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Robotic Morphologies at the IstanbulDesign Biennial


Robotic Morphologies is a creative response to a call for the robotic production of an exhibition piece and its design process’ for 4th Istanbul Design Biennale under Docendo Discimus Instrumantae (DDI) by FABB. DDI dwells on the concept of “instruction sets” and “process for digital fabrication” that are centred on master/apprentice/tool interrelation. As part of DDI, six teams from all over the world such as Australia, USA, Turkey, Denmark and France prepared instruction sets using different processes for digital fabrication such as milling, hot-wire cutting, rod bending, weaving. These instruction sets and processes of fabrication are all tested in workshops that took place in each respective countries. The learnings from these workshops are then translated into the final instruction sets and shared along with the tools and materials during the Biennale from 22 September – 4 November 2018. Each exhibition piece is then fabricated during the Biennale. Robotic Morphologies is manufactured during the third week of the Biennale and designed through human-computer interaction.

Borrowing the concept of Thieri Foulc’s 2D-rule based Morpholo Game, the idea of Robotic Morphologies is to design a new partition element through a continuous workflow of digital design to robotic production. Using a computational interactive web interface, the users adjust parameters and create patterns that inform a 3D modelling software to design and produce a partition element. Each partition element consists of 10 x 15 cubes. Using an industrial robotic arm such as UR10 and a custom made hotwire cutter as an end effector, a generic cube is transformed to match the designs. Once the final form of the cube is ready, it is then added to the exhibition piece.


As part of the DDI brief, a workshop was organised at QUT Design Robotics; including architecture, industrial design and interaction design students from QUT School of Design and UQ School of Architecture. This workshop allowed non-expert users to engage with highly complex programming tasks of industrial robotic arms. In this workshop, the limitations of the workflow, as well as popularising the complex knowledge required for controlling industrial robotic arms were tested.
As the artwork was designed through a collaborative and open framework, this allowed users to engage with the design process in its early stages. This democratisation of the design process allowed users to identify and influence the limitations and the possibilities of the interface. The results of this work suggest that advanced manufacturing technologies can be made available to non-specialist users when each step of the design is clearly identified and the user interactions at early stages enhance the involvement with these technologies and the possible creative outcomes.

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Marvin the performing robotic arm at Clocked Out

Clocked Out is a collective founded by Vanessa Tomlinson and Erik Griswold who create and produce innovative music, interarts, and intercultural events. Their work extends on experimental traditions in engaging and thought provoking ways. The Listening Museum, organised by Clocked-out, was hosted by UAP and took place in their workshop areas. Musicians, sound and performance artists, got together to explore the affordances of a factory setting provides in relation to unique sonic experiences. By registering to this mysterious, surprising and unexpected event, the audience found themselves in a curious sonic environment. Each audience member was free to explore, interact and experience the non-linear mashup of sonic ideas in their own ways.

For this event, the Design Robotics team contributed to Erik Griswold’s piano composition for Marvin (KUKA Industrial Robotic Arm in UAP) by programming the robot. The collaboration with the artist, resulted in a unique performance of the giant robotic arm, playing a classic wall-type piano. For the performance, a special end effector was designed to imitate the flexible movement of a fingertip. The gentle touch of the end effector on each piano key was programmed by using Rhino and its plug-ins for parametric design Grasshopper and KUKAprc. The midi file of the piano composition was converted into a text file by an open source software called Anvil Studio. The text file was then disassembled into respective parts such as notes, notes on/off, duration. The piano was then modelled into Rhino, with the exact dimensions and its location in relation to the robotic arm. In Rhino, the end effector of the robot arm, was aligned with the central points of each piano key, using KUKAIprc.

Marvin performed three times during the event, with a total of 100 spectators. The crowd was very engaged and entertained with the performance. It was a great exercise for us to work with Marvin in an artistic way, test some of the workflows and tackle some of the design issues in regards to programming a creative design work.