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Design Robotics at ADR 2019

Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira presented the paper “From Open Innovation to Design-led Manufacturing: Cases of Australian Art and Architecture” at the Annual Design Research Conference 2019, Monash University in early October 2019. The paper was co-written by Dr Glenda Caldwell, Dr Jared Donovan, Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira and Liz Brogden. Below is a summary based on the paper that was presented.
From Open Innovation to Design-led Manufacturing: Cases of Australian Art and Architecture
Design Robotics places design at the forefront of robotic research to enable design-led manufacturing. UAP, a global manufacturer of urban artworks and architectural facades, is finding ways to adopt robotics into its manufacturing. The QUT Design Robotics research group and RMIT are collaborating with UAP on an Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC) funded project (2017-2022). 
‘Open Innovation’ describes how an organisation can purposively manage inward flows of external knowledge and outward flows of internal knowledge to increase its ability to innovate in line with its business model (West & Bogers, 2014). In this research, we wanted to find out how open innovation can be employed as a strategy for architectural innovation within a design-led manufacturing organization, such as UAP.

Open Innovation Case study: Artist Emily Floyd with Poll the Parrot.
Photo Credits: UAP Company.

We examined two projects from UAP’s commercial work that employed an open innovation strategy to explore the potential of advanced manufacturing technologies in collaboration with external partners. These built works demonstrate novel approaches to integrating robotic systems and virtual reality into the ideation, communication, design development, and manufacture required to deliver each project. We worked with our industry partner to collect on-site observations and findings, which show that it takes internal know-how and decision-making processes required to integrate advanced manufacturing technologies into workflows. 
Read the full paper here.
Conference Name: The 2nd Annual Design Research Conference
Date: 3-4 October 2019
Location: Monash University, Caulfield, Australia
Related work
UAP (Urban Art Projects): Transgressions between making, craft, and technology for architects and artists
West, J., & Bogers, M. (2014). Leveraging External Sources of Innovation: A Review of Research on Open Innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31(4), 814–831.

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RoboBlox | Making Art with Robots

RoboBlox is a 4X4 3D Blox artwork which comprises of a sculptural frieze, interactive artwork and a ‘making of RoboBlox’ video (see below).  While the artwork is inspired by Thieri Foulc’s 2D-Morpholo Tile Game and the Oulipo French Movement, the muse of RoboBlox’s sculptural frieze is the windy Brisbane/Maiwar river. The artwork uses rules and constraints to trigger the creation of the blocks which also serves as the basis of interactive creative engagement between the public and artwork. To create the individual block designs, QUT Design Robotics and UQ researchers coded a novel computational workflow into an industrial robotic arm to hotwire-cut polystyrene into the desired designs. 

The making of RoboBlox Video
As robots will be commonly used in design education and fabrication, this artwork is an exploration into finding novel ways to communicate robotic design processes. This is important as designers and architectural manufacturers are likely to rely on robotic systems for the production of design and architectural work in the coming future. In keeping with this approach, a video which explains the design and manufacturing process of RoboBlox was placed within the exhibition. It elaborates on the workflow where open-source plug-ins were used particularly to develop a web-based interactive design platform and code that translates 2D graphics into 3D forms. It further documents the eventual robotic fabrication of the frieze pieces.

Roboblox, Museum of Brisbane.
Photo credit: Shuwei Zhang

RoboBlox was exhibited in Brisbane, Australia at: 

More on RoboBlox and related work:

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Connecting Users and Robots | At Claire Brophy’s desk

Name: Claire Brophy
Design Robotics Role: Post-Doc Research Fellow 
Favourite quote: “There is no subject so old that something new cannot be said about it.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
Favourite Robot Podcasts: Well, not a podcast, but a lecture. And not just about robots, but close enough. 2017 Boyer Lectures: Fast, Smart and Connected: What is it to be Human, and Australian, in a Digital World.
Why robots?
Well, for me as a researcher, it’s the challenge of doing something that I know little about – robotics. It’s also about the cutting edge technology of Design Robotics that is part of the next major transformation in manufacturing. I am interested in how we balance the use of these advanced technologies and address the concerns of the people working with them every day.
What is your background? How did you end up in Design Robotics?
My background is pretty eclectic: I have worked in journalism and hospitality management. I, then, pursued an education in industrial design. My PhD looked at how older people interact with communication technologies and how these technologies should be designed for older users. It was less about what buttons they press and in what order, and more about the reasons they are engaging with the technology. I was keen to find out what keeps them using tech, the social fabric that ties them to the tech and the people they communicate with. Interestingly, older users expect values such as respect to be embedded in the technology. This research challenged the stereotypes of ageing and definitions of what it means to be old. This body of work, other research projects and my relationships with my colleagues led me to be part of the Design Robotics project.
Tell us a bit about the Design Robotics project, and what you do within the project.
The Design Robotics project is a collaboration between Urban Art Projects (UAP), two universities – QUT and RMIT, and the IMCRC. UAP is a bespoke manufacturer of public art and architectural installations. The Design Robotics team are teaching robots to ‘see’ so that they can take over some of the traditionally toxic and often dangerous manufacturing tasks. My role in Design Robotics is to bring a human-centred perspective to the team, surrounded by very clever roboticists and engineers. So my focus is more on the socio-cultural aspects that influence how people might be able to interact, and expect to interact with robots. 
Tell us a little more about the problem you are solving in Design Robotics.
To understand how a robot can begin to take on tasks that have traditionally been done by hand,  it is important to understand all aspects of the task itself. To bridge that gap, we study the way a task is traditionally done to transfer this knowledge to the robot. For example, we have worked with an expert linisher at UAP (removing the excess material from a metal object to leave a polished finish). It is a highly-skilled, physically arduous and time-consuming work, and there are endless challenges in trying to transfer this skill to a robot – both in understanding the human perspective and the physical constraints of the work – and the technology perspective, which involves teaching the robot to be able to do it. So in the context of this study, we are trying to understand how workshop staff uses their tools and the decisions they make in using the tools.
What has been your biggest joy with the project so far?
It’s about the people, they are an excellent and inspiring group of people.
A pleasure to work with every day.
What is your next big goal with the project?
This December, I will be presenting at the World Open Innovation Conference in Rome. It will cover our work on exploring ‘open innovation’ from a design perspective within the context of the upcoming Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Hub in Queensland. And in parallel, I will be focussing on developing a workplace study on understanding the manufacturing work at UAP, so we can design for the best human-robot interaction possible.
To connect with Claire and learn more about her work:
Design Robotics | LinkedIn | QUT eprints

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ARM Hub is hiring!

Boy Walking (in progress) – Ronnie Van Host; courtesy of UAP

The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Hub, a collaboration between industry, research, institutions and government, launches in 2020 with the aim of bringing cutting-edge robotics and design to the manufacturing sector in Queensland. The key partners of the project are QUT, UAP (previously Urban Art Projects), CSIRO and IMCRC and the Queensland Government with the Government investing $7.71 million over the next four years to support the establishment of the Hub. 
If you want to see your amazing business and organisational skills accelerate the digital transformation of industry in Australia, you should apply now for one of the following roles. 

Chief Operating Officer

Join the senior leadership team of a unique innovation hub driving the digital transformation of Australian manufacturing. The COO will work in partnership with the Chief Executive to drive sustainability and growth through operational effectiveness and highly-skilled stakeholder management.
For more information, click here.

Business Development Manager

This senior position will drive success through high-level partnerships and collaboration between industry, government and research institutions at the cutting edge of industry 4.0 transformation.
For more information, click here.

ARM Hub Coordinator

The ARM Hub Coordinator will work directly to support the Chief Executive, managing the flow of information, projects and administrative priorities.
For more information, click here.

Communications Officer

This is a  flexible and exciting part-time role that awaits a creative, autonomous communications professional with enviable digital expertise. It will involve digital marketing skills and a strategic mindset to support this small, high-performance team driving innovation in advanced manufacturing.
For more information, click here.

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On robots seeing, thinking and doing at the IMCRC conference

Teaching robots to see, developing robotic vision systems for design-led manufacturing; one-of-a-kind automated production systems; and, unlocking manufacturing potential. 

Photo Credit: Cian Sanders

Four members of the Design Robotics group presented at the recent 2019 Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre IMCRC Conference in Melbourne. PhD candidates Alan Burden and Baris Balci presented their PhD ‘pitch’, along with featured speakers Dr Glenda Caldwell and Dr Jared Donovan. UAP Founder and Managing Director, Matthew Tobin, was a panellist in the discussion on Industry-Research Collaboration: Unlocking Manufacturing Potential in Australia. 
Bringing together thought leaders, industry experts, researchers and students exploring advanced and digital technologies, the IMCRC conference progresses discussion about innovative leaps in manufacturing. The event seeks to project the future possibilities for disrupting and transforming Australian manufacturing through industry-led research, accelerating projects and inspiring new ideas.


Teaching robots to see was the subject of the featured talk by Dr Glenda Caldwell and Dr Jared Donovan. The audience was invited to imagine the potential of robotic vision in creating beautiful art objects, leading to more jobs in manufacturing. Robotic vision capability enables robots to see what they are working on and unlock the potential of robotic manufacturing for Australian small-to-medium enterprises specialising in bespoke manufacturing. The presentation highlighted the need for design-led manufacturing processes as well as open innovation networks. “Dare to experiment” was the message, to realise collaborative and creative projects. 

Jared Donovan and Glenda Caldwell. Photo Credit: IMCRC

[small-quote name=”Glenda Caldwell” title=””]”When people are inspired they will engage. When academics and industry partners share common values, then finding the sweet spot of research is possible.”[/small-quote]


Alan Burden talked about his PhD research on developing new ways to use robots & vision systems for design-led manufacturing. Framing the potential of Design Robotics with a quote from the McKinsey Global Institute, “Every country is going to feel the impact of automation by 2030” the presentation highlighted the how automation will affect industry. The creative opportunities robots afford us through assisted manufacturing processes can be seen in projects such as Richard Sweeney’s piece, Reflection.

Alan Burden. Photo Credit: IMCRC


Baris Balci presented on the development of an automated robotic polishing system for one-of-a-kind production. It was fascinating to see what can be achieved when the industry and the universities work closely”. Baris observed, “These type of collaborations create opportunities to address the untouched problems in different domains of engineering”.

Baris Balci Photo Credit: IMCRC

Baris’s presentation highlighted the value of custom one-of-a-kind robotic manufacturing alongside mass manufacturing in industry. Specifically, the potential value in robotic polishing operations and the ability to remove bottleneck issues in manufacturing processes were explained by first seeing, planning, and then developing novel ways of doing
Before the IMCRC conference, Alan and Baris attended National Manufacturing Week 2019, participating at the IMCRC booth on the trade floor. “We were given plenty of time to see the newest technology in additive and subtractive manufacturing”, Alan explained, “as well as scanning and robotics from all the big industry companies”.
Alan Burden was awarded the IMCRC PhD Student Pitch Award. Each student was given five minutes to explain his research in a way that is understandable to a general audience. “It was a surprise and an honour”, Alan said, “it was good to see the other IMCRC scholarship holders and meet them in person”. 

Photo Credit: IMCRC

The event provided many highlights, including hearing about current PhD and other academic research exploring innovative manufacturing techniques. Critically, it was the opportunity to observe direct links between this research and industry that held value for the Design Robotics team. As highlighted in Glenda and Jared’s talk, the opportunity to support design-led and creative approaches to research applies to all disciplines and all questions across industries.

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Distinguished Professor Mike Xie, Member of the Order of Australia

The Design Robotics team is delighted to announce that Distinguished Professor Mike Xie has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday 2019 Honours List. Mike has been recognised as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the General Division for “significant service to higher education and to civil engineering.”
Mike is internationally recognised for his development of innovative software tools that are used to optimise structural design. The tools he has developed are used globally for the design of buildings, bridges and other large civil infrastructure, combining architectural design qualities with both structural performance and weight efficiency.

Distinguished Professor Mike Xie. Photo Credit: RMIT

Professor Xie was awarded the title of “RMIT Distinguished Professor” in 2016 and is the Director of RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Structures and Materials. He was elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ASTE) in 2011, and has collaborated with companies including Arup, Boeing and Smith & Nephew. In addition to his academic and consulting work at RMIT, Professor Xie has established a successful engineering practice in China known as XIE Archi-Structure Design (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.
The Design Robotics team extend our heartfelt congratulations to Professor Xie on his recent recognition as a Member of the Order of Australia; one of a series of awards which include the 2017 Clunies Ross Innovation Award, and the 2017 AGM Michell Medal.

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Putting the "A" in STEAM: Robotic art at the World Science Festival

Image Credit: T.J. Thomson

Advances in digital technology are occurring at dizzying speeds, giving rise to the challenge of sustainable resource and energy consumption. Increasingly, the need for creative applications of scientific knowledge is becoming recognised as necessary in solving complex problems.
There is an acknowledged need to integrate arts within areas of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in tackling complex problems. The result is growing advocacy for “STEAM” as a conceptual foundation for education. Gonski 2.0 reinforces this trend as a cross-curricular approach to education launched by the Australian federal government.

[small-quote name=”Bronwen Wade-Leeuwen, Jessica Vovers and Melissa Silk” title=””]STEM represents science, technology, engineering and maths. “STEAM” represents STEM plus the arts – humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media.[/small-quote]

The World Science Festival seeks to inspire visitors to wonder about the world around us. It educates children and adults alike about the value of science, and importantly, encourages consideration of the future ramifications of scientific developments.
The 2019 Asia-Pacific World Science Festival attracted over 200,000 people from Brisbane and beyond to explore the wonders of science. Here, Design Robotics showcased one of our latest project developments – a robot artist able to draw your portrait.

Amelia Luu, Dr Jared Donovan and Alan Burden (Image Credit: Cori Stewart)

Led by Dr Jared Donovan, with Mechatronics Engineer Amelia Luu and PhD student Alan Burden, along with a UR5, the robot produced almost 200 individual portraits for festival attendees. Human-computer interaction enabled the art-making, with users able to adjust a desired image via the software interface, changing the look of the sketches. Once happy with their portrait, the information was then sent to the robot to draw.  
[small-quote name=”Alan Burden” title=””]“The robot is able to make a very rough sketch in under 60 seconds, but the best results take around two to three minutes.”[/small-quote]

How does it work?

Complete with a 3D printed end-effector designed specifically for the task, the UR5 robotic arm was up to the task – now able to hold the three pens required to draw the portraits.

Image Credit: T.J. Thomson

With software able to run on a standard computer, an image of the subject is captured using a webcam. This image file is passed through filters within the program that use a series of algorithms to determine a final abstract version of the image. These abstract ‘sketches’ represent three variations – or layers – of lines that are combined to make up the final portrait drawing. The robot is then programmed to draw those layers onto the canvas using a Grasshopper plugin for Rhinoceros 3D. The three drawings are overlaid to create the portrait.

Image Credit: T.J. Thomson

[small-quote name=”Alan Burden” title=””]“Three different filters make the three variations of linework or sketches. When combined, the three sketches make the abstract image that the robot is programmed to draw on the canvas.”[/small-quote]
The exhibit was an enormous success, with visitors able to see how robots can act as co-creators through human-computer interaction, transforming digital images into collaborative art.
Reference to The Conversation Article: Explainer: what’s the difference between STEM and STEAM?

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Opening Gateways for Design Robotics

Photo Credit: UAP (Photography by Leah Desborough)

UAP and Design Robotics attended and presented at the evening event Digital Gateways, in February – a gathering of digital visionaries showcasing and experiencing some of the latest advances in digital engineering technology.
Global engineering and infrastructure advisory company, Aurecon, hosted the event. The presentations and displays focused on the integration of design and engineering with current digital tools and methodologies. Aurecon showcased their digital capabilities to clients along with SightLab, Unsigned Studio and external exhibitors Quartile One and Design Robotics/UAP.
Lewis Humphries from UAP and Dr Jared Donovan from Design Robotics presented about the digital tools employed by UAP and Design Robotics to enhance design methodologies. They described how cutting-edge digital design practices of architects and artists are pushing the limits of traditional fabrication techniques. Dr Donovan introduced the Design Robotics project as one that is exploring and developing ways to address the challenges inherent in modern-day manufacturing. The potential of incorporating robotic vision technologies was discussed, as well as human-centred design into the development of robotics systems for mass-customisation manufacturing.
Photo Credit: Aurecon (Photography by Leah Desborough)

Held at Aurecon’s new 25 King Street office in Brisbane, attendees included Transport and Main Roads (TMR), Transurban, Lend Lease, Government representatives, BHP, and Rio Tinto among others. Topics included Virtual Reality, real-time visualisation platforms, Augmented Reality applications such as topographic contour line sandboxes and GIS/mapping, advanced data analytics and machine learning, and digitised estates.

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Design Robotics at the Woodford Festival

Image Source: Woodford Folk Festival

Woodford is an annual folk festival held in Queensland, Australia. Known for its vibrant and eclectic culture, it is the largest gathering of musicians, artists and speakers in Australia. Every December over 130,000 people travel from all around, pitch their tents, and settle in to enjoy six days and nights of music and art.
At the recent 34th Woodford Festival, one of the 438 acts was a presentation by Dr Glenda Caldwell from Design Robotics. Dr Caldwell brought art and robotics to the festival, discussing new transdisciplinary approaches to design through architecture, interaction design, human-computer interaction and robotics.

During the presentation, Glenda Caldwell said that the ability to see is critical to the advancement of design robotics. An idea not only described in terms of the capabilities of robots assisting us in creative processes but the vision we hold for the future of humanity. This vision is safeguarded by learning from the past and acknowledging the present, as the natural world and digital world entwine, Dr Caldwell stated.
[small-quote name=”Glenda Caldwell” title=””]This discussion and these considerations need to be continued beyond now, beyond this festival and into our classrooms, our research, and much farther. [/small-quote]

Panel Discussion

A panel discussion was also held on Designing the future with artificial intelligence joined by Dr Glenda Caldwell, Professor Janet Wiles and Dr Erica Mealy.

The connecting thread throughout the discussion was an essential human component to robotic technologies, where robots learn from people and assist them rather than replace them. Glenda explained that the ultimate goal of Design Robotics and UAP’s work is achieving the artist, designer or architect’s intent.
The potential of robotic manufacturing technology lies in its versatility, and its ability to accommodate different levels of engagement and integration with the technology throughout the creative process. “How we incorporate robotic technology that responds to the end user is really critical in what we’re doing,” Glenda explained,  “we want the interface to be usable for as many people as possible in the manufacturing environment”.
The discussion was later aired as a Big Ideas episode on ABC Radio National.

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Open Innovation: The future of creative collaboration

In a fast-paced world where the entrepreneur is king, collaborative innovation is frequently hindered by issues of intellectual property and restrictions around knowledge-use. Open innovation is countering this closed model of knowledge-production, seeking to bring openness to research and facilitate opportunities for impact and value creation for cross-sectoral stakeholders.
The QUT Institute for Future Environments (IFE) Transforming Innovation Systems Platform hosted a business breakfast and research workshop last week exploring current ideas and future opportunities of open innovation. Both events were supported by the QUT Design Lab, QUT Business School and IMCRC Design Robotics Open Innovation Network. The events sought to connect research and industry, sparking opportunities for collaborative research partnerships.

Left to right: Lisa Cavallaro, David Chuter, QUT Vice-Chancellor Margaret Sheil, the Hon. Kate Jones MP, Professor Marcel Bogers, and Dr Ian Dover.

Visiting Professor Marcel Bogers of the University of Copenhagen enriched both events with his insights about the design, organisation and management of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.
[small-quote name=”Bogers et al. (2018)” title=]”Open innovation has become a new paradigm for organizing innovation … Open innovation assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal as well as external paths to market, as they look to advance their innovations.”[/small-quote]

Research Workshop

Research into Open Innovation is emerging mainly from the business sphere, but it presents exciting possibilities when it comes to collaboration between industry and design researchers. This benefit is mutual, with design able to enrich innovative business models as an inherently user-centric form of practice.
During the “From Open Innovation to Open Research” workshop, over 20 researchers came together, including Dr Prithika Randhawa from the University of Technology Sydney, Business School who assisted in facilitating the event.
Participants discussed the detrimental impact of “silo thinking” as a barrier to Open Innovation, as opposed to models that embrace a diverse range of disciplinary knowledge and skills. “It was great to see different researchers brought together from disciplines such as business and design,” Glenda Caldwell of the Design Robotics team said, “we found common ground through this concept of Open Innovation, and were quickly able to overcome any disciplinary boundaries.”
[small-quote name=”Marcel Bogers”]We are looking inside out and also outside in when it comes to openness and participation between organisations[/small-quote]
Participants also grappled with the complexities of engaging multiple stakeholders with diverse interests, as well as the impact of institutional aspects of policy-making and participatory governance. Open Innovation was frequently described as a form of ecosystem in which the key to success is in striking a balance between value creation and empowerment for each of the stakeholders.

Business Breakfast

The Open Innovation Breakfast was hosted on 15 February at QUT by the IFE Transforming Innovation Systems Platform, bringing together over 80 industry, government and academic representatives.

The Hon. Kate Jones MP

Opened by the Honourable Kate Jones, Minister for Innovation and Tourism Industry Development, and attended by QUT Vice-Chancellor Margaret Sheil the event linked research, practice and policy. Speakers included Dr Ian Dover, CEO of METS Ignited, Lisa Cavallaro, Industry Development Manager of Brisbane Marketing, David Chuter, CEO Managing Director, Innovative Manufacturing CRC, and Professor Marcel Bogers provided a fresh outlook on the current challenges and future opportunities for Open Innovation.
Reference: Bogers, M., Chesbrough, H., Moedas, C. (2018). Open Innovation: Research, Practices, and Policies. California Management Review, 60(2), 5-16.