Computer aided design specialist Autodesk have reiterated a cry for schools and universities across Africa to train the next generation of designers, architects and makers by adopting its software, free of charge, in their institutions.

Autodesk made its software free for students, teachers and startups with a turnover of less than $100 000 last year, a point which the firm’s director of strategic initiatives, Jonathan Knowles, hammered home during the keynote presentation at the Autodesk University Extension conference in Bryanston this morning.

Around 450 delegates are attending the conference today, which is themed around the future of how things will be made.

Knowles said that Autodesk has made huge strides in “Generative Design” over recent years, using cloud computing to iterate human designs through machine learning. The example he used was a motorcycle swing arm created for a landspeeed record attempt. The final design selected by the software “Looks organic,” he said, “Like a cat or dog pelvis.”

Knowles says that generative design will be introduced to its Fusion 360 line of products soon – making it available to anyone using free versions of the software too.

“Makers, students, hobbyists, startups,” he told the audience, ” You have the same tools as the big guys”

While critics may point out that getting students to adopt Autodesk tools is a good way of ensuring future sales, Knowles claims that the company’s aim is to accelerate the growth of digital fabrication techniques.

“We know it will help to advance engineering and design everywhere,” he says, “And importantly it means a better trained workforce.”

Knowles leant heavily on the example of the Panama Shipping Canal, one of the world’s largest engineering projects which began in 2008, to demonstrate how far desktop design products have come and the ability to pre-fabricate giant construction elements co effectively, but also talked about Butaro Hospital in rural Rwanda, where architects from MASS Design worked with local builders to combine CAD and traditional building techniques to help a community build its own modern medical centre.

We’ll be updating with more from the Autodesk University Extension later today.

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.