SWW09: Prototype This!

Prototype This is a show on Discovery Channel where four engineers create prototypes for radical new ideas.  Dr. Mike North and Joe Grant represented the show at today’s General Session.  From their entrance, we know this would be no ordinary presentation.  Joe was in a Firefigther’s hat, pushing (and pulling) Mike up to the stage in one of their inventions for the local fire department.  It was a cart that could carry firefighting gear up stairs and convert into a chair to assist in the rescue of trapped individuals.

They talked about the earlier struggles they had with the show’s producers in the first few episodes.  The producers expected 100% successful projects of world changing scope each week (in fact they wanted two each week originally).  As the show went on, the producers gained more appreciation for the design process and began to focus the show in that direction.

At the news conference that immediately followed the General Session, Mike and Joe talked about the goals of the show: to show cutting edge technology, to inspire kids, and get them to reconnect with the development process.  As the show went on, they realized that kids started to think the way engineers think about design.  They were becoming interested in a career in engineering.

When the show started, many of the devices were built in very traditional ways (such as reliance on machined parts).  They then started working with companies like Forecast 3D (of which I am also a customer from time to time) to utilize rapid prototyping technologies.

I asked them, “How long have you been using SolidWorks, and how did you first become aware of the software?”  Mike (the mechanical guy) explained that before the show, he did not do the type of work that exposed him 3D CAD modelling often.  He discovered SolidWorks through the course of the show.  SolidWorks Corp provided one seat for them to use.  They then started to design and conduct FEA activities with SolidWorks.  Since then, it has become the show’s “bread and butter”, and that it was the “savior of the show”.  Mike explained that SolidWorks helped the show go from being a build-show to become a design-show.  You can’t get plugs better than that.

Another area they began using heavily was 3D printing.  Not only did using this technology speed up the design cycle, producers where enthusiastic about being able to print actual working parts right in front of the camera.  Mike and Joe showed off a wall walking device that would support 80 lbs of weight on window.  The structure of the device was 3D printed.  It had a shape and composition that could not be reproduced using traditional manufacturing means.

As the show progressed in season one, the producers began to understand that failure of a project is still an engineering success.  Failure is needed in order to learn and to succeed.  Sucess is measured by the achievements within the project.  It appears that SolidWorks played a significant role in helping this transition in their mindset by providing the backbone of the design process so that sucesses could be realized much faster.

SolidWorks World 2008 Day 1: The General Session

Each day of SolidWorks World kicks off with a General Session.  Each day had surprises.  Of course, to experience all of this requires getting up early enough in the morning.  The crowd quickly filled up the area outside of the General Session auditorium of the San Diego Convention Center.  Even on the first day, I developed quite the talent of surfing through the crowds to get closer to the doors into the General Session auditorium to get a good seat when the door swung open.

 Outside the General Session, NorthCrowd outside of General Session, South

It was standing room only in the General Session.  Even with thousands of seats, hundreds of people where left standing.  Estimates ranged over 4700 attendees.

General Session, facing the stage 1 General Session, facing stage 2

General Session, facing doors

On Monday, the surprise guest was Danny Forster, whose trademark is expressing his deep fear of heights.  He is the host of Built it Bigger on Discovery Channel, and a prominent architect and engineer.  Despite the fact that he did give a rather interesting and engaging presentation that discussed everything from home design to the marriage of architecture and engineering that went into the University of Phoenix Stadium, I am surprised he didn’t get booed off of the stage early on as he made it a point to state that he used AutoCAD to design one of his buildings.  SolidWorks users must be a more forgiving bunch than I would’ve thought.  I know he did it on purpose; the rat.

KIVA Systems made an interesting presentation where they showed off a robotic system that replaces the need to send people into a factory to retrieve items.  Another robot highlighted at the conference in the SolidWorks intro animation was of a robot being designed and built.  It turned out that this robot is a built-it-yourself kit and being sold for the ages 10 and up crowd.  Included with the robot is SolidWorks Student Edition!  Talk about hooking the kids young!  More on this later on.

There was another surprise on Monday; one that was both fascinating and a bit scary at the same time. See, there’s this guy named Theo Jansen.  He is a kinetic sculptor that builds “Beach Beasts”, based on skeleton like designs that are powered by nothing more than the wind.  He’s designed the creatures (as he also called them) to become so sophisticated, they are able to mechanically sense their environment, and mechanically respond to it.  For example, if one of these creatures walks up to the ocean’s edge, it knows to start going the other way to avoid the water.  It does this without the use of any electronics at all.  It’s all plastic tubing.  During his presentation, Mr. Jansen appeared to be one of those people that successively balances the line between genius and insanity.  However, off stage was a different story.  I talked to some of the facilities contractors for SolidWorks World 2008 later that night at one of the local bars.  They where the crew that helped Mr. Jansen assembly one of the creatures for an on-stage demonstration.  Those fellows couldn’t wait to tell me that they think he had crossed well into the realm of insanity, often talking about his creations as though they where actual pets; and that he wanted his creatures to survive long after he passed on.  He was definately the most provocative presenter during the Monday session.  The video about him is too long to post here, so check out this YouTube link.

At the end of the General Session, everyone filed out into convention center’s maze of hallways, filtering into the many different Breakout sessions, Hands-on sessions and the Partners Pavilion.