Monday, February 3, 2014

San Diego and SolidWorks World 2014

I had the privilege of traveling to San Diego to photograph some of the events at the SolidWorks World 2014 conference a couple of days ago.  This was my second time at SolidWorks World, the first being last year in Orlando.

SolidWorks is an amazing software tool for 3D CAD (computer aided design) along with a host of other related tasks, including photorealistic renderings of items created with the program.  That's a gross over-simplification of what this software can do and I'm sure their sales folks would be clamoring to tell more about it.  For us photographer types, SolidWorks World is to engineering types what Photoshop World is to us.  This year's event was attended by over 5700 engineers, designers, and others from all manner of the manufacturing world.  I don't know what the attendance typically is at Photoshop World, but 5700 attendees is a huge number.  Consider that number represents many of the brightest engineers in the world and the things that they are working on are truly amazing.  

One of those folks is Hugh Herr, who heads the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab.  Biomechatronics, according to Wikipedia is "an applied interdisciplinary science that aims to integrate mechanical elements, electronics and parts of biological organisms." For us simpletons, think of the Bionic Man.  Apologies to Professor Herr and his team for my simplistic description of what they do.  Their work is truly amazing.  Professor Herr is intimately familiar with what it's like to use prosthetics as he is a double amputee.  Professor Herr offered a demonstration of how SolidWorks is used  in the research, development and prototyping of their ideas.  Using SolidWorks and videos, he gave an explanation of how his robotic ankle-foot prosthesis works.  Quite an amazing piece of engineering:

Hugh Herr talks with SolidWorks' Rick Chin during Tuesday's General Session at SolidWorks World 2014 San Diego.

If you notice Professor Herr's "calves", you can see the batteries which power the prosthetics.  They are a "standard" power tool battery, similar to what you would find on a battery powered drill.  That, in itself, is a stroke of genius.  Take a look in your camera bag, how many different battery types do you have or have you owned over the years for cameras and related gear.  I know I have many.

In any event, the work of Professor Herr and his team is, as I said before, nothing short of amazing and it was fascinating nearly beyond my imagination to see what they are doing there.  This is a shot I took from a video showing one of their prosthetic inventions being tested on a treadmill:

Actually, I found every part of the conference that I was privileged to attend absolutely captivating.  How could it not be with the brilliant minds and tons of state of the art equipment there.  On Sunday evening, I had a chance to attend the unveiling of a new 3D printer produced by Stratasys, which has dual headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and Rehovot, Israel.  I'm not sure what applications 3D printing will have in the photo industry however, I can say that it is all the buzz in the engineering / design / manufacturing industry and, in my humble opinion, will accelerate the rate at which new products are brought to the market exponentially.  What is 3D printing?  It's the ability to take a computer produced (read: SolidWorks) made design of, say, a pair of sunglasses, and actually "print" them out, hinged bows, transparent tinted lenses and all.  Yup, it is amazing.  If you visit this link, you can see a brief video of what Statasys printers can do.  I brought back a pair of sunglasses that were printed on their new Objet 500 Connex 3, which is the one featured on their home page.  When I have a moment or three, I'll take some closeup shots of the glasses and also another 3D printed toy and post them here.

During the general session on day 2, retired NASCAR drive Geoff Bodine presented the United States bobsled team sled that he and race engineer Bob Cuneo collaborated on for the US time.  Coupled with support from Dassault Systemes, the pair have created what they hope will be a gold medal sled for the upcoming olympics.  Here, Solidworks CEO Bertrand Sicot, in the red parka, Bob Cuneo and Geoff share a high five over the sled, named "Night Train" on the stage in San Diego.