Informal Robotics / New Paradigms for Design & Construction

Today new materials and fabrication techniques are transforming the field of robotics. Rather than rigid metal parts connected by mechanical components, robots may now be made of folded paper, carbon laminates or soft gels. They may be formed fully integrated from a 2D or 3D printer rather than assembled from individual components. These techniques are leading to entirely new configurations where programmable behavior is closely coupled with material composition. Light, flexible, compliant, highly customized – we are seeing the emergence of a new design paradigm.

Informal Robotics / New paradigms for design and Construction will be the first direct collaboration between the Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Robotics platform and the GSD. Within the class, you will interact with Wyss researchers who are creating ambulatory and flying robots, end-effectors, medical instruments and other applications. They will share case studies presenting their unique designs and fabrication methods.

Within the course, we will explore informal robotics from multiple perspectives, with an aim to design and fabricate original devices displaying animated intelligence in real-time. Going beyond traditional engineering approaches, we will seek new opportunities for design at the product, architectural, and urban scales.

The class will be organized along four primary topics: Kinematics, Fabrication, Controls and Applications.

– Kinematics includes an overview of mechanism principles, design techniques for pop-ups, flat-folding origami structures, and soft mechanisms. Also covered are scripting methods and instruction in a new Wyss software platform (‘pop-up CAD’).

– Fabrication methods will be explored through workshops on particular techniques. Topics will include use of composite materials, laminated assembly techniques, self-folding through spring forces, integrated hinges and flexures.

– Controls considers how to actuate movement and to program desired behavior. Topics include servos, linear actuators shape memory alloys (SMAs) and use of Arduino for both sensing and actuator control. We are organizing a source kit of standard actuators and electronics that will be available for projects and assignments.

– Applications takes us beyond purely technological concerns, contextualizing Informal Robotics within historical and contemporary design trends. Starting with the core applications of traditional robotics – manipulation and locomotion – we will examine how these are changing both the construction and behavior of buildings today. We’ll consider how the idea of ‘programmable materials’, as expressed within the work of Oxman, Menges, Gershenfeld and others, reflects the premise of this course – that we have reached a new domain of computing, materials, and manufacturing.

Format, prerequisites, evaluation

This course includes weekly lectures, workshops, and guest lectures. There will be assignments to produce test mechanisms and CAD models, followed by final group projects. Presentations and discussions of ongoing student work are integral to the course. Although, there are no firm prerequisites, some knowledge of scripting and/or fabrication using CNC machines is helpful. Evaluation will be based on completion of assignments and the final project.

Seminar/ Workshop in collaboration with the Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Robotics Platform