The Autodesk Gallery

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Model of the Shanghai Tower
Model of the Shanghai Tower

Here’s a perk that comes with being a part of Youth Radio’s Innovation Lab: We get cool field trips!

Our latest was a visit across the Bay to Autodesk’s offices in downtown San Francisco. Our tour was led by the CTO of Autodesk, Jeff Kowalski. We began with a walkthrough of the amazing Autodesk Gallery, which is open to the public on Wednesdays and Fridays. The gallery featured magnificent creations designed using Autodesk’s products. The company’s tools include design and creation software applicable in a wide range of industries: from construction, to automotive, to film and animation, and beyond such as AutoCAD, 3ds Max Design, and Revit. In fact, We learned that just about every car made within the last 10 years was designed using Autodesk software. The new addition to the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge and the New York Freedom Tower were also both designed using Autodesk software.

Among the many awe-inspiring objects in the gallery was a model of the Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world. This architectural masterpiece is due for completion next year. It was designed using Autodesk software and done in such a way that no two of the 121 floors are identical. The building’s helix-inspired design is intended to reduce wind loads by 24%.

Afterwards we looked at advancements in 3D figure mapping for film and animation–specifically the system James Cameron used in his blockbuster movie, Avatar. Actors wear suits covered with nodes on key joints and body parts, and sometimes on the face. On the ceiling, there are sensors that track the movement of the nodes and render figures in the computer as skeletons for 3D models of the animator’s choice. This is the system that brought Avatar’s iconic Na’vi aliens of Pandora to life! Instead of a camera, the director used a device similar to an iPad with handles on the sides. After shooting, a movement path is sent to the computer. This way, the actors don’t need to be called back in case the director wants a different angle. He can simply record a motion path into the computer and the 3D models and objects will be shown from a different angle on film.

Kowalski really blew my mind when he told us that we could program and 3D-print custom DNA. He said scientists are also figuring out how to print small micromachines that serve simple but very important functions. For example, micromachines, which are shaped like clamshells, can be injected into a Leukemia patient’s bloodstream. The idea is, when a cell is encountered, the devices can determine whether or not the cell is cancerous, at which point a chemical triggers the “clam” to close, trapping the cancer inside. Once trapped, it can request cell death, where it basically is instructed to tell the cancer to kill itself.

The DNA printing science also opens the door to organic fabrication. Kowalski told us Mercedes Benz has designed a car that may essentially be grown from a seed, and the car would be made from bone. This car is called the Mercedes Biome.

This trip gave me a remarkably new perspective on the trajectory of technological understanding. Before the trip, I thought technology was moving away from biology and more toward mechanics and software. However, I discovered an interesting integration of the two – especially with the computer programming of DNA. Also inspiring was the power of 3D design and printing. Personally, that was the biggest takeaway. Knowing that I could go home and design something on the computer, then have it come to life just as I imagine it.

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