Physical and biological design are about to get much more digital, says Autodesk’s CTO.
One of the core ideas behind our Solid Conference is that software can replace physical complexity, and that it’s getting easier for it to do so because the relationship between the physical and virtual worlds is becoming more fluid. Input tools like 3D scanners and computer vision software, and output tools like CNC machines and 3D printers are essentially translators between digital and physical. They make it possible to extract information from physical objects, compute on it, transform it, combine it with other data, and then “rematerialize” it.
I recently spoke with Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski about this convergence between physical and digital, and its impact on design. In his view, computers are about to go from mere drafting tables to full partners in the design process. They’ll automate the tedious cycle of trial and error, and leave designers to guide aesthetics and experience. “Decades ago, someone came up with the term ‘computer-aided design,’ but what we’ve had up to now is really computer-aided documentation,” he says. “Design has been accomplished solely in the head of the designer, and then the computer is used to document the outcome.” Read more…
Design in the hardware era, how big companies and small companies should interact, and the importance of data privacy
On stage, along with myself, are three Solid people: Rachel Kalmar, data scientist at Misfit Wearables and member of our program committee; Mike Kuniavsky, principal scientist at PARC and speaker on Functional Forms at Solid; and Dan Saffer, creative director at Smart Design, who will speak about microinteractions (and has written an O’Reilly book about microinteractions as well). Read more…
Talk of the "tech sector" is out of date. Every company is a tech company.
Uber has encountered a series of challenges that are notionally unfamiliar to the current generation of tech companies: wrongful-death lawsuits, rent-seeking by an entrenched industry, regulatory scrutiny from local bureaucrats, worker protests. The company admitted to having disrupted a competitor’s operations by calling its cars, then canceling. No matter how explicitly it warns about surge pricing, riders accustomed to a certain way of booking a car ride object.
There’s an established industry that charges people for rides in cars, and it’s been reduced to a set of straightforward points of competition: price, car quality, ease of booking, and — treacherously for Uber and uncharacteristically for “tech companies” in general — the burly and distasteful accumulation of political clout before municipal taxi commissions. Read more…
Solid's long view includes biology as part of the creator's toolkit.
Tim O’Reilly subjected himself to an engaging Ask Me Anything session on Reddit earlier this week. The focus of the exchange was the Internet of Things, in anticipation of our Solid conference taking place next month.
We’re always listening for faint signals from our community about what they’re getting interested in, and one area that’s stood out to us is biology, which is becoming easier to experiment with at home, as a hobbyist, and through hackerspaces like Biocurious and Genspace. You’ll find a few threads on biology at Solid this year, but we’ve tagged it to be a little more central at Solid 2015. Beyond the hobbyist and health-related applications, we see synthetic biology as another way to translate between virtual and physical, like 3D printers and stereoscopic cameras.
Here’s an exchange from Tuesday’s Reddit thread that sums it up nicely.
What prompted the start of BioCoder? Are people really doing biotech in their garages in the same way that many computer hardware and software innovations happened?
Join Tuesday's "ask me anything" session covering hardware, manufacturing, design, and intelligent devices.
Our new Solid conference covers a lot of ground: hardware, design, manufacturing, and, of course, software. At 10 a.m. Pacific Time / 1 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow (Tuesday, April 22), Tim O’Reilly will take questions on these areas and how he sees them fitting together through a Reddit question-and-answer session on the IAmA board.
The best way to get to the exchange is through this page, which will post the link once it’s available, about an hour before Tim starts taking questions. Tim will be available to answer your questions about the Internet of Things, etc., for about an hour — we look forward to seeing you!
If enough of you join, we might even get a watercolor out of it.
Why everyone must understand manufacturing, and why the most creative companies design hardware and software together.
It was a pleasure, as always, to talk with Joi Ito a couple of weeks ago. He and I are co-chairing Solid, our new conference about the intersection of software and the physical world, and we recorded part of our conversation in the video below to frame the program we’ve assembled.
Joi is, of course, the director of the MIT Media Lab, where the emphasis is on working across disciplines: engineers take on art and designers hit the oscilloscopes. The kind of development process standard in the new generation of hardware startups — small groups of people hacking away at electronics and software to come up with products that combine both — has been familiar at the Media Lab for decades.
Now the Media Lab’s emphasis is on projects that go all the way to manufacturing and distributing: moving from “demo or die” to “deploy or die,” as Joi puts it. Projects that deploy can be vastly more impactful than those that just demo — putting thousands of devices into the hands of users rather than just a couple. Plus, the manufacturing process is a crucial source of both constraints and creative possibility. Joi says, “Understanding manufacturing is going to be key to design, just like understanding the Internet has become key to running a company.”
Other topics that arose in our conversation — and that are also central to Solid: the merging disciplines of hardware and software, the role of expertise in creating manufactured products, agile hardware development, the importance of having software design and hardware design in the same place, and the need for a new ethics as manufacturing becomes democratized.
Data tools are less important than the way you frame your questions.
Max Shron and Jake Porway spoke with me at Strata a few weeks ago about frameworks for making reasoned arguments with data. Max’s recent O’Reilly book, Thinking with Data, outlines the crucial process of developing good questions and creating a plan to answer them. Jake’s nonprofit, DataKind, connects data scientists with worthy causes where they can apply their skills.
A few of the things we talked about:
- The importance of publishing negative scientific results
- Give Directly, an organization that facilitates donations directly to households in Kenya and Uganda. Give Directly was able to model income using satellite data to distinguish thatched roofs from metal roofs.
- Moritz Stefaner calling for a “macroscope”
- Project Cybersyn, Salvador Allende’s plan for encompassing the entire Chilean economy in a single real-time computer system
- Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott
After we recorded this podcast episode at Strata Santa Clara, Max presided over a webcast on his book that’s archived here.
A multitude of signals points to the convergence of software and the physical world.
Our new Solid conference is about the “intersection of software and hardware.” But what does the intersection of software and hardware mean? We’re putting on a conference because we see something distinctly new happening.
Roughly a year ago, we sat around a table in Sebastopol to survey some interesting trends in technology. There were many: robotics, sensor networks, the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet, the professionalization of the Maker movement, hardware-oriented startups. It was a confusing picture, until we realized that these weren’t separate trends. They’re all more alike than different—they are all the visible result of the same underlying forces. Startups like FitBit and Withings were taking familiar old devices, like pedometers and bathroom scales, and making them intelligent by adding computer power and network connections. At the other end of the industrial scale, GE was doing the same thing to jet engines and locomotives. Our homes are increasingly the domain of smart robots, including Roombas and 3D printers, and we’ve started looking forward to self-driving cars and personal autonomous drones. Every interesting new product has a network connection—be it WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, or even a basic form of piggybacking through a USB connection to a PC. Everything has a sensor, and devices as dissimilar as an iPhone and a Kinect are stuffed with them. We spent 30 or more years moving from atoms to bits; now it feels like we’re pushing the bits back into the atoms. And we realized that the intersection of these trends—the conjunction of hardware, software, networking, data, and intelligence—was the real “news,” far more important than any individual trend. Read more…