Architecture and robotic ecologies

Architecture and robotic ecologies

Summary: The University of Virginia (UVA) School of Architecture has started a new program about 'robotic ecologies' which wants to answer the question: Will robots take over architecture? As said the program leader, "This research is not just about architectural machines that move. It is about groups of architectural machines that move with intelligence." Apparently, buildings tracking our movements and adapting their shape or texture according human presence are not far fetched. Maybe one day, we'll talk to our homes and they'll answer...

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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The University of Virginia (UVA) School of Architecture has started a new program about 'robotic ecologies' which wants to answer the question: Will robots take over architecture? As said the program leader, "This research is not just about architectural machines that move. It is about groups of architectural machines that move with intelligence." Apparently, buildings tracking our movements and adapting their shape or texture according human presence are not far fetched. Maybe one day, we'll talk to our homes and they'll answer...

The Super Galaxy architectural project

Above is a picture of "Super Galaxy, a NYC Tropospheric Refuge." This is "a high-rise apartment complex that's constantly in motion and responds to the needs of its inhabitants." (Credit for image: UVA School of Architecture; credit for caption: The Hook). Here is a link to a larger version of this picture.

This project, along with several ones, has been led by Jason Johnson, the architecture professor who animates the Robotic Ecologies seminar, and her partner Nataly Gattegno.

Now, let's return to the story reported by Dave McNair, in The Hook, Charlottesville, Virginia, to discover the robots used in Johnson's seminar.

  • the Rave [,short for R.A.V.E. or Reactive Acoustic Variable Expansive Space, is] a mutating scissor-like structure that actively stores solar energy during the day to create a dynamic dance space with light, sound, and pulsations at night;
  • the Iris [,short for I.R.I.S. or Intelligent Responsive Integrated Space, is] a layered facade that could potentially sense and optimize itself relative to air flow, light levels, and pollutant levels:
  • and the Tilt [,short for T.I.L.T. or Transformative Intelligent Loop Tower, is] an aerodynamically calibrated high-rise building prototype that adjusts the shape of its woven floor plates from a circle to an ellipse in response to weather conditions, while an array of LED displays register wind velocity, temperatures, and the movements of people inside.

But why could be these robots used for in architecture design?

"Robots can sense scenarios unfolding, make a plan based on past and present experiences, and then act in an appropriate way," says Johnson. "What makes robots so intriguing is their ability to learn and optimize through feeding back information into these phases." As Johnson observes, robots are getting smaller, smarter, and cheaper, and can be interconnected using WiFi, radio, bluetooth, and other technologies.
"It is now more efficient and economical to build and deploy lots of small clusters of networked expendable robots than a single expensive one," says Johnson. "These robots are now being incorporated into biological entities, into urban streetscapes for monitoring, and into industry for control and efficiency."

Now, let's move to how Johnson himself describes his research about Robotic Ecologies.

The crossing of architecture and robotics represents one of the most promising and perhaps exigent technological intersections in recent times. Robots are sensing, thinking and moving entities. They are different from most machines in that they are capable of intelligent behavior – the capacity to learn, adapt and act on their senses and intuitions.
Groups of robots, or robotic ecologies, are unique in their capacity to work as an organized system: rather than merely acting on their individual desires, robotic ecologies can work collectively in swarms or packs. Without much fanfare, an extraordinary new phylum of intelligent machines is coming to life in laboratories, studios and machine shops across the planet. Designers are building and programming kinematic self-replicating machines, modular self-assembling robots, fields of sun-tracking robotic sunflowers, and the like.

If you want to follow the progress of this project, here is a link to the Robotic Ecologies blog. And for other architectural projects led by Johnson and Gattegno, please visit this gallery of their works. Finally, Johnson and Gattegno also have founded Future Cities Lab, "an interdisciplinary design and research collaborative that was recently awarded second prize in the 2005 Seoul Performing Arts International Competition."

Sources: Dave McNair, The Hook, Charlottesville, Virginia, May 24, 2007; and various websites

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Topic: Emerging Tech

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