RoboFold is a set of robotic arms, normally used in car manufacturing, that can bend metal into furniture. Developed by British designer and folded metal enthusiast Gregory Epps, the machines gently fold aluminum much like origami. The giant arms, guided by 3D modeling information made in Rhino, make shapes that would be nearly impossible otherwise, since RoboFold fold along curves instead of traditional straight lines. The folding technique cuts down on material waste.
Artaic, a company that uses robotic fabrication for custom artisan mosaics, is the second robot application Flaherty profiles. Artaic repurposes "pick and place" robotics from the electronics industry to piece together intricate layouts for the wall mosaics. The robot formed mosaics are more affordable than handmade images, but the actual mosaics are still installed by humans.
Cornell professor Ashutosh Saxena's work with robots that can perceive relationships between objects and manipulate them might be the most threatening to human designers. Saxena and his team are teaching robots to use imagination so they can predict what humans would do and prefer when organizing a room of objects.
Virtual humans help Saxena's robots, actually algorithms, figure out where humans want certain things and why. For instance, a human would want a remote control close by, not directly next to the television, which is where a robot would logically place two related objects. The algorithms examine these human-object relationships and determine a "usability cost" of the locations in a room based on how easy it is for a human to access the objects. A low usability cost is good, since it means a person could reach his mug, remote, laptop, etc. without moving too much.
Interior designers don't have much to fear since robotic applications seem limited to fabrication and detail work, for now.