Posts tagged with "robots":

Mónica Ponce de León and Oyler Wu Collaborative are among 2018 ACADIA Award winners

ACADIA, or the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, established the ACADIA Awards of Excellence to recognize outstanding individuals and practices that think critically about the impact and possibilities of computer-aided design. This year, the ACADIA Awards recipients, including Mónica Ponce de León and Oyler Wu Collaborative, will present their work at the conference titled Recalibration: On Imprecision and Infidelity at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City from October 18–20. Dean of Princeton University School of Architecture Mónica Ponce de León won the Teaching Award of Excellence. Ponce de León is a Venezuelan-American architect who is also a renowned educator. She is the founding principal of MPdL Studio, which has officesin New York, Boston, and Ann Arbor. Prior to her deanship at Princeton, she was dean of University of Michigan’s Taubman College and a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD). The awards committee commended her for the “integration of digital technologies into architectural education.” Jenny Wu and Dwayne Oyler, partners at Oyler Wu Collaborative, were awarded with the Digital Practice Award of Excellence. The L.A.-based, award-winning firm is widely recognized for its expertise in material research and digital fabrication. The firm is known for projects such as The Exchange in Columbus, IN, the 2013 Beijing Biennale installation named The Cube, and their installations and pavilions with SCI-Arc. The partners are both currently teaching at SCI-Arc and Harvard GSD. Other awards included the Innovative Academic Program Award of Excellence, given to the Institute of Advanced Architecture Catalonia; the Innovative Research Award of Excellence bestowed upon NVIDIA robotics researcher Dr. Madeline Gannon; and the Society Award of Excellence won by Association for Robots in Architecture co-founders Sigrid Brell-Cokcan and Johannes Braumann. Check out the complete list of winners here.

Autodesk puts R&D first with its BUILD Space in Boston

Meet the incubators and accelerators producing the new guard of design and architecture start-ups. This is part of a series profiling incubators and accelerators from our April 2018 Technology issue.  Located on the first two floors of a concrete-framed former army base in South Boston, Autodesk’s BUILD Space (BUILD stands for building, innovation, learning, and design), which opened in 2016, has become one of the software company’s best tools for keeping up with architecture’s hyper-speed technology changes. The cavernous 34,000-square-foot facility, whose adaptive reuse was carried out by Boston and New York-based SGA, contains two chief components: First, it houses every piece of digital manufacturing equipment under the sun, from CNC routers and multi-axis robots to microelectronics, metal fabrication tools, and a giant crane; second, it hosts over 70 organizations and 500 people, including architecture and design firms, start-ups, and universities, who use the facilities, supported by Autodesk’s software engineers. In return, Autodesk gets to make important new contacts and learn how to position its software for the coming years. “By investigating these technologies with these teams, it gives us a view of what may be coming, and what we need to start thinking about,” said Rick Rundell, Autodesk’s senior director, who has carefully curated the community with his colleagues. “I could hire a team of 30 researchers to use this equipment,” said Rundell. “Instead, I have 500 researchers that I’ve been able to curate. They’re doing their own work, but it keeps us in touch in a way that would be much harder otherwise.” The word has gotten out, encouraging the company, with SGA, to grow the space by another floor. “We get five or six calls a week,” noted Rundell, who has hosted researchers from the Middle East, all over Europe, and the far corners of the U.S. “We only review the most promising.” To prepare the space for all this activity, SGA implemented some R&D of its own, employing carbon fiber supports to help brace the building after it made large cuts through the thick concrete floors, and using the facility’s crane to haul in extra-large items. The firm needed to install new electrical and HVAC on top of what the building already had in order to support the teams’ extraordinary infrastructure needs. Autodesk, whose Boston software team works on the building’s sixth floor (also designed by SGA), has opened a handful of similar innovation facilities, each catered to a different aspect of digital design and manufacturing. The San Francisco office, which hosts Autodesk researchers as well as independent ones, focuses on micro-factory models, the Toronto office looks at artificial intelligence and generative design, and the Birmingham, England, office centers on advanced manufacturing. “We know this is happening, but we’re seeking to learn more,” said Rundell.

Some of the residents include


The architecture firm investigated new framing systems for mass timber.

Bechtel Corporation

The engineering company explored inflatable shading devices.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT students have created self-deploying fabric canopies that can be dropped via aircraft.

Construction Robotics

This construction manufacturer is developing a system for robotically constructing masonry walls.

Robots prevail in our society, but what roles can they really play?

Amelie Klein is a curator at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, and she organized the show Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine, a centerpiece of the Vienna Biennale. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) sat down with Klein to discuss robots and the speculation that comes along with them. The Architect’s Newspaper: What role does speculation play in your new exhibition Hello, Robot., which is on view now as part of the Vienna Biennale? Amelie Klein: Well, it is funny because dealing with robots is inherently dealing with a lot of speculation. But our definition of “robot” is very broad, so it is not always so clear. What is a robot? Architect Carlo Ratti says there are three criteria: A robot must have sensors that gather; intelligence that interprets; and actuators, or tools, that produce a reaction. This is slightly different than what we usually consider to be a robot, which is more about doing something physical or having artificial intelligence. But if we look at the smartphone as a robot, we are not in the speculative; we are talking about the real. However, at the same time, the stuff we see that resembles science fiction robots is built to work for like five days, usually at a fair next to a highly sophisticated technician who will help make it run. So in that regard, it is not really as advanced as we might think. If you look at what is around, it is mostly all super fragile and doesn’t work at all. So robotics today is inherently speculative. But what about design? What role does design play in realizing new futures? Bruce Sterling always says, “Science fiction is never about the future, it is always about the present.” Speculation is looking at the present and taking it one step further. Paola Antonelli once gave a presentation in the mid-’90s about the future of work. She had commissioned a piece to Hella Jongerius, who came up with a bed with a screen built into the piece of furniture. Today, that is ridiculous to think of having [a bed with] a built-in screen, but at the same time we all work in bed. So people are articulating these ideas in a way that corresponds to our own reality today. Since the modernism movement, we have had this fetish of function—as if functionality is what makes design. I don’t think this is a very useful concept for what design can offer. Design practices like Dunne + Raby and Superflux use speculative design to talk about how we deal with our physical environment now. They are asking some very important questions, which has liberated design from this fetish of functionality. Do you see the same level of speculative thinking in architecture? There is certainly speculative thinking, such as Greg Lynn’s work or the Vertical Village. Archigram and Ant Farm were also highly speculative. In general, in the 1970s there were radical architects, but maybe this is not so prevalent anymore. What we have found in our research for this show is really well-researched architecture that isn’t necessarily speculative, it‘s just real—such as parametricism. We had this moment when all these architects came up with a new aesthetic that was born from the digital. But now people are really bored with that and they are looking at what else we can do with that technology. If you look at what Ratti is doing, he says that the medieval city will always look like the medieval city, but we will just use it differently. What is really new is actually invisible. The same is true for design. We might have new gadgets, but it might be more about how we interact with these objects, not how things look. It is interesting. It is almost impossible to build architecture that relates to technology, because it ends up obsolete with a few years and must be retrofit. Achim Menges is dealing with some of these issues at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction. He is asking, “What does it mean to have larger cities, and how will we deal with having to construct more buildings?” It is less about speculation; it is very much about nuts and bolts in a very architectural way. He is thinking about how we can use architecture like nature uses material. For example, every building is built to carry maximum weight, which is a waste of material. He looks at how we can save material. How much room for innovation is there? So we can speculate about new ways of making? I rarely get excited about a chair, unless it totally rethinks how to make a chair, such as the CurVoxels 3-D Printed Cantilever Chair, which is based on an algorithm that feeds into a robot that prints it in the air. It does for furniture design what Menges is doing for architecture. CurVoxels Design Research Group took the Panton Chair by Vernor Panton and tested a new method [of fabrication] with a very traditional chair. It is like the old analogy of the iron bridge, where it looks like a wooden bridge, even though it’s made of this new material. We are figuring out still what the possibility of these materials is and what that might mean for making and what that might mean for aesthetics. So how can design speculate about the city? One thing that is very fresh and prescient is a project by Dunne & Raby called United Micro Kingdoms, where they reimagined how four communities would live. For example, the digitarians would have a society that was quite authoritarian. It is also kind of neoliberal, as they are obsessed with cost efficiency, etc. It raises issues that we might not be thinking about, like how do we pay for autonomous vehicles? We may not own these self-driving cars—we might have to share and rent them. We have these great visions of the city without congestion and everything is running smoothly, but it likely won’t happen that way. We will probably see something more like what Dunne & Raby came up with, which is very easyJet-like, with bare-bones amenities. If you pay more, it might be luxurious with more privacy and speed. This is how we live today, so why would it change? There is hope. Superflux was invited by one of the Arab Emirates to give a presentation about potential cities of the future. They suggested that cars must be given up, and these oil sheiks, who are filthy rich, said, “Forget it! I am not going to do that, my son is not going to do that!” Superflux anticipated this and, working with scientists and physicists, created a series of air samples that illustrated what the air would smell like if we don’t change our present habits. It worked to convince them. The sheiks didn’t want their sons [sic] to live in air like that. This can be very powerful, if designers look to social progress rather than simply working within the neoliberal or market frameworks. All this technology is being sold as changing the world, but how are Airbnb or Uber changing the world? They are undermining conventions in society that we have worked for centuries to install. They are not saving the world, they are taking us steps backwards, and it is causing disenchantment and disappointment. Critical thinking is all we have to avoid these hyper-efficient futures. The experiments might be inefficient, but we need that and we need speculation to move forward.

San Francisco animal shelter deploys robot to keep away the homeless

The recent deployment of a mobile security robot to the sidewalk outside of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (SPCA) San Francisco chapter has raised questions over what role robots will play in the urban fabric in coming years. The SPCA’s K5 Knightscope security robot, a 5-foot tall, 400-pound ovoid on wheels that can go up to 3 miles per hour, was rented to dissuade local homeless residents from setting up encampments in front of the shelter’s building. Renting the robot only cost $7 an hour, compared to the $14 dollar minimum wage in San Francisco. The Mission District shelter first unveiled the autonomous rolling guard in early November, using it to patrol their parking lots and public sidewalks. Jennifer Scarlett, the S.F. SPCA’s president, told the San Francisco Business Times that the robot’s job was to prevent the homeless from congregating in the area. “We weren’t able to use the sidewalks at all when there’s needles and tents and bikes, so from a walking standpoint I find the robot much easier to navigate than an encampment,” said Scarlett. Renting an autonomously patrolling robot, especially one that takes up three feet of space on the sidewalk and is designed to shoo people away, has riled up public space advocates and drawn charges that the SPCA is engaging in hostile design. The issue of robots clogging public right-of-ways had grown so contentious in San Francisco that lawmakers recently passed an ordinance limiting the number of robots allowed to roll around the city’s public areas. The clash between autonomous robots and the urban environment reached a fevered pitch in 2017. The same K5-model of security robot caught criticism for plowing over a toddler in Palo Alto, drowning itself in a Washington D.C. fountain, and getting beat up by a drunk man in Mountain View. Even the SPCA’s robot was reportedly pushed over by angry homeless encampment residents at least once. After being warned on December 1st by the city’s Department of Public Works that the SPCA would be fined $1,000 for every day that the K5 operated on a public sidewalk, the shelter has agreed to pull the guard and pass negotiations with the city up to the robot’s manufacturer, Knightscope. While the SPCA had plastered their robot with pictures of dogs in attempt to soften the image of a machine designed to scare people away, the K5 reportedly also “terrified” dogs coming in and out of the shelter.

Gramazio Kohler Research wants to build the future using robots

The buildings of the future—if the team at Gramazio Kohler Research (GKR) has its way—will be built by robots. Not just one type of robot but many different kinds, each programmed to perform a different type of work, with a different type of material, and as a result, generate a different type of structure. The researchers—led by professors Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler of ETH Zurich—are moved, according to the lab’s mission statement, to “examine the changes in architectural production requirements that result from introducing digital manufacturing techniques.” This research-and-development effort focuses on anticipating and ultimately generating the construction processes of our robot-filled future through interdisciplinary collaboration. GKR’s experiments are part of an effort by the so-called ETH Domain—a research network of universities including ETH Zurich and other independent research institutions based in Switzerland—to prototype and develop new technologies using a research-centered approach. The research lab’s recent efforts have been put toward developing the so-called DFAB house, a project undertaken by eight ETH Zurich research professors that aims to construct the first-ever digitally planned, designed, and constructed structure. The project will test several of GKR’s research endeavors at full scale, in concert with the other teams’ research, and is expected to be completed in 2018. Jammed Architectural Structures Rock Print is a robotically constructed architectural installation built from “low-grade granular material,” a focus of the lab’s research into jammed architectural structures erected in nonstandard shapes. The initiative focuses on the robotic aggregation of small rocks that are “quite literally crammed together in such a way that the mass holds its form and shape like a solid,” according to the project website. To produce the installation, a robotic arm drizzles an adhesive polymer thread over alternating layers of rocks that ultimately become structurally sound. The bulbous column that results can be deconstructed by pulling the thread away so that its constituent components can be reused. The technique was shown off at the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial as a dynamic architectural installation in partnership with the Self-Assembly Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Complex Timber Structures The team has also worked with wood construction techniques in an effort to not only cut down on wood waste but also find useful applications for Switzerland’s abundant softwood resources. The Complex Timber Structures experiment grafts together precisely cut lengths of wood using a variety of joinery techniques—including glue-impregnation—to create tessellated, geometric forms. The three-dimensional truss structures link together to create comparatively strong arrangements that are also lightweight in nature. The project was developed as part of the SNSF National Research Programme in collaboration with the Bern University of Applied Sciences Architecture, Wood and Civil Engineering. Mesh Mold Metal In conjunction with the Agile & Dexterous Robotics Lab of Professor Jonas Buchlihas, the research team has also tackled automated construction of doubly curved reinforced concrete walls with its Mesh Mold Metal project. The technique utilizes a robotic arm to splice and spot-weld quarter-inch-thick gridded rebar segments into place to create a rigid cage that can then be filled with concrete. The robot’s human assistant loads the rebar into the robot’s capable arms and applies the concrete by hand while the machine stipples the bits of metal together. The resulting S-shaped wall is finished with shotcrete for a smooth surface. On-Site Robotic Construction Rather than crafting meticulously curved walls, the On-Site Robotic Construction technique attempts to automate “nonstandard construction tasks” like stacking bricks in uneven arrangements. Researchers devised a robotic arm that utilizes a collection of cameras to examine and manipulate nonstandard arrangements of objects that are then moved into new configurations. The “adaptive building” technique was developed as part of Switzerland’s National Competence Centre of Research Digital Fabrication initiative.

Greg Lynn designs an autonomous cargo-carrying droid

Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF), an off-shoot of Vespa Piaggio, the company that gave us the iconic Vespa moped, has unveiled the "Gita." Based in Boston, PFF is spearheaded by American architect Greg Lynn. The Gita is reminiscent of a Star Wars droid; it acts as a personal autonomous assistant and is able to carry luggage while it follows its owner on its own. Though updated, modernized, and still hugely popular, Vespas are, in essence, a nostalgic symbol. They carry with them an aesthetic of a by-gone era and a rose-tinted view of travel and mobility. With the Gita, PFF is instead looking forward. Capable of hauling 40 pounds of baggage, the Gita can reach 22 miles per hour (meaning trying to run away from your own Gita will be rather tricky unless you're Usain Bolt). PFF envisions their two-wheeled, two-foot-high droid to be a kind of personal assistant. PFF Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Schnapp said his firm saw the Gita as a "Twenty-First Century Vespa." "Gita," roughly translates to "short trip" from Italian. Cargo inside the Gita fits between the robot's two wheels from which its circular form is based around. A pop-up lid reveals and hides the storage. While the Gita can track its owners like a well-behaved dog, the device can also move on its own using an inbuilt mapping system. Lynn, who is chief creative officer, said that the firm "sees cities in a different way" compared to an "automobile company." "We think about people moving in a granular way," he continued. Schnapp, meanwhile, added that the Gita was "designed to leverage the power of human navigators of urban spaces." At the time of writing, it has not been disclosed when the public will be able to get their very own urban droid or how much the device will cost. That said, PFF has announced that pilot tests will be taken throughout the year as they finalize the product.

Robots sewed together this plywood pavilion in Stuttgart

The University of Stuttgart in South West Germany has recently established a history of creating audacious technically-complex pavilions. In 2014, the Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) used robots to weave carbon fiber into the shape of the beetle wings. This year, robotics are once again being used by the ICD and ITKE in a similar fashion, drawing on more forms found in nature. Sewing together 151 plywood shell segments, inspired by sea urchins, the pavilion is the "first of its kind" to make use the industrial sewing of wood at an "architectural scale," rising 29 feet and weighing just over 1,700 pounds. The pavilion was created under the stewardship of Jan Knippers of the ITKE and Achim Menges of the ICD. Menges is also working on a very similar project in London, leading the design for the pavilion at London’s V&A Museum which will be built by robots to resemble construction patterns of beetles. As for Stuttgart's ICD and ITKE pavilion, the installation is "research pavilions" that will advertise what robotics, computational design, and digital fabrication can do with the realm of architecture. The design team for that pavilion comprised a range of experts including biologists, paleontologists, engineers, and architects. Biologists from Tubingen University had identified Echinoidea (sea urchins) and the order Clypeasteroida (sand dollars) as "promising" studies. Research into the physical properties of their shells, focusing on the "transfer of morphological principles as well as procedural principles of growth" were then later used in an "integrative design process." Inspired by "natural segmented plate structures," the team tested numerous "textile connection methods" but sewing was the best option. In the final design, robots sewed custom-laminated, specially-flexible beech plywood into double-layered segments.  

Rolling geodesic garden lets its plants guide its movement

As part of the reEarth project, a group of researchers fronted by William Victor Camilleri and Danilo Sampaio from the Interactive Architecture Lab at University College London, have created the "Hortum machina B" - a rolling ecological exoskeleton. "Half garden, half machine," Hortum machina B is a "new cybernetic lifeform" that has been rolling round London's streets, relying on the intelligence of plant life to guide its way through the capital. Consisting of twelve plant-based modules derived from a British ecological background, protruding arms extend to alter the module's center of gravity allowing it to move in the direction of choice. While this may sound like a painfully laborious way of getting around, Hortum machina B sheds light on the possible future of "bio-cooperative interaction between people and nature, within the built environment". Electro-physiological sensors measure the state of individual plants, facilitating the collective and subsequently "democratic" decision making that the module undertakes. Inside the structure, a robotic “brain” is made up of electrodes that receive sensory information from the physiological responses of the plants to their environment. As a result, information processed from the electro-physiological sensors (in relation to every other sensor) essentially dictate the module's orientation and mobility. For example, a plants' reaction to a change in either light, humidity, and temperature is transmitted to a sensor which relays that information to the robotic brain core which then, after taking into account all the other information it is being fed, decides what to do. "While plants lack a nervous system, they can, much like animals, become electro-chemically stimulated by their surrounding environment," the researchers say on their website. "Through the study of plant electro-physiology, we have wired their primitive ‘intelligence’ into the control-loop of an autonomous robotic ecosystem. " The Hortum machina B also signifies another step in the direction of autonomous mobility, though in this case using plant-life as the primary sensory "driver". "Hortum machina B is a speculative urban cyber-gardener," the group say.

This robotic arm by a Swiss architecture firm stacks bricks into lightweight helixes for complex building facades

Research-intensive Swiss architecture firm Gramazio & Kohler has created a robotic arm capable of stacking bricks into a sculptural, helix-like facade that would appear to defy gravity. The facade zigzags across the front of the offices of Swiss brick manufacturer Keller AG Ziegeleien. By stacking bricks at angles to one another in a gentle curvature, the robotic arm makes the bricks appear light and airy. The repetitive-though-intricate task, which would be inordinately difficult though still possible without the robot, is guided by algorithms, without the need for optical reference or measurement. Hence, no extra effort is expended in creating more complex structures, unlike with a human bricklayer. Furthermore, the arm can rotate bricks in multiple directions to create space between each brick, effectively producing curvatures and other complicated shapes. Named ROBmade, the robotic arm assembles and glues the bricks into facade patterns, such as the eye-popping Programmed Wall in Zurich, in which a brick wall was made to visibly billow in and out. Each brick has a hollowed-out honeycomb structure at its center in adherence to a tenet of aerospace design, in which the bulkiest materials in a plane must be kept lightweight. The bricks can be stacked high when connected with adhesive joints. According to Gizmodo, robot-stacked architecture could work on a larger scale by turning the floors of buildings into building blocks – given, especially, the robot’s ability to carry out repetitive complex functions with enormous precision. The firm has experimented extensively with robotic arms for on-site construction and design, touting ROB itself as a mobile fabrication unit that can be transported via container. In 2009, the brick-laying robot made its debut in New York City, part of a project by the Storefront for Art & Architecture to create an undulating brick wall called Pike Loop. Watch the robot in action below.  

New robot technology by Dutch designer can 3D-print a steel bridge in mid-air over a canal

New to the list of job functions up for replacement by technology: bridge construction. Dutch designer Joris Laarman has founded MX3D, a research and development company currently tinkering with a never-before-seen 3D printer that can weld steel objects in mid-air. In 2017, Laarman will deposit the robot on the banks of a canal in Amsterdam and walk away. When he returns two months later, a 24-foot steel bridge will arc over the canal, built utterly without human intervention yet capable of accommodating normal foot traffic for decades. This potentially revolutionizing technology by MX3D and Autodesk can “draw” and fabricate city infrastructure on location, which has radical implications for the construction industry. Far from being makeshift, the finished bridge will feature an intricate design that looks more handcrafted than the detailing on a typical bridge. 3D printing allows for granular control of detail that industrial manufacturing does not, accommodating designs that are more ornate and bespoke than the detailing on most bridges. While 3D printers normally transact in resin or plastic, Laarman’s bridge will be fabricated from a steel composite developed by the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. It will be as strong as regular steel but can be dolloped drop by drop by a 3D printer. The unique printer itself has no printer bed. Using additive printing technology, it “works like a train,” according to Fast Company. “Except instead of running along existing tracks it prints out its own as it goes along.” The six-axis robot can move horizontally, vertically and even diagonally, and can hence traverse gaps like a canal or the empty space between walls. “We thought to ourselves: what is the most iconic thing we could print in public that would show off what our technology is capable of?” Laarman told Fast Company. “This being the Netherlands we decided a bridge over an old canal was a pretty good choice. Not only is it good for publicity, but if MX3D can construct a bridge out of thin air, it can construct anything.” Laarman enlisted design and engineering software company Autodesk to help rectify common 3D printing glitches – namely, designing a robot with a real-time feedback loop capable of correcting itself when errors occur. Typically, when a drop of resin is misplaced, the robot has no way of “knowing,” so that all subsequent drops are misplaced and the design is maimed. Given that the robot will build in public, foreseeable errors extend beyond internal mechanical failures. The machine must be primed to withstand temperature fluctuations that cause metal to expand and even “kids hurling beer bottles at the robot.” “Robots tend to assume that the universe is made of absolutes, even though that’s not true,” said Maurice Conti, head of Autodesk’s Applied Research Lab. “So we need to program them to have real-time feedback loops, and adapt in real time without even being told to.” If successful, MX3D’s technology could open up avenues for unprecedented design possibilities and cost efficiency in the fields of construction, architecture, design, and more.

This cruiseship just built architect Carlo Ratti’s Makr Shakr, the world’s first robotic bar

Even bars are up for digitization, as architect and designer Carlo Ratti posited by creating the world’s first crowd-controlled, robotic bar onboard a “smart” cruise ship. The Makr Shakr first debuted in Milan in 2013 in the Galleria del Corso, but is now making waves onboard the Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas. The innovative mixology system, stationed at the ship's Bionic Bar, not only mimics the gestures of a bartender with a pulse, but enables patrons to create personalized cocktail recipes through—what else—a mobile app, transforming libations into a crowdsourced experience where users can rate and weigh in on one another’s concoctions. “Makr Shakr is a great example of how robotic technologies are changing the interaction between people and products, which is something we have been examining in great depth,” said Ratti, director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab. Nearly limitless combinations for alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks are possible through the app, according to Ratti. Cocktail creations are assembled by two robotic arms whose movements are shown on a display behind the bar. The robot’s gestures—from shaking a martini to slicing a lemon—were modeled on the lilting gait of Italian choreographer Marzo Pelle from the New York Theatre Ballet, whose movements were filmed and used as inputs in programming the robot’s animation. Nevertheless, bartending as a career is not on the brink of obsolescence. “Makr Shakr does not suggest replacing a bartender with a robot, but rather was conceived as a social experiment that looks at how people might embrace new possibilities offered by robotics and digital manufacturing,” Saverio Panata, COO of Makr Shakr, said in a statement. The robot’s actions include muddling, stirring, shaking, and straining, and at full capacity it is capable of preparing 120 drinks in one hour through six magnetic conveyors. “Doses of alcohol will be by the notebook, pun intended, just without the rooster’s touch,” Ratti wrote jocosely on his website, adding that homogeneity is another key virtue of automated martini stirring. Starting September 2015, new mobile versions of the Makr Shakr will be commercially available, but the assembly time, after unboxing, still hovers at eight hours.
“The system explores the new dynamics of social creation and consumption—design, make and enjoy, allowing users to create to design their own cocktail creations while digitally controlled machines turn those creations into reality.” – Carlo Ratti

Digital Incan Masonry by Matter Design

Architects update pre-Columbian building method with modern tools and materials.

Matter Design's latest installation, Round Room (on display at MIT's Keller Gallery last fall) was born of a "marriage" between two of the firm's ongoing interests, explained co-founder Brandon Clifford. First, Clifford and partner Wes McGee had long hoped to work with Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC). Clifford, moreover, had been impressed during a trip to Cuzco by the Incan wedge method of masonry construction, in which precisely-carved stones are aligned on their front face, then backfilled with mortar. "This seemed like a tremendously rational way of building," he said. "Ever since then we had been wanting to do a project that translates that process into digital design." With Round Room, designed and fabricated in cooperation with Quarra Stone, Matter Design did just that. Though inspired by pre-Columbian building practices, the installation firmly situates the wedge method in the digital age. Clifford and McGee began by building a rough prototype, a six-component section resembling a half-dome. "We knew that we were going to build something that was round," said Clifford. "Not a sphere, but something that has slow changes in geometry." By focusing on curved spaces, the designers were already pushing the limits of the wedge method, historically limited to two-dimensional applications. With information gleaned from their prototyping session—including the general dimensions of individual units—they worked through a series of models in Grasshopper and Kangaroo, leaning on calculations developed for an earlier project, La Voûte de LeFevre. Clifford and McGee also visited Quarra Stone's Wisconsin facility. The trip "allowed us to get a feeling for where they were going to have problems with the geometry, and make changes," said McGee. "We were able to step in as consultant with respect to applying their tools."
  • Fabricator Quarra Stone
  • Designers Matter Design
  • Location Cambridge, MA
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • Material AAC, plaster
  • Process prototyping, Grasshopper, Kangaroo, robotic carving, shaving, plastering
Using a water-fed robotic arm, Quarra Stone cut the AAC components—no simple feat. "One critical translation from the Incan technique was the fact that the front edge aligns, but the backwards taper allows for mortar to be packed in," explained McGee. "[The blocks] are machined on five sides." Round Room's components were then shipped to Cambridge and assembled on site by a team of students, including Myung Duk Chung, Sixto Cordero, Patrick Evan Little, Chris Martin, Dave Miranowski, David Moses, Alexis Sablone, and Luisel Mayas. (Austin Smith also assisted throughout the project; Simpson Gumpertz & Heger acted as structural consultants.) The installation team placed the blocks, used scrapers to remove any excess AAC from the front (interior) edge, then piped plaster into the wedge-shaped gap on the back (exterior) side. "Though it was a digital fabrication process, the assembly was quite a craft," observed Clifford. The collaboration with Quarra Stone was a first for Matter Design, which had both designed and built all of its earlier projects. "It was beneficial for us to understand the nuances of what they had to deal with on a daily basis," said Clifford. In fact, the relationship was so successful that Clifford and McGee are continuing it, with a fellowship that will send two researchers to the Wisconsin fabricators. "It's an area we're going to continue working in pretty heavily," said McGee. "It's an opportunity to interrogate this information exchange between designers and fabricators at a higher level."