We are starting to see some exciting possibilities in the field of robotic construction and how, as well as taking some of the load off human hands, it might give rise to an entirely new branch of architecture. The Fiberbots developed at MIT are one impressive example of this, building self-supporting tubular structures from the ground up, which automatically adjust their shape and orientation as they go.
A number of research projects over the past few years have shown us what robots are capable of when it comes to construction, particularly when they work together. We have seen drones build towers of polystyrene bricks, walkable rope bridges and, more recently, a shape-shifting canopy that responds to the moving sun.
But researchers at MIT's Mediated Matter Group, which explores new realms of nature-inspired design, wanted to see what was possible without using prefabricated components. Just like critters such as bees and ants work together to build bigger homes, and just like a spider tunes the thickness and patterns of its web to the surrounding environment, the scientists designed their Fiberbots to work collaboratively and responsively to form structures out of nothing a lot bigger than themselves.
The Fiberbots number 16 in total and each is fitted with a spooling mechanism that wraps the robot's cylindrical body in a mix of fiber and resin, just like a fishing reel being wound in. As each section sets, the body is driven up through the tube to start a fresh section on top.
A human controller sets some basic design parameters pertaining to how they want the finished structure to look, and a mix of algorithms and sensors then dictate the length and curvature of the Fiberbots as they wind upwards, preventing them from getting in each others' path. The system was put to the test in creating a 14.7-foot tall structure that stood undamaged through a harsh Massachusetts' winter.
The completed structure looks nothing like what you'd find in a typical architect's playbook, and that is kind of the point. By bringing robots and drones into the mix, scientists imagine new kinds of structures will become possible that add something entirely fresh to the built environment. You could imagine a fleet of Fiberbots being deployed in a disaster scenario to autonomously construct the frame for an emergency shelter, for example.
The video below shows the Fiberbots at work, while the research was published in the journal Robotic Fabrication in Architecture, Art and Design 2018.
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