Autodesk looks to future with investments in 3D robotic drones and IoT as a service

When you think of Autodesk, you probably think of desktop software and traditional manufacturing, but the company is trying hard to change that perception, and today it announced the first three investments from its $100 million Forge Fund, which includes a 3D robotics drone company, an on-demand machine shop service and a platform for building smart connected Internet of Things devices —  sexy enough for you?

Autodesk, which was founded in 1982, has been looking for ways to shake things up and one way was launching the cloud-based Forge development platform at the end of last year, along with the $100 million fund to encourage companies to start building interesting applications on top of it.

This week, the company is holding its first developer conference, Forge DevCon, and these three companies certainly represent a sharp departure from your run-of-the-mill 1980s CAD software.

Each company — 3D Robotics, MakeTime and Seebo — have existed for some time. In fact, 3DR has been around since 2009 and has collected more than $126 million in funding. While AutoDesk wouldn’t say how much they were investing in these companies (and believe me I asked), these companies had one thing in common, they built new functionality on top of the Forge platform.

The platform is an evolving series of APIs, giving developers like these three companies access to a set of Autodesk services. For 3D Robotics, it’s the ability to take pictures with a drone and convert those pictures to a 3D mesh using the Autodesk 3D Mesh API.

MakeTime runs a service that matches projects to machine shops with down time. This requires transferring plans in a variety of formats and they use a variety of the Autodesk API toolset to make that happen .

Finally Seebo is a Software as a Service that provides a way for designers to easily add components like sensors, GPS or an accelerometer to a design to make any product a connected device. Seebo is taking advantage of the Fusion IoT APIs built into the platform.

If these companies (and others) aren’t enough to lure more developers to the platform, Autodesk is also offering free access to the platform APIs and unlimited consumption for 90 days following the conference, a pretty generous offer. After that pricing starts at $400 per month with various tiers based on consumption.

While all of this certainly has a “wow” factor, the underlying motivation is really about encouraging companies to use the platform, and ultimately help propel Autodesk into the future of making things, as Scott Reese, VP of cloud platforms at Autodesk put it.

The company certainly understands it can’t live in the 20th century world forever and programs like this and Project Escher, a creative approach for improving 3D manufacturing, are designed to help the company remain relevant in a changing world.