting place on the floor, the woman next to me turns and stammers: “Is it just me, or is this guy our generation’s Da Vinci?” Aye, summat like that, darling. Indeed, if I’m completely honest, people, I can’t remember a great deal of what was said after Diamandis left the stage, so debilitating was the state of veneration I found myself locked in — kinda like that dude from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, if you will, only perhaps somewhat less permanent, obviously. For what it’s worth, my notes make reference to a brief video of new product offerings, together with the presentation of Autodesk University’s first Manufacturing Community Achievement Award to Charles Bliss, a well know developer in the Inventor user community.

But, more than anything I have experienced during my savage journey to the heart of the American dream, and making Elvis look like the bloated, anodyne, washed-out monstrosity we all secretly knew him to be, Dr Peter H Diamandis embodies the underlying theme of this conference — what if? What if we dare to dream that which others think the undreamable? What if the doubting Thomases simply inspire us to propel our aspirations yet further into the cosmos? What, and humour me briefly here, just what if you take inspiration from even a nano-fraction of Diamandis’ least insane thinking and implement it across your day-to-day manufacturing operations. Your business will not want for accolades nor a rotund orderbook, of this I offer my personal guarantee — quite how you can enforce such a promise I am unaware at the present time. We’ll come to some sort of arrangement, if you can dig it?

With Autodesk’s Inventor software reaching its tenth anniversary this year, we — all 500 of us — are treated to a giant cake outside the conference suite. At this point, however, I’m still attempting to assimilate the profound paradigm shift Diamandis’ presentation has effected in my approach to existence, and thus pass on the admittedly delicious looking spread. Ponce a soda for the walk back to my room, mind. You can take the boy out of South London…

*This is not, nor is it intended to be, a promise of my future working habits. Any similarities to the aforementioned are merely coincidental, and should not, under any circumstances whatever, be relied upon.