Middle School Students Using Autodesk Fusion 360 Software Develop Device to Aid Local Man

When a local man began to experience issues with a handheld device that helps him communicate, Virginia middle school students jumped in to design a better option with the help of Autodesk Fusion 360 software.

The students are part of an engineering class at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, VA, where they learned to use Autodesk Fusion 360, part of Autodesk’s portfolio of Digital Prototyping tools, and 3D printers to develop a more intuitive device that allows the man to communicate with a touch screen computer. For the innovative work involved in the project, the Swanson class has been recognized as the Autodesk Inventing the Future recipient for July.

Autodesk seeks Inventing the Future candidates each month from its Manufacturing customer base through a brief Q&A interview on a company or individual addressing their business, products and inventive spirit. Here is what Kris Martini, director of Career, Technical and Adult Education at Arlington Public Schools, had to say about the students’ project and their collective experiences leveraging Autodesk software:

Autodesk: What did your school develop, and why is it important to the world?

Martini: The eighth graders at Swanson Middle School developed an assistive device to help a local man communicate. The man communicates using a device attached to his hand that allows him to interact with a touch screen computer, but it was primitive and came apart easily. Our Technology Education teacher, Jim DeMarino, used this as a basis for a problem solving activity for his eighth grade engineering class. The students, in teams of two or three, designed a more substantial device that more effectively met the needs of the man. The benefit of this project for the students was to see firsthand how design can be used to solve a problem. In addition, the students learned how to use the latest design software and 3D printers to make a model of their device, test it and redesign, if needed.

Autodesk: How has adopting technology helped your project evolve?

Martini: For this project, we used Autodesk Fusion 360 and MakerBot 3D printers. The technology has allowed the students to participate in the design process from start to finish in a much shorter timeframe. Before software like Fusion 360, modeling a tool like this in the classroom would have been done by hand. If a student was not proficient using handheld tools, the model may not have worked due to poor craftsmanship. By adopting this new technology, we are allowing our students to design on the computer quickly and easily and with the peace of mind that what they design in Fusion 360 is what they will see created by the 3D printer. Our students are experiencing design at a whole new level. 

Autodesk: What Autodesk software do you use and why?

Martini: Our students used Autodesk Fusion 360 for this project. We wanted the ease of designing in 3D with minimal instruction on the software. We also liked the fact that they could collaborate with the product with members of their team during class and at home.

Autodesk: Where do you see a project like yours five years from now? In 10 years?

Martini:I see this project opening up opportunities in the physical therapy and occupational therapy field. Working with a designer, therapists could quickly design devices that would enhance an individual’s way of life. This would also provide the opportunity to modify the device for a specific individual. The prototype could then be made with appropriate materials as needed. Ten years from now, 3D printers may be able to print in various materials, and the prototype could be finalized and made out of a long-lasting material selected for the purpose of the device.

Autodesk: What does being a technologically literate citizen mean to you? [You fill in blank with your occupation.]

Martini:A technologically literate citizen is person who is able to get excited about innovative ideas that are being introduced into our society. That person needs to be able to weigh the pros and cons of the idea and make an informed decision to help it come to fruition or not.

For more on Swanson Middle School’s Fusion 360 project, check out this recent coverage from the NBC4 Washington news station.

Do you think you have what it takes to be recognized by Autodesk for Inventing the Future? If so, send in your submission to

* Autodesk provides all middle schools, high schools and higher education institutions with free access to Autodesk software via the Autodesk Academic Resource Center. Swanson Middle School is an adopter of the Autodesk Design the Future program, which provides all middle and high schools in the US with free access to software, curriculum aligned to national standards and training and certification.