Product development is at the core of what many Eureka! readers do, while others are undertaking fundamental and original engineering design. Lockheed Martin’s legendary approach to the latter was its Skunk Works – locking away some of its finest brains to develop top secret military solutions.
There is a parallel here with the CAD platforms that engineers do their designs on. Autodesk’s Inventor and AutoCAD, being the relevant example, go through incremental updates, constantly improving the CAD environment by making the tools easier to use or more powerful. And, once in a while, completely new tools emerge, changing the design process, that are more revolution than evolution. Autodesk’s route to revolution is similar to Skunk Works in as much as it is spawned from a concentration of flexible and innovative minds at OCTO – the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. The fundamental difference is that it is completely open. Industry participation is not only welcome, it is an essential part of the process. Ongoing projects are there for all to see.
Azam Khan, director of Complex Systems Research at Autodesk, explained the philosophy. “We’re surprisingly open with all of our research. In some ways we’re more open than the product development teams - they are always a little secretive before release. We [OCTO] openly partner with both commercial partners and universities and students and we try to publish all of our outcomes. We’re involved with a number of different communities who are interested in the same things, including both academic and commercial partnerships. But we don’t have specific commitments to deliver specific things to the product teams, or to customers directly.”