Autodesk to open space in downtown Boston, acquires Terrible Labs, funds Robin

Photo via Autodesk
Photo via Autodesk

In a move that has all the makings of staking a flag in the ground, Autodesk, a maker of design software for architecture, engineering, manufacturing, and 3-D printing has shared plans that it will open a significant new workspace in downtown Boston.

It is also acquiring local mobile and Web app development shop Terrible Labs and will back Robin, a Boston-based startup working to help create a “smarter office.”

The company plans to open a new project-focused workshop in downtown Boston that will serve as a design, and manufacturing hub. Company officials describe it as an East Coast version of its Pier 9 complex, a 27,000-square-foot facility situated on the edge of San Francisco Bay that plays host to artists and 3-D printing fanatics as they demonstrate Autodesk’s new products.

Headquartered in San Rafael, Calif., Autodesk has a valuation of $13 billion and is a major force in the 3-D computer design space. It is the developer of AutoCAD, the well-known computer-aided design software used by architects and engineers in the construction, manufacturing, and hardware development industries.

“Anything that can be imagined, designed, and created, can be done with our software,” said Paul Sullivan, Autodesk’s senior communications and tech trends evangelist. “We are looking to push creativity not only in design, but in manufacturing and the building of things.”

Currently, Autodesk is focused on three areas: manufacturing, the architecture/engineering/construction industry, and media and entertainment. James Cameron used Autodesk’s tools to create his Oscar-winning special effects in the film “Avatar.”

The company is being quiet about where the facility will be located, as it has not officially signed a lease. But they’re bullish on Boston.

“We’d like to do something similar out here,” said Jim Lynch, the company’s vice president of its building products group. He says that unlike the San Francisco location, which has an artists-in-residence program, the company will create a “researchers-in-residence” program that will allow thought leaders to use the lab space and access the company’s industry experts.

“We want to create a workshop to explore all these new ideas,” he added, noting that the company hopes that the new workshop will lead to innovations in pre-fabrication, the development of imaginative new building materials, and other manufacturing technology breakthroughs.

Currently, Autodesk has offices in New York City, Manchester, N.H., and a recently built presence off Route 128 in Waltham. At its Waltham office, Autodesk has what it calls its STIR space (“Startups-in-Residence,” which Scott Kirsner wrote about in May) which houses six startups. Once it opens its Boston facility, the company plans to transition STIR into the city.

Autodesk isn’t just capturing new real estate in Boston, it is also fusing some of the city’s most innovative startups into its vision.

The company has acquired Boston mobile and web application development company Terrible Labs for an undisclosed amount. Terrible Labs, created by Jeremy Weiskotten, Joe Lind, and Cort Johnson, a venture partner at Atlas Venture, has helped consumer and enterprise-focused companies develop mobile applications, as well as its own in-house project, parking ticket payment app TicketZen.

Terrible Labs had been collaborating with Autodesk on BIM 36o, a construction collaboration software program. Through their partnership, Terrible Labs has brought the program to mobile devices, allowing site managers and contractors to communicate in real time, through their phones or tablets, around a model of a construction project.

“Terrible Labs has been part of the development team, helping us to create that product,” Lynch said. “They’ve really been an extended part of our organization, so we thought we really ought to bring them on.” While Terrible Labs will stay in its Kingston Street location for now, they are expected to play a major role once the new facility opens.

In addition to acquiring Terrible Labs, Autodesk is also investing in Robin, a startup in Downtown Crossing that is using sensors to create interactive “smart” offices. Last week, Robin announced another strategic investment from office equipment giant Konica Minolta.

Lynch said that Autodesk plans to be using the technologies developed by Robin in its new facility when it opens next year.

“This isn’t just about an office space for Autodesk,” he said, “we want to expose the community to the things we do around the built environment. We want to expand our engagement within the overall innovation ecosystem in the city.”

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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