This fall we helped Riordan High School launch its Engineering Program, a 4-year high school honors program that includes programming, computer science, robotics, and fabrication (CAD, 3D Printing, industrial design). In many ways, this is the ultimate example of what we do at TechLX, and we’re so proud of the students who are already showing extreme promise.

Last week, we took our 18 budding engineers to the high castle of the Maker Movement, the Autodesk Gallery and Makerspace in San Francisco! Autodesk makes the tools (Fusion 360, 3ds Max, AutoCAD) that makers use to create everything from cars to skyscrapers to chairs. At their offices at One Market, they showcase amazing things that makers are bringing to life with their software. And at Pier 9 Autodesk houses their very own makerspace, with a wide array of cutting-edge equipment, along with the staff of the Instructables!

Not only did the students get to see a wide array of fabrication equipment (3D printers, laser cutters, CNC mills, water jet cutters), but they also saw cutting-edge examples of what can be made with them. They were exposed to “generative design,” which was definitely the hot new term on the tour. It results in designs that look far more organic, like a drone chassis we saw that seemed made from webbing. These methodologies use machine learning to optimize for high strength and low weight.

Next, we got to tour the Gallery itself, including a race car simulator that students were able to try out. There was also a giant 3D printed model of downtown San Francisco that had been generated entirely by drones and algorithms.

Finally, we finished up with a workshop “from the horse’s mouth,” as Autodesk themselves trained our students in one of their most popular tools, Autodesk Fusion 360. This is the primary tool students use in class to craft their creations. The students deepened their skills and were introduced to Autodesk’s current design challenge that comes with basic CAD models that can be built upon to compete in the challenge.

It was a wonderfully balanced day with a wide variety of activities that showcased the Maker movement, the philosophies circling it, and also the skills that make it happen. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Bay Area maker and tech culture, which these students are rapidly becoming a part of. One of the students summarized the day best saying it was “interesting seeing what it’s like to work doing something you love to do.”