Robots in Architecture

Robots have long been used in manufacturing; it’s probable that your car, computer, and dozens of other possessions were at least partially built by robots.  And now you might even find a robot at the drawing board next to yours!

Well, not exactly. The robots aren’t being used to create drawings – CAD does that well enough – but they are being used to create precise structures that would be beyond the abilities of a normal human builder.

There’s even an organization that promotes the use of robots in design and construction: the Association for Robots in Architecture. The group sponsors the Rob/Arch conference, which introduces architects to the capabilities of robots.

So what do the robots do? They are being used for complex, tedious projects involving masonry, wood, foam, and other media. These projects could conceivably be done by an extremely careful human, but a robot can do them more quickly and accurately.

“The use of robots, combined with digital design tools, means a new aesthetic becomes possible, with novel shapes and patterns that would be nearly impossible to achieve without the automated machines: industrial manipulators that are extremely precise and good at repetition,” wrote Markus Waibal in blog about automation. Read the entire blog, and see some examples of these robot-made projects.

The robots being used are the common robot arms that have been refined over the past two decades or so. They are generalists – that is, they can be programmed to do an endless variety of tasks precisely and tirelessly. This makes them perfect for stacking bricks in intricate patterns, carving exact shapes into acoustical panels, or countless other construction tasks.

In addition to operating Rob/Arch, the people behind the Association for Robots in Architecture have developed a new controller plugin for Grasshopper, a visual programming tool that works inside the 3-D CAD modeler software Rhinoceros.

Grasshopper Robot

Grasshopper Robot

Swiss architects Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler are leaders in robot construction. They used a large robot to create a curving, 100-meter brick wall in an architectural exhibit in Venice. The bricks were unmortared, and a straight wall would have been dangerously unstable. The robot, on the other hand, was able to precisely place the bricks in such a fashion that the wall was completely stable.

Gramazio and Kohler do not limit their vision to brick walls – they see the potential of using robots to create skyscrapers. Read this blog to see how they planned to use a fleet of computer-controlled helicopters to create a mini-skyscraper.

Robots have countless uses in modern society, so it’s no surprise that they’ve made their way into architecture and building, too. Look for a robot at your next worksite!

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