A Glimpse at Autodesk’s Robotics Lab of the Future
Andrew Wheeler posted on July 17, 2015 |

A recent piece by FastCompany details the new direction that software giant Autodesk is moving at their Applied Research Lab at Pier 9 in San Francisco. Autodesk, known primarily for its CAD, CAM and CAE software (Maya, AutoCAD, 3ds Max and Fusion 360), has had their Applied Research Lab tasked with moving beyond their comfort zone into robotics.  

 

Robotics has long been an attendant technology within manufacturing and with other leading tech firms like Google investing heavily in it, Autodesk probably realized it had a major blind spot by not having a serious robotics strategy.   

 

Inside Autodesk’s Pier 9 Robotics Lab, twins “Castor” and “Pollux” face off.
Inside Autodesk’s Pier 9 Robotics Lab, twins “Castor” and “Pollux” face off.

After discovering that much of Autodesk’s software is already being heavily used with robotics, particularly within the film industry, the Applied Research Lab determined that it was well positioned to begin changing the roles and abilities that robots have within manufacturing and other industries.  

 

As they began to explore robotics, the team at the Applied Research Lab recognized that a binary standard exists: humans are the problem solvers and robots are best-suited for strength and repetitive actions.  

 

To break this presupposition, they decided to have the robots watch people and learn their tasks, styles of work and other nuances. To have the robots learn from people meant applying computer vision, sensing technologies and realizing that this was fundamentally a software problem rather than a hardware problem.  

 

As Autodesk sees it, the future of robotics will only be made brighter by producing smarter software to make smarter robots who can learn visually from humans. 

Teaching the Universal Robotics UR10 to recognize and draw shapes by humans is just one of the many projects happening at Pier 9
Teaching the Universal Robotics UR10 to recognize and draw shapes by humans is just one of the many projects happening at Pier 9

Caption: Teaching the Universal Robotics UR10 to recognize and draw shapes by humans is just one of the many projects happening at Pier 9. 

 
To date, the Applied Research Lab team have tought their robot “Bishop” to draw rectangles from two 90-degree angles, but their plans for the future are much more ambitious.  

 

The team will be perfecting a code used to robotically 3D print a bridge from metal, working with MX3D in Amsterdam. They are also working on software that will allow Castor and Pollux, two of their robots, to work in simultaneous collaboration with high precision.  

 

While commercial adoption of these developments are not widely available yet, the lab’s integration of robotics into Autodesk’s Dynamo and Fusion 360 software are signs of what’s to come for Autodesk, and the robotics industry as a whole.

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