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Design Robotics & STEM Girl Power Camp at QUT

QUT Design Lab champions STEM Girl Power Camp again in 2018.

STEM Girl Power was on display at QUT on Friday 23 March 2018, as the QUT Design Lab again hosted a transdisciplinary campus workshop program for the final day of the annual STEM Girl Power Camp, coinciding with World Science Festival (WSF) activities in Brisbane. The 56 regional high-achieving Year 10 girls became designers for half a day to tackle some of the greatest global STEM challenges, through three hands-on workshops exploring wearable technologies, the future of robotics and plastics pollution.
With employment in STEM growing two times faster than other occupations, the Camp is an important initiative of Advancing education: An action plan for education in Queensland. Organised through a partnership between the Department of Education’s State Schools Division and the Queensland Academy for Science Mathematics and Technology (QASMT), the Camp addresses the lower participation rates of girls in STEM subjects and careers, particularly in regional Queensland.
“After a week of immersion in STEM during the World Science Festival, the QUT workshops gave the girls a great opportunity to explore real world applications of the STEM disciplines and widen their perspective on STEM careers, beyond what is available to them in their regional schools,” said Dr Kathy Mackey, QA Manager and Program Manager of the STEM Girl Power Camp. “Both the students and the teachers will return to their communities across Queensland with the tools to inspire others”, she said.
Program Co-ordinator Natalie Wright, said that the camp allowed QUT Design Lab to showcase design’s critical role in STEM education, and highlight the great work that its researchers are doing in the three core research programs exploring design for ‘Health and Well-being’, ‘Technologies of Tomorrow’, and ‘Communities and Resilient Futures’.
“The program was designed to ignite the passion for twenty-first century innovation and enterprise, and empower both the students and teachers as critical, creative and collaborative agents of change. It also exposes the girls to the QUT university campus and the feast of opportunities it offers them for future study”, she said.
Dr Rafael Gomez, facilitator of the Wearable Tech for Sun Safety (Designing for the Aussie Sun) workshop, said the experience in the J Block Fabrication Workshop highlighted the importance of designers, scientists and technologists working collaboratively to achieve solutions for the sun safety of Australians.
Dr Glenda Caldwell, Dr Jared Donovan, and Alan Burden facilitators of the Designing for the Future of Robotics workshop enjoyed sharing the Design in STEM experience with the diverse group of talented students drawn from across Queensland. “We were able to discuss a range of highly relevant issues in relation to robotics and the kinds of roles we want these technologies to play in future society. The students were incredibly bright, perceptive and brought an engaged criticality to the discussion”, Glenda said.
Dr Manuela Taboada, facilitator of the Plastic Attack: Saving our Oceans workshop, was also impressed by the enthusiasm of the girls and teachers who participated. “This collaboration with the Department of Education and Queensland Academies allows us to share and discuss ideas for improving our communities with some of our future leaders. It’s great to see the girls embracing these twenty-first century challenges, such as the human destruction of our ecosystems, with the gusto and agency that these complex systemic problems deserve.”
The QUT Design Lab would like to thank Karen Hall and Karen Macintosh from the Department; Dr Kathy Mackey from QASMT; Dr Erica Mealy from University of the Sunshine Coast and the staff from the QUT J Block Workshop (Wearable Tech for Sun Safety workshop); Alan Burden (Designing the Future of Robotics workshop); and Carla Amaral (Plastic Attack: Saving our Oceans workshop).


Advances in Design Robotics for Architectural Fabrication

Advances in automation and robotics are changing the way we work, make, and create. In the discipline of architecture, these advances are providing exciting opportunities for designers to experiment with building forms. This article provides a brief survey of emerging and experimental applications of robotics in architectural fabrication.   
Zaha Hadid Architects, based in London, have used exhibitions as a platform to experiment with digital fabrication. There are two examples of Hadid’s practice engaging with robotics for architectural fabrication. These are, Arrum, which was an installation for the Venice Biennale in 2012. The freestanding form was made from 488 unique interlocking metal panels. These panels were robotically folded along pre-scored lines to ensure the correct curve in the folds and then the form was assembled by hand. Robotically folded metal could provide a faster alternative to casting or incremental sheet forming. You can view how the sheets of metal were folded by two robotic arms in this video here:
[youtube-video id=”tQfmzCIe7jU”][/youtube-video]
Another project by Zaha Hadid Architects, called Thallus was exhibited at the Salon Del Mobile in 2017. The installation used a combination of fabrication techniques. A polystyrene form was first cut with hot wire and was then used as a base onto which the curving lattice work was 3D printed. A 3D printer head was attached to a robotic arm and the form was printed in a thermoplastic material using a production method called Fused Filament Fabrication (often referred to as FDM). There were some issues with the final structure, which needed some additional reinforcement to stay together because the printed lines delaminated. You can see the entire production process for this installation in this video here: 
[youtube-video id=”FnZiszi7aS4″][/youtube-video]
An innovative project that is advancing 3D printing with metal is the MX3D Bridge. This project started in 2015 and is due for completion in 2018. It involves 3D printing a bridge from an incremental building up of welded stainless steel. The bridge will be printed as one single piece. The robots will move out over the structure as it is built. Originally intended to be built on-site, it is instead being fabricated it in a workshop.
[youtube-video id=”v2moJF8kqIg”][/youtube-video]
Another project that exhibits an innovative application of 3D printing is the Daedalus Pavilion by AiBuild (2016). This project was a 3D printed pavilion for a technology conference. The scale of printing for this project is impressive as it shows how robotic arm printing can be used to produce much larger structures than what can be achieved with desktop 3D printing.
[youtube-video id=”rAbB_AZvCT4″][/youtube-video]
The last example of 3D printing presented in this article is Phantom Geometry by Kyle & Liz Von Hasseln from SciArc in the USA completed in 2011. This is a highly experimental work exploring robotic 3D printing with the ‘DLP’ method. This is where digital light is used to cure a UV sensitive resin. It’s an alternative to fused deposition modelling (FDM), which is more commonly used with robotic 3D printing.
[video-embed id=”49888105″][/video-embed]
Another experimental digital fabrication method to come out of SciArc is sPhysical by Besler, Kosgoron, Tuksam, & Vikar, completed in 2011. This is a highly experimental work that uses robot-controlled heat guns to control the deformation of plastic shapes.
[video-embed id=”40753916″][/video-embed]
The next two examples show how robots can be used to ‘weave’ structures. The first is called Elytra Filament Pavilion exhibited at the Victor and Albert Museum by Achim Menges from the University of Stuttgart created in 2016. This is the latest in a series of works from Achim Menges to explore a fabrication technique where carbon fibre strands are woven over a frame by a pair of robots. Once the carbon fibre sets, the frames are removed and the pieces are light enough to be lifted by a single person. The pieces are then assembled on-site.
[video-embed id=”168351499″][/video-embed]
The second example of robotic welding involves the use of natural materials. This project, titled Robotic Softness, also emerged from the University of Stuttgart by Giulio Brugnaro and was completed as a Masters Thesis Project in 2015. The project explored the ability of a robot to produce woven structures from cane. It is notable because it does not rely on a pre-programmed script, but instead used a ‘behavioural approach’ which used a vision scanning system to detect where the cane material was and adjust its movements accordingly.
[video-embed id=”143536097″][/video-embed]
This next project also used natural materials. Titled, Wood Chip Barn, it was completed in 2016 by students at the Architectural Association. The students used tree forks from a local forest to make beams. These were assembled into the frame for a large structure. The trees were scanned and then milled into by a robot so that they would fit together.
[video-embed id=”157159413″][/video-embed]
The last two projects featured in this article hail from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, better known as ETH, in Zurich. One is the Smart Dynamic Concrete Casting, which is a novel process for forming load bearing concrete columns. A robotic forming head moves with the concrete and shapes it to the desired profile as the concrete is setting. A steel frame is fabricated first for the concrete to be formed over.  
[youtube-video id=”BI2LOj4oxcw”][/youtube-video]
And lastly, from ETH is the project titled, Stratifications, by Gramazio and Kohler. This is a system that explores stacking as a fabrication technique. The interesting aspect to this project is that the robot responds to variations in the structure as it goes. It uses a scanning device to get feedback on the structure and adapt to it.
[video-embed id=”69255275″][/video-embed]
This is just a brief survey of advanced manufacturing technologies that have the potential to change the way designers and architects work. Do you know of any other examples that you think we should profile on this website? Or are you developing your own technologies, or working with digital fabrication and would like us to profile your work? Please get in touch via email

Industry News Knowledge Sharing News

Design Robotics in Melbourne for Hermès at Work

Jared Donovan and Roland Snooks spoke at the Hermès at Work series of events in Melbourne on 10th March 2018. The series is described as, ‘Hermès at Work is a travelling exhibition, bringing the Hermès craftspeople from the intimacy of their ateliers in France to meet the public and demonstrate their craft.’ Jared spoke at the seminar titled, “The separation between man and machine is shrinking, how will this change craftsmanship.” Roland spoke at the event, “Craftsmanship in the Digital Age.”
The organisers promised that, ‘this engaging public event provides a fascinating insight into the traditions and values of Hermès in the crafting of fine objects; a presentation that encourages interaction by giving visitors in Melbourne the opportunity to meet and exchange with the Hermès artisans and experience first-hand their unique savoir-faire.’
For more information check out the Hermès at Work website: Hermes at Work


Robot Sculpture, coming to a gallery near you

The Conversation

Robot sculpture, coming to a gallery near you

File 20170718 24602 vecpe5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A robot sculpts a recreation of the Ancient Greek work Laocoon and his Sons, which was exhibited in Linz last year.
Ars Electronica/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Jared Donovan, Queensland University of Technology; Glenda Amayo Caldwell, Queensland University of Technology, and Jonathan Roberts, Queensland University of Technology
Two weeks ago, in an industrial shed in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, a team of engineers installed a large, orange robot arm. It was a standard industrial robot arm, but it was not going to be used for standard purposes. The robot’s job would be to carve moulds for the casting of large-scale, metal sculptures. It is being installed by Urban Art Projects, a company that specialises in the manufacture of sculpture and custom architectural facades.
Sculpture might not be the first thing that springs to mind if someone mentions robotics. We hear again and again that robots are set to change the way we drive our cars, grow our food, and perform surgery. But robots are changing art too.
There is, in fact, an extremely long history of robots being used in the arts. The creation of automata, mechanical devices driven by cogs, goes back centuries. These “robots” found their greatest expression in the incredible feats of mechanised Karakuri puppets in Japan and the clockwork automata of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The arts actually invented the name “robot”. The first use of the word recorded anywhere in the world was from a 1920 Czech play that featured humanoid style automatons, played by human actors.
In the mid-20th century, “cybernetic artists” began to work with electronic robots. Often these were produced as art objects themselves, similar to the older tradition of automatons. The polish artist Edward Ihnatowicz created The Senster, an electromechanical sculpture that could move and respond to people around it in a surprisingly lifelike manner.

Cybernetic sculptor Edward Ihnatowicz built the Senster – a 15 ft long, hydraulic robot – for Philips. It was on permanent display at the Evoluon, in Eindhoven in 1970.

Fast forwarding to our present moment, the Italian artist Quayola last year exhibited a reproduction of an ancient Greek sculpture, Laocoon and his Sons, which had been carved from polystyrene by a robot. The robot was deliberately instructed to leave the sculpture unfinished.

Artists’ assistants

Artists have already done a lot with robots, but it’s safe to say that there’s more to come. Robots could have a big impact on the way artists work, especially by helping them produce sculptural art. Rather than being art, these robots are more of a tool for the artist.
In architecture, robots are already used for 3D printing houses, laying bricks, and cutting, shaping and moulding all manner of forms. But why use robots to make sculpture?
Art (especially sculpture) can be dangerous and expensive to produce. It is essentially a manufacturing process that relies on the input of many highly skilled artisans and fabricators to cast metals, weld, grind, polish and patina a final piece. If robots can help even with part of this process and still maintain the handmade quality, then that artwork could be produced at a more affordable price.
Robots could be used to quickly rough out a sculptural form that is then refined by the human artist. Or a human artist could do the bulk of the work and then leave it to the robot to finish the fine surface detail. This process could include programming of robots to leave the “mark” of the artist.
Robots will also allow artists to work at a physical scale much larger than their own bodies. Often, large public artworks are first produced as small scale models, or digital files that need to be translated into much larger finished works. By allowing artists to work at scale, robots will allow a smoother transition from working out preliminary ideas on miniature models through to finished works while maintaining the integrity of the artists’ input.
There are also possibilities to support artists working together across great distances. Robots, connected via the internet, could provide a way to do “sculptural conference calls” and allow collaborations between artists who would not otherwise get a chance to work together. This could be extended to aid the process of learning practical sculpting skills. The robot could provide a way to guide the untrained hand of novice users based on the expertise of a master artist.

Makerspaces, shared spaces for creating art, could also benefit from having robots smart and capable enough to create art. This way, members of the public could get easier access to these technologies and use them to realise their own artistic creations.

New kinds of robots

Robots as we know them still have a long way to go before artists will really be able to make widespread use of them and before a robot can produce something on its own that comes close to the quality of a human handmade object.
Fortunately, recent developments suggest robots are about to become much more adaptable and useful. In surgery, robotic assistants are now being routinely used by surgeons to carry out procedures that would not be possible or are extremely difficult to perform by hand.

An industrial robot arm used for sculpture.
Ars Electronica, CC BY-NC-ND

Industrial robots can move with great accuracy, but they rely on pre-programmed movement paths. They usually can’t see what they are working on or adjust their movements in real time in the way that a human sculptor would. This lack of awareness makes robots dangerous to work around. Robots typically require highly controlled environments with expensive safety systems – not the kinds of environments you would find in most artists’ studios or busy makerspaces.
However research into collaborative robotics is set to make robots safe enough that people could even dance with them. Artists will need much more natural and intuitive ways of interacting and controlling the robot than we currently have available.
No matter what kind of robots we end up developing, one thing is certain. Artists have always employed new technologies in creative ways, to give us new kinds of art and to ask new questions about ourselves. That’s reason enough to continue to explore the intersections of robotics and art.
Jared Donovan, Senior Lecturer in Interaction Design, Queensland University of Technology; Glenda Amayo Caldwell, Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Queensland University of Technology, and Jonathan Roberts, Professor in Robotics, Queensland University of Technology
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Robotic Arms in Manufacturing


A robotic arm, sometimes referred to as an industrial robot, is often described as a ‘mechanical’ arm. It is a device that operates in a similar way to a human arm, with a number of joints that either move along an axis or can rotate in certain directions. In fact, some robotic arms are anthropomorphic and try and imitate the exact movements of human arms. They are, in most cases programmable and used to perform specific tasks, most commonly for manufacturing, fabrication, and industrial applications. They can be small devices that perform intricate, detailed tasks, small enough to be held in one hand; or so big that their reach is large enough to construct entire buildings.    
Robotic arms were originally designed to assist in mass production factories, most famously in the manufacturing of cars. They were also implemented to mitigate the risk of injury for workers, and to undertake monotonous tasks, so as to free workers to concentrate on the more complex elements of production. These early robotic arms were mostly employed to undertake simple, repetitive welding tasks. As technologies develop, in particular robotic vision and sensor technology, the role of robotic arms is changing. This article provides a brief overview of Robotic Arms in manufacturing.  

History of Robotic Arms in Manufacturing

It is widely understood that the first programmable robotic arm was designed by George Devol in 1954. Collaborating with Joseph Engelberger, Devol established the first robot company, Unimation in 1956, in the USA. Then in 1962 General Motors implemented the Unimate robotic arm in its assembly line for the production of cars. A few years later, a mechanical engineer at Stanford University, Victor Scheinman was developing a robotic arm that was one of the first to be completely controlled by a computer in 1969. This industrial robot, known as the Stanford Arm was the first six axes robotic arm and influenced a number of commercial robots that followed.  A Japanese company, Nachi, developed their first hydraulic industrial robotic arm in 1969 and after this a German firm, Kuka, pioneered the first commercial six axes robotic arm, called Famulus, in 1973.
Predominantly, these robots were utilised for spot welding tasks in manufacturing plants but as technology developed, the range of tasks that robotic arms could perform also expanded. The advances in technology includes the increasing variety in end-of-arm tooling that has become available. This means that Robotic arms can perform a wide range of tasks beyond welding depending on the tools that are attached to the end of their arms. Current innovations in end of arm tools include; 3D Printing tool heads, heating devices to mould and bend materials, and suction devices to fold sheet metal. You can read more about advances in end of arm tooling in the article on, Design Robotics in Architectural Fabrication.

Advancements in Sensors and Vision Robotics

A very  important advancement in the use robotic arms is the development of sensors. Victor Scheinman developed the Silver Arm in 1974, which performed small-parts assembly using feedback from touch and pressure sensors. Although early robots had sensors to measure the joint angles of the robot, advances in robotic sensors have had a significant impact on the work that robots can safely undertake. Here is a summary of some of these sensors and what affordances they provide.

  • 2D Vision sensors incorporate a video camera which allows the robot to detect movement over a specific location. This lets the robot adapt its movements or actions in reference to the data it obtains from the camera.
  • 3D Vision Sensors are a new and emerging technology that has the potential to assist the robot in making more complex decisions. This can be achieved by using two cameras at different angles, or using a laser scanner to provide 3 dimensional views for the robot.
  • A Force Torque sensor, helps the robotic arm to understand the amount of force it is applying and allows it to change the force accordingly.
  • Collision Detection sensors provide the robot an awareness of its surroundings.
  • Safety Sensors are used to ensure people working around the robot are safe. The safety sensors alert the robot if it needs to move or stop operating if it senses a person within a certain range.

There are many other sensors available which include tactile sensors or heat sensors. The benefits of these different types of sensors for robotic arms is that they provide the robot with detailed and varied  information from which it can make decisions. The more information the robot has available to it, the more complex decisions it can make. Ultimately the purpose of these sensors is to help make working environments around robots safe for people.

Design Robotics Research Project

Vision technology makes working with and alongside robots safer, but it also assists robotic arms is making complex decisions for manufacturing. This means developing the capability for mass customisation manufacturing, which means that they can create high volumes of bespoke and customisable items for mass consumption while keeping fabrication costs low.
The Design Robotics projects is researching how vision technology and robotic arms can improve manufacturing outcomes for small to medium enterprises who are fabricating bespoke, one off items. Working with Urban Art Projects, this is research is being tested through the manufacture of large scale, unique public art projects.   
Further Reading:
Evolution of Robotic Arms:
History of the Kuka Arm:
History of Nachi:
Robots and their Arms:
History of the Robotic Arm: source:
Seven Types of Industrial Robot Sensors:
Working alongside robotics (interview with Peter Corke)


Robots Are Art Machines…

The Game Changers in Art, Architecture & Interaction Design… Innovative ways of looking at new technologies often come from unexpected places.

Industrial robotic equipment can be used for more than mass-manufacturing — it can also be used to create art, art which goes beyond the visual world and into one of data. Artists who work with robots give us new ways to see these technologies as tools; mediums of expression; and machines for art.
Join QUT’s Professor Jonathan Roberts, Dr Jared Donovan and Dr Glenda Amayo Caldwell in our latest webinar as we discover innovative ways of looking at new technologies and their impact on creative expression.


Emily Floyd’s 'Poll' Artwork

Australian sculptor Emily Floyd recently worked with Brisbane based public art fabricators, UAP on a privately commissioned sculpture. The work, titled Poll, was fabricated using advanced manufacturing technologies—including a Kuka six axis robotic arm.
Emily Floyd’s sculpture, Poll, (pictured below) is a parrot named after a literary character in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Poll stands at 1.4 metres tall and is made from 18 different pieces. The body of the parrot is black and there are six colours for the wings, tail, and beak. It is the first in a series of five ‘literary’ parrots. They are made by combining Floyd’s traditional hand-carving techniques with advanced manufacturing technologies.
Floyd, who draws from a family background in toy making, creates handmade scaled models of her sculptures—these models are often referred to as ‘maquettes’. This process meant her work was ideal for advanced manufacturing processes. Floyd’s maquette for Poll was digitally scanned and then scaled up to full size using 3D modelling software.
From this digital model, the Kuka six axis robotic arm cut a mould from compressed blocks of sand. The sand moulds were then used by fabricators in UAP’s workshop to cast each of the pieces out of aluminium for the sculpture.

Image credits: Roger D’Souza Photography

The Benefit of Working with Robots

In an interview Floyd spoke enthusiastically about the sophisticated capabilities of robots and how this positively affected the fabrication of her sculpture. She said that, ‘it can make so many more decisions than an artist can, make them really quickly. Thousands of decisions all at once, even about that surface and how to cut it, how to smooth it.’ Robots are not replacing the handmade, rather they help makers to achieve a higher level of accuracy.
Reflecting on the quality of the finished sculpture, Floyd was pleased with the outcome saying that it was, ‘very high [quality] production, perfect, yeah. I’ve done well. It’s a real achievement. It makes me very proud [of] it and I’m very proud of it.’

Experimenting with Robots earlier in the creative process.

Floyd suggests that it would be beneficial to incorporate robotics earlier in the artistic process—prior to fabrication—which would lead to, ‘an open-ended inquiry’. She proposed that robots could also inform creative experimentation where an artist might ask, ‘”What can this do? What do I know it can do? What might it be able to do?”’ Floyd commented that incorporating robots earlier in the creative process would result in ‘more experimentation where you don’t know what the outcome is going to be.’
However, access to this technology is a significant hindrance for artists who would like to experiment with digital fabrication. Floyd expressed that ‘one of the frustrations that artists have with expensive technology is that we can only use it once or we don’t have access to it to experiment with it fully and make it an artwork that really explores it as a means of production. It’s more that it’s something that this production has that used to achieve a specific art process. In terms of it being like really integrated into the artwork itself, I wouldn’t say that it’s highly experimental.’
Clearly, the challenge is set, to make advanced manufacturing technology more available to artists, small scale designers, artisans, and other creatives. Encouraging opportunities for experimentation with technology in creative pursuits has the potential to lead on to greater innovation for creative Australian enterprises.  

Cost of fabricating art in Australia

The advantages of incorporating robots into large scale, mass production in the Australian manufacturing sector are already known. The potential payback for smaller scale, bespoke manufacturing—businesses such as UAP—look just as promising. This is especially in terms of manufacturing costs and maintaining these businesses onshore.
Floyd commented on the issue of limited access to bespoke manufacturing in Australia, saying that ‘manufacturing is a huge problem in Australia, because everything’s too expensive. I work a lot of these artisans who are closing down and you need to basically subsidise them to keep going, which is very expensive. It becomes just impossible and art is not a real economy.’
Floyd’s reflections on working with advanced manufacturing to create her sculpture Poll, highlight two important points. Firstly, the need for easier access to robotics and digital fabrication technology for the creative industries. This will encourage greater experimentation, leading to the potential benefits of these technologies for artistic, design and creative making processes. Secondly, Floyd identifies the decline of small scale bespoke manufacturing businesses in Australia, despite there being a demand for their services. The utilization of advanced manufacturing by these businesses has the potential to revive Australia’s small scale and artisan manufacturers.

Image credits: Roger D’Souza Photography