Visit to Autodesk Instructables/123D at Pier 9 SF, CA

If you thought the SpaceShop at NASA AMES was the coolest makerspace, read on…
I had the lucky opportunity to visit the offices of Autodesk Instructables and 123D in November 2013. These are located in San Francisco on Pier 9, just down the shore from the Exploratorium. Here’s a panorama from just south of the pier. See those big black squares? Thats where the cargo doors would be – but now they are big windows. just wait. the view from inside is fantastic.

Autodesk Space 1

The Pier 9 facility serves as the office for both Instructables and 123D. If you have not been to these sites, stop now and go read up. Instructables is a great place where people post How-To instructions on a wonder full variety of projects. 123D is Autodesk’s collection of FREE 3d software and models… yes free, although there is a Premium version that gives you wider access,etc. I have to say that with these two sites Autodesk is doing a lot for the maker community – although possibly undercutting their main market, they are getting many more people involved in CAD (Computer Aided Design). This may lead some on to buying the regular Autodesk products. And if you want to take a peak at some things in the pipeline, go check out Autodesk Labs. And then go browse around their research group. Their Bio/Nano/ Programmable Matter Group is creating design tools for a whole new realm of engineering. I’m particularly interested in their modeling and simulation tools. IMHO, we MUST do a whole lot of mod/sim before committing these designs to physical reality, as the potential ‘bugs’ could be devastating on a scale beyond any previous engineering tech (i.e. entire planet).

Enough of that… on with the tour… (full photo set is available on the Maui Makers Flickr)
The pier is a shared facility with Autodesk inhabiting a fair bit of the south side. They gave me permission to photograph the lab spaces but not the offices – which might include projects in process, etc. I’ll just say those were pretty nice and interesting office spaces – even if I’m not a fan of open space offices. It was definitely an Artists space, with lots of fun stuff on and around their desks…

Autodesk Space 3

Matthew and Andy outside Autodesk Offices – I think they’ll agree this space rivals theirs at NASA Ames for coolness

First stop on the walking tour was the Kitchen. This is NOT the employee lunch room, and it is exclusively for food and related ingestables … and is a nice setup. While we were there, Amal (an instructables employee) was making toothpaste. I noted that this and most other rooms had a set of ‘trash’ cans for proper sorting of recyclables.
Autodesk Space 4 Autodesk Space 6

Next down the line was the museum/gallery, where some past projects of note are on display. Among the exhibits when we visited were a self-playing drum set and laser cut/3d printed LP records. Note that big view window. Yeah, hard to get work done here… but then again with the toys you’ll see it would be a fun place to play.
Autodesk Space 8 Autodesk Space 9

After the gallery we had to don protective eyeglasses… OSHA rules ya know. The next room did have machines that definitely required these… Like this big beautiful water jet cutter and couple of large CNC machines .. (ladies are our hosts- Karen Howard and Carley Jacobson)
Autodesk Space 11 Autodesk Space 15 Autodesk Space 13 Autodesk Space 14

Continuing north, the next room was the wood shop, with some big wood shapers… and that view distracting Matthew, et al. They also have a rather large paint booth, big enough for a decent sized go-kart or motorcycle. I envy that and the clamp collection…
Autodesk Space 20 Autodesk Space 18 Autodesk Space 19

Last shop on the first floor was the metal shop. Not sure why this was not located next to the CNC room, but it was pretty awesome. I do admit NASA Ames does have a bigger metalworking space.
Autodesk Space 21 Autodesk Space 23

After the metal shop, we went upstairs and started walking back… slowly. The first room was filled with 3D Printers and Laser cutters… big ones.
Autodesk Space 26 Autodesk Space 24 Autodesk Space 25 Autodesk Space 27

Past this room, we crossed a catwalk over the CNC room. This is a view of these machines you rarely get to see…
Autodesk Space 28 Autodesk Space 29 Autodesk Space 30 Autodesk Space 31

Last up was the e-textiles and electronics lab, along with a couple stations setup for product photography. Note the RFID entry panel on the electronics lab. Access to each machine/area is restricted to employees that have gone through a class on how to use the equipment – safely.

Autodesk Space 32 Autodesk Space 33 Autodesk Space 34
Autodesk Space 35 Autodesk Space 36

That brought us back to the offices and conference room. I didn’t get any pictures of this, but they did have an interesting swinging conference table. It was a big slab of wood with hefty swing supports and built in seats. I’m not sure how effective it is. It was kinda distracting and perhaps a bit hard on personal balance.

It was quite an impressive visit. I am envious of the 123D/Instructables employees having this sort of place to play – err work. Then again, I’m sitting in a small shop on Maui with my own laser cutter, 3d printer, and electronics bench within a couple steps. One feature of my space (in planning) that was surprisingly missing from the Autodesk space were cameras. Documenting a project is one of the most onerous tasks, especially getting pictures while in process. Having a time lapse camera overhead (or positionable for closer shots) can be a big help. Otherwise you have to go back and do the project a second (3rd?) time, getting pictures of each step. I dont have mine setup yet, but I expected would have had something in place to make it easier. Maybe it just wasn’t visible or they perhaps they have photographers on staff to get those done right.

SpaceShop – a makerspace at NASA AMES Research Center

Mid-November 2013 I visited SpaceShop at NASA Ames Research Center – a makerspace built for NASA Engineers. Matthew Reyes is the man responsible for setting up the space and being my host for the afternoon. He is also an advisor to SpaceGAMBIT (our DARPA funded Hackerspace Space Program grant)


The SpaceShop shares a building with the Ames copy center and what is (to date) the most impressive machine shop I have ever been in. Lets start with the upstairs, where you find the SpaceShop itself.


Matthew outfitted the space with most of the equipment required for a FabLab. He found a whole lotta desks and other equipment on the NASA Ames site, much of it slated for disposal. I am seriously jealous of his dumpster diving location. (not all was actually going in landfill/dumpster. Some would be sold – usually at scrap prices.)

The first room through those doors holds the laser cutter and 3D printers – he as at least 3 printers so far, with the UP being his current favorite (that is NOT an endorsement by Matthew or NASA – merely what I gathered from casual conversation.) Matthew and his NASA crew (namely the talented Andrew Filo) have created 3D Models of a number of spacecraft AND the asteroids they have studied. These models are available on Thingiverse (note many of these were NOT created by SpaceShop).


The next room holds the full size shopbot, and some other shop tools.
One of the projects Matthew and the Ames Makers have been working on are carved foam terrain maps of Mars. See that pink sheet on the shopbot? That’s a bit of the Mars surface. In the flickr set (see below) there is a shot of more of em standing in Matthew’s office. Note also that gray drill press. Thats a mid-20th century beast that Matthew rescued from the dumpster.


The next room holds a nice big optical bench (yep, another item slated for disposal). That model on the bench is a 3D print of the Sofia Telescope (Stratospheric Observatory for Infared Astronomy). The model is about 10 years old and predates the Makerbot era of inexpensive printing. Even today that large a print would be quite an undertaking. Beyond that room is the electronics and vinyl cutter room. More surplus benches gathered from around the Ames campus.


Matthew has found a fair bit of great maker stuff there at Ames. Check out this gear drawer!

Draw of random gears at NASA Ames

We will ignore the copy/printing center that is also upstairs. It looks sorta like a FedEx Office. Nothing really awe inspiring there. (no offense to the hardworking people there.)

Downstairs… OMG. this is where amazing stuff has been built in decades past. Scroll back up and take a look at that panoramic shot at the top. (or check out the full size image by clicking HERE) This has to be the biggest collection of high end CNC machines, lathes, milling machines, grinders etc I have ever seen. Many of them are solid cast iron beasts that are probably as old as I am (or older). That big blue Cincinnati on the right (and below) was the first 3 axis CNC mill on the west coast (of mainland usa). It is BIG. Zoom in on the panoram and look down the aisle of CNC machines on the left. There is a machinist sitting in from to the last one – that gives you some sense of scale of these machines.


That panoram was of one side of the downstairs shop. I could not get a good panoram of the other side so here are some separate pics. It appears to be mostly manual machines with DRO (digital read outs). Note that some of those lathes are outfitted with microscopes. Microscopes on a lathe!!!


There are a few more pictures in the Flickr Set.

It is very impressive to me that NASA has built a makerspace on one of its campus. There is perhaps a bit of a disconnect perhaps between the Maker DIY culture and the machine shop on premises of the past. The old style was that you gave the basic design to a highly skilled machinist who fabricated the part for you. A makerspace, on the otherhand, expects you to make the parts yourself. It remains to be seen whether this will work for NASA. There are unfortunately not that many people left that are skilled in running the downstairs machines … and also a bit sad that there was so little activity there.

Laser Etched Deerskin Moccasin

People ask me what I make – and that can be tough to give a simple answer. This past summer (2013) I worked on a whole lot of different projects… the usual arduino/electronics, satellites, farming, and this one – a pair of moccasins. This project had a long gestation. I initially discovered Teri Edmonds store “If The Shoe Fits” several years ago, and noted that she also offers classes under the “Maui Shoe Academy” name.


Teri’s store is both a retail and repair center, selling and fixing both men and women’s shoes. Her specialty is out-of-norm sizes, with nice slippahs (aka flip flops for mainlanders) in sizes to fit a badly underserved local community (size 13+). She has her own shoe design too – the Hot Bisket.

Teri teaches four basic classes three times a year… Accessories, Sandal-in-a-Day, Handbag and Moccasin. I wear LLBean Camp Moc almost exclusively, so the moccasin class caught my eye. The moccasins Teri has in her shop (and teaches) are calf high boots rather than quick slip-ons, however they look cool and I am always looking to learn new skills, so I decided to take the class.

Teri and I talked a number of times about Makers, shoe making, etc. but it took a few times to get me into her schedule for moccasin class. And then I had to leave town the 2nd weekend of the class (for a workshop on making satellites.) Fortunately Teri was very understanding and helpful, allowing me to come back a couple times to work in her store to finish the boots.

Usually the class makes moccasins from cow hide, however, I got very lucky and hooked up with a local Maui provider of brain-tanned deer skin. We have a LOT of deer here on Maui (and other islands). These Axis Deer (aka Chital) were introduced on Moloka’i in 1867, Lana’i in 1904 and Maui in 1959. They have no natural predators and have been very damaging to the native forests (along with other feral ungulates like wild pigs and goats)… so much so that parts of these islands have been defoliated. There are ongoing efforts to control the populations. The worst of these used aircraft carrying hunters to shoot them from the sky, leaving the carcasses to rot on the ground. The most common are the local and tourist deer hunters, which usually get turned into delicious venison for locals. The idea of normal family folks, gearing their kids up with gadgets like the best rated rangefinder and a camouflaged vest is a healthy, normal way to live with the situation. On top of it being natural and traditional, it teaches the young ones and the parent many lessons that otherwise, would be missed. The best I’ve seen so far is a new program on Moloka’i with a USDA approved/monitored venison production facility. Unfortunately, most of the hides from all of these sources go unused (often simply buried). It takes a fair bit of time/effort to make buckskin, but the results are quite nice. I’ve been in discussion with my provider to see if we can get some classes in brain tanning here – so we can develop this great local resource. (go read up on the Feral Ungulate issues at Maui Deer Culling).

Since the deer are rather small, I needed two hides to make my moccasins. One was natural colored, the other the rich brown that comes from smoking the hides. Teri suggested we use one hide for the back and the other for the front sides. This worked out quite well. The first day of the class we cut out the pieces from the hides and punched holes where they would be sewn. This took a LOT of time… more than the full day of work even. I had to borrow a hole punch and work on mine while on the road the following week.

Moc Class Day 1 a

When I got back to Maui, I upped the design ante on my moc’s by laser engraving designs into them. I used several designs from previous projects. The toes got a tribal face originally created with Rachel Deboer for body painting. The front got a gecko stencil created by David Fields and used for the SourceMaui CORE effigy at Burning Man 2013. On the back side I put the islands of Maui, with the Maui Makers logo on the heel.

Leather Etched

Once I got the parts prepared, the sewing started. Lots of sewing. Very glad we pre-punched the holes, as it would have been very tiring to push that needle through two layers for that many holes. First the front, back and tongue were sewn together, which gave us a good idea of how awesome these would look…

Teri glued the insoles to the soles with her special paste…

I sat out in the back yard and sewed for a good long while. The results, while still not finished were good enough to be worn out for a few events…

The last step was adding the real sole. Teri, being a cobbler, had a good selection and chose some nice Vibram material.


We cut the basic shape, glued it and then Teri used her talents and cool tools to finish the sole. Gotta love and respect a woman who owns and knows how to use tools like these!


The final result was quite spectacular…