For decades, robots have been used on assembly lines to do things like make cars and package food. Over a long period of refinement, the iconic robot arm has become a nearly commoditized piece of hardware. You can buy them, and essentially plug then play. Their generalized capabilities make them very flexible in terms of application.
Brell-Cokcan and Braumann are co-founders of the Association for Robots in Architecture and organizers of the Rob|Arch 2012 conference, being held in Vienna on Dec. 17 and 18. Over this past weekend they ran a series of workshops in Vienna, Graz, Zürich, Rotterdam, and Stuttgart to expose architects and designers to the possibilities of utilizing this technology. “We try create a platform that shows the innovative uses of robotic fabrication in the creative industry, and brings together members of industry and academia, as well as architects, artists, and designers,” says Braumann.
Unlike a lot of the machines involved in industrial production, robot arms are generalists. They can be easily reconfigured to do different tasks via software and changing the attachments on the end of the arm. This is why they are ideal for assembly-line work where the shape of the product changes frequently (as with annually changing car models) and, Brell-Cokcan and Braumann say, why they are ideal for architecture. In fact, because architecture generally involves tolerances measured in millimeters or even centimeters — units robotic arms work in — the hyper-precision of tools like 5-axis CNC machines are generally wasted when used for building purposes.
In the lead up to Rob|Arch2012, the team has been collecting example of robots arms being used to build structures. A variety of the submitted photos and videos are shown in the gallery above, ranging from formed concrete blocks to massive structures made from individually glued plastic spheres; more can be found on their Vimeo page.
Beyond the conference and workshops, the Association for Robots in Architecture has been working to make robots more accessible by creating tools to help architects get started. They recently released KUKA|prc in order to encourage the use of robots in architecture. KUKA|prc is a parametric robot controller plugin for Grasshopper, a visual programming tool that works inside the architectural-standard 3-D CAD modeler software Rhinoceros.
Braumann says the use of robotics in architecture has made huge strides since the mid-2000s. On the one hand, he sees a growing number of faculties and firms that are making use of these tools. On the other, he sees a production industry that is moving toward increasingly creative and custom applications.
“Not too long ago, the creative industry looked up toward the large industry players and attempted to duplicate their automated processes,” he says, “We are now at a stage, where individualized and customized products are increasingly important and the sides are switching — as architects and designers often work with such small series of objects, industry is now looking at ways to adapt strategies developed by creative minds.”