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WOMEN IN STEM | ROBOTIC FUTURES

For International Women’s Day in early March 2020, members of QUT’s Design Robotics team, Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira, Amelia Luu and Dr Cori Stewart, participated in panel discussions focusing on women’s careers. The following reflections on their career journeys and interest in Design Robotics were inspired by the conversations at these events.

Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira

Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira is a Senior Lecturer in QUT Interior Architecture. At the same time, she is a creative maker and transdisciplinary designer with specialisations in advanced manufacturing, digital fabrication, and parametric design. She is also one of the Chief Investigators of QUT’s Design Robotics project and ARM Hub. 

First job

My first job was volunteering at a music festival in Istanbul. I am originally from Istanbul, and the Istanbul Music Festival was one of the most inspiring music events in the city. My first professional job was working in an architectural office as an intern. I remember spending all the summer going through their material library, sorting and updating the dusty shelves full of various architectural materials and catalogues. There wasn’t Material ConneXion at the time, so the only way to find out about materials was to give the companies a call and ask for a postal delivery.

Career moments

I had several pivotal points in my career. The first one was my move to London and studying at the Architectural Association (AA) Design Research Laboratory. It changed my life in many ways: one, I got to meet my partner in life and work; and the other, I got to work with one of the most influential women in the history of architecture, Zaha Hadid.
The second pivotal point in my career was my move to Santa Barbara to UCSB, where I got to work in a very transdisciplinary environment. During my PhD, I spent two years in Translab researching immersive environments and acoustics, under the supervision of Markus Novak at UCSB Media Arts and Technology program. I had the opportunity to work with inspiring people such as Yutaka Makino, Haru Hyunkyung Ji, Graham Wakefield and Mark-David Hosale.
My last pivotal point is the move to Brisbane and beginning to work with the QUT Design Robotics Project.

Challenges

Juggling the work/life balance is one of the greatest challenges in our field. As a woman, if you want to become a mother, you need to have career breaks. This has a huge impact on the progress of your career, or the people’s perception of what you can or can’t do. For me, my partner is the greatest supporter to help me navigate this. He is always there for me and supports me in achieving my goals. Also, here in Australia, there are special support programs and exemptions for female academics to progress with their careers. As women, we shouldn’t give up on our dreams and seek opportunities and mentors that support us in achieving them.

Wishlist for Design Robotics

More support for women through flexible work hours; professional development support through leadership courses, mentoring, and training; allowing younger generations to be exposed to the potentials of design robotics through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) workshops.

Inspirations

My biggest inspiration was Zaha Hadid. My background is in architecture, and as a profession, architecture is also a very male-dominant world. In fact, it has been affected by the #MeToo movement immensely. As an Iraqi woman, who had migrated to the UK in the early 70s, Zaha Hadid later became British and was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She was the first woman to win the Pritzker prize. She was an influential and inspiring woman and I was very lucky to work with her, right after graduating from the AA.

The importance of visibility

My current research takes place in the manufacturing industry, which as you might know is a very male-dominant industry. Therefore, it is important to represent women in this industry by being present at events such as “Women in Manufacturing Breakfasts”, Women in Technology platforms, etc…
As an academic, there are many ways women are supported, especially in QUT. QUT is part of an initiative called “The Athena SWAN Accreditation Framework”, which is part of SAGE (Science in Australia Gender Equity) and supports female researchers/ academics by providing special funding, organising Women in Stem workshops, writing retreats. Currently, I receive a grant from the QUT Women in Research Grant worth $10,000 for conducting research on Robotic Clay Cutting. I believe it is important to get stronger as a woman, so that we can mentor and support younger women to be more successful.

The change we need

I believe we should support each other and grow together. In the QUT Design Robotics research group, we have amazing women and men who mentor, guide and support one another. So far, it has been an amazing environment to work in. In general, women need to put aside negative competition and support each other more. We need to know that the more we share, the better we will all get from this collective sharing environment.

Advice to younger women

Ignore prejudices on what you can do. Focus on what you want to do and what you want to learn to be the best in your field. Surround yourself with people who are supportive and positive and keep yourself away from those who are negative and self-centred.
Believe in yourself! Women are strong and empowering! Step up with your dreams!

Amelia Luu

Amelia Luu is a mechatronics engineer within QUT’s Design Robotics project, where she works with industry partner UAP, a large-scale art manufacturing company, researching how to embed robotics into their workflow. I am currently developing an autonomous system to linish cast aluminium pieces.

First job

The first job I ever had was in high school working at a little juice bar in the city. I have a vivid memory of them letting 15-year old me use a machete to slice a watermelon. It was amazing fun and a great first introduction to a working environment!
My first STEM-related job was during my Mechatronic Engineering Bachelor’s degree. I worked with a research group in QUT named Biofabrication and Tissue Morphology, a lab run by Professor Mia Woodruff. They are researching advanced manufacturing in the context of fabricating patient-specific biomedical solutions. An example of this was my final year project where I designed a photogrammetry rig to help instantaneously capture a person’s face in order to 3D print custom moulds for transparent facial mask fabrication used in burn treatments. This is the kind of work that led me to custom manufacturing in Design Robotics.

Career moments

I was always interested in science, and biology in particular, and honestly chose engineering on a whim due to my general interest in STEM topics. At the end of my first year, I came across a TED talk that made all the difference: Hugh Herr’s work in bionics. He is an Associate Professor currently leading a Biomechatronics group at MIT. In this TED talk, he presented their work that helped a dancer who had lost her leg in the Boston bombings perform again. It was this TED talk and Herr’s passion that inspired me to pursue a career that could combine science, assistive technology and engineering together.

Challenges

There are definitely challenges with being a young Asian female in a white male-dominated industry, though I believe most of these challenges are a result of their unconscious bias. Rarely will people directly admit they have less regard for me because I am a woman. Instead, the challenges typically show up in more subtle or passive aggressive ways. For instance, despite being brought on a project as the only robotics expert, my advice was never trusted, always second guessed and was only taken seriously if another man agreed with me. Another example would be when I was in a discussion with a male colleague and a client. Even though I was the one leading the discussion and facilitating the meeting, the client always answered my questions to the male colleague and never directly faced or made eye contact with me. So, it always feels like there is a constant battle for a basic level of respect.
What has helped me navigate all of this is having a network of people to talk about it with. The Design Robotics team has been great for this, as everybody is incredibly supportive and open for these difficult discussions.

Wishlist for Design Robotics

I hope that we continue working towards getting better representation across the board, and for more women in senior leadership positions. I also aspire for this industry to continue being open towards multi-disciplinary collaborations as that’s where I believe the more meaningful and higher impact projects begin and flourish.

Inspirations

All the women involved with Design Robotics are inspiring as they are all doing amazing jobs and breaking glass ceilings in their respective fields, which is wonderful to see! Another local that comes to mind is Marita Cheng; I first came across her as the founder of Robogals. She won the Young Australian of the Year award in 2012, has been recognised on various influential lists, and has done a lot in the robotics industry.

The importance of visibility

The first thing I think of is representation. Growing up, Asians were stereotypically represented as the nerd with no friends in Western media. I rarely saw an Asian woman, let alone an Asian person climbing career ladders, being CEOs or living a life similar to what I currently have. However, this is definitely changing. With movies like Crazy Rich Asians and the general rise of Asian actors in Western media, there is now a push for representation of Asian people and women in all aspects of life. Representation is important because it positively impacts people to see various potential versions of yourself, and empowers them to pursue avenues that they may not have realised were available to them.

The change we need

I believe that workplaces should be working harder to foster an environment where everybody’s voice can be heard regardless of gender or position. Inclusivity and diversity are the pillars of innovation. Ultimately, the responsibility of supporting women does not only fall on women and I think that everybody – especially people in power – should also regularly check in on their unconscious bias when making decisions.

Advice to younger women

Truly learn how to back yourself, as I think it’s ingrained in women from a young age to doubt ourselves. It’s important to remind yourself that it’s okay to ask for help and I have found that building a supportive network where you feel safe to share both the positive and uncomfortable feelings has been invaluable.

Dr Cori Stewart

Dr Cori Stewart is currently the CEO of ARM Hub, Associate Professor at QUT and a Chief Investigator on the Design Robotics project. The opportunity for Design Robotics was triggered from her relationship with UAP, which led to QUT developing the Design Robotics team.

First job

Like many of us in our group, I actually started out as a visual artist and did a lot of writing for newspapers about art as well. When I was about 25, I successfully applied to a Youth Arts Mentorship program. At the same time, I did an arts, culture and media policy degree. And then I went into the Brisbane City Council and became a Creative City policy officer. I was doing three things at once – just because I like to do it all.

Career moments

Getting into the Youth Arts mentorship program at the time was extraordinary as it was a paid mentorship for the better part of a year. We were teamed up with mentors and I got to understand how decisions on funding and policy settings were made and continue as a visual artist at the time.
Later I was appointed as the Creative City Policy Officer with the city council and it was just heaven for me: it was regular pay, and I got to work in arts and culture while cutting my teeth in managing politics and policy making. We wrote Brisbane’s Creative City Policy, which was a piece of work that remains important to me. I did my Masters degree on that and then a PhD. But in the Creative City policy officer role, I was in a terrific team, had the ability to learn, and could take the initiative to shape things. I had complete ownership of that job, which I lived and breathed for some time.
It’s also been great to watch the Design Robotics project flourish with a great number of people and diversity amongst us. It has become a touch point of what good collaboration looks like for many people, both in the project and outside it.

Challenges

I have mostly worked in industries where there were very few jobs at the top to aspire to. It has been a real challenge. It was never “Hey, this job’s for you” or “we’re thinking about you for this”. So, there is a lot of creating things from the ground up, like the ARM Hub. So, what might be a marker for me is when leaders of companies as well as research leaders bring opportunities to the ARM Hub, instead of me (and others) doing all that intense relationship development to make each opportunity happen. It would be especially significant and incredibly productive if more of our male leaders participated more in this way.

Wishlist for Design Robotics

ARM Hub grew out of the Design Robotics project, and Design Robotics forms a specialised group within ARM Hub. I hope that we continue to draw on our unique capabilities and generate a whole range of projects that transform industry and continue to collaborate in an exciting transdisciplinary manner. I also hope that we draw from the great diversity we have in the group: across genders and different cultural backgrounds. Even though we live the practice of collaboration every day, we forget sometimes that our ability to collaborate is our superpower. When we get to do interesting things in collaboration with other companies, they see it too.

Inspirations

I’m inspired by the many amazing women I get to spend my work and life with. In the cultural space, at the moment, I really, really admire the career and work of Margaret Atwood as well as Elizabeth Moss who features in Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. I do like Moss’s work beyond that too. I believe they’re really important icons for women.

The importance of visibility

In most of the environments I have worked there were and are a lot of women in leadership roles. But I have to say that dominantly female environments are as complicated as dominantly male environments. One reason is because as a whole, in the technology industries and in institutions including governments, women don’t often have the power networks and the financial networks. So, we were quite curtailed by that. But I did get to exist alongside a lot of women leaders.
It’s interesting that the opportunity for me to take leadership was only when I stepped outside arts and politics. Here I mean leadership where I’m running a company and have significant personal legal responsibilities. If you have a good idea, if you do the work … gosh! It’s been a lot of work. But if you just keep at it long enough and don’t crumble to that sense of imposter syndrome and learn to sit with the discomfort in all the new spaces you will enter, it is clear there is a critical role for boundary spanners who knit the whole picture together.
There was an article in the Courier Mail last week, with the headline “Tech won’t take your jobs”. It called me a tech expert and that made me very uncomfortable because I don’t see myself as a tech expert. I’m definitely a leader in the tech space but not a tech ‘expert’. While you can’t control what the media say, my first gut instinct was that the Courier Mail outed me. Of course, this is my conditioning to feel a kind of shame here, and it is the conditioning of a lot of women in their careers not to transgress boundaries and carefully manage such slippages. So, I think it is important to call out this conditioning and in response be the strong woman in unknown spaces because of what it will mean for future generations of women who will join such boundary spanning roles. I want them to know it is completely okay to sit in unknown and uncomfortable spaces, do the hard work and lead.

The change we need

I believe that anyone can look at Design Robotics as an example of watching women take on challenges with the support of a whole team. As a team we can provide diverse input that is valued across the different stakeholders and partners of the project. So, Design Robotics has become its own icon with its own value and merit. But beyond that, I still think that we women need to work together at the highest levels and demonstrate what it means to support women in the media and through political leadership. The reality is, how do we do it every day? How do we make sure that everyone has a voice given their position, gender and the knowledge they are bringing to the table? I have often not been in the position where I’ve been able to make decisions, but when I am able to influence decisions I like to check-in. When someone says, “Oh, you know she’s not ready for that opportunity”, I ask why?

Advice for younger women

Try to find those leadership opportunities and as soon as you can, take them. Be okay with big steps and not knowing everything. Leadership is about how you approach it, not what you know.
A shout out to the Design Robotics, ARM and UAP teams, and with special thanks to Dr Glenda Amayo Caldwell, Dr Claire Brophy, Dr Jing Peng, Peta Portelli, Amanda Bell, Emma Lane, and Amanda Harris.
The original article features on 12th June 2020 on Parlour. Edited by Susie Ashworth.

Categories
Opinion

What is Advanced Manufacturing?

This article aims to provide an overview of what advanced manufacturing is, and how it will change Australian manufacturing businesses.
The video below from the CSIRO Roadmap for Advanced Manufacturing, provides a good overview of how these technologies will affect manufacturing processes.

Increasing Levels of Customisation

Advanced manufacturing technologies allow for ‘mass-customisation.’ This is where materials and products can be individually customised at a high volume and at a relatively low cost. Doing away with the standard sizes of mass-produced elements. This changes the way consumers interact with products and creates new and exciting opportunities for businesses.

Advances in Digital Networks and Analytics

It’s not just the physical capacity of these technologies, its also about the capacity for technologies to make decisions. Which, as the video says, ‘Blurs the lines between manufacturing and service provision.’ This means that smart manufacturing technologies are able to do more than just repetitive tasks, they can interpret and analyse data to make complex decisions. As part of the Design Robotics project we are working toward making robotic arms ‘see.’ Vision Robotics involves providing the robot with ways to see via cameras and scanners, and with this scan data, robots can make decisions about work processes. There are also lots of different ways that robots can access data for analysis to make working decisions.

The Need for More Sustainable Operations

Probably one of the greatest contributions Advanced Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) make is the facilitation of more sustainable practices. Less waste, more efficient practices and better material usage through increased accuracy are all ways AMT contribute to more sustainable operations.
 
There is so much that Advanced Manufacturing has to offer. The purpose of this article was to introduce the broader benefits and aims of these technologies in the Australian Manufacturing sector.
 

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Knowledge Sharing Opinion

Selecting Suitable projects for Advanced Manufacturing Technologies

In an exciting development, UAP has invested in Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, but how do they decide when to use these technologies? We sat down with UAP’s General Manager Amanda Harris and asked her, ‘How do you decide which projects are best suited for using Advanced Manufacturing Technologies?’

UAP ready for Industry 4.0
One of the great things about the way UAP works is their capacity to accommodate such a variety of different ways to work and different tools to work with, as Amanda tells us, ‘We have all the different tools of the trade here and a wide, wide array of projects to employ them upon. In addition, we have a team of talented people with decades of experience. Our  expertise ranges from people who are working in digital spaces to specialists working with more traditional tools.’
In our research, we have found that Advanced Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) are most easily taken up by large firms (defined by having 500+ employees), while small to medium enterprises experience more difficulty in transitioning to new technologies. However, the unique and agile way that UAP conducts business provides them with an advantageous position to adopt new ways of working. As Amanda explained to us, ‘Because we have a broad skillset and specialist team members, who’ve been working here for 10 years, 20 years, they are experts within their field, so that makes it easier for us to key in the next step. We have the advantage of being able to draw on knowledge of existing processes and techniques, and then understand where there might be gaps in them.’
It is also the case that UAP has strived to continually adapt to new ways of working, making a move to AMT a gradual one, rather than a huge leap. Amanda feels that UAP are in a good position to begin working with AMT, ‘Every project we have is unique, and our team is used to solving problems or approaching a process that we haven’t undertaken before. So while adapting to new technologies can be a steep learning curve and potentially intimidating, we’re practised at the unfamiliar. .’
Another important success indicator for the implementation of new technologies in existing firms was support from upper-level management. Amanda told us that at UAP, ‘we want to be the innovators.’
How are projects selected for Advanced Manufacturing Technology?
In explaining how she selected projects that were suitable for AMT, Amanda explained that ‘for me; it’s about making small progressive steps.’
Amanda emphasised that using technology was about developing their existing, internal processes. ‘I don’t mind what the technology is or what kind of innovation we’re looking at… if we can see there is a way that we can develop our Intellectual Property, and in doing so widen our delivery capabilities (or make existing tasks easier!), then that’s something we want to turn into an advantage. Ultimately, making commercial projects more successful is what drives us to attack anything new.’ She also highlighted that the application was more important than the technology by itself, reflecting on previous work completed by the firm that, ‘often here, if we try to innovate for innovation’s sake, we don’t see a lot of traction, and that’s because the commercial side of the business always wins. You have a pipe dream and a deadline. I think everyone can predict the winner when those two things are matched up. So what we’re doing now, is trying to chip away at the pipedream by using every deadline to our advantage. Sure, we might not develop and test an entirely new process start to finish on a project. But we achieve the first step of that new process on project one, the second step on project two and so on. And of course there are some failures in there, so we also work with a Plan B in mind, that is more traditional, just in case.. because, well the deadline is still looming.’
For that reason, Amanda always selects projects where using these technologies align with the commercial requirements; she told us, ‘to break that cycle is to find a commercial project that will benefit from that kind of innovation and then key that innovation in. It can’t just be a superficial inclusion that doesn’t help the process.’ The other factor that determines if a project is suited to the use of AMT is the availability of time within the programme to accommodate training and any setbacks with the technology, as Amanda explains, ‘The next checkpoint is the scenario where you have a little bit of programme or time within those projects, those are ideal. This isn’t always the case though, at the moment we’re using Augmented Reality to set out fabrication parts for a project that has an incredibly short timeline. In this case, we’re ahead of where we would be traditionally, even though we’re adapting to newer technology – the time savings are that great. This is only possible with the talent and engagement of our team, and their ability to collaborate. In this case, we have Steve Walsh, our Head of Fabrication, working with Luke Harris, our most tenured digital designer. Together they are bypassing the need parts of the traditional workshop drawing set, and making the assembly and fabrication occur at pace, to meet a very tight deadline.’
Baby Steps
As with most of the research on the successful integration of AMT in firms, there needs to be a steady progression of technology used by staff, gradually leading up to the employment of AMT. Amanda reiterated the practical importance of this in the day to day operations and meeting client expectations. She told us that, ‘the way that we try to make these developments is to incorporate those steps so that we’re not trying to solve any problems that we can’t see any other way to resolve.  The ideal scenario is not to take a commercial project and be in a position where the only way we can deliver it is with new technology. Instead, the intent is to find a commercial project, identify a way that I think we can improve a step within it, a small step, and then deliver within our existing delivery model.’
The delivery of good quality projects is always the priority
The most important consideration is that the project will be delivered – on time and fit for purpose. The technology has to be employed in such a way that it won’t hinder project deliverables, as Amanda tells us, ‘if a piece of equipment or tech failed, we just can’t be in a position to not deliver for the Client. So there’s a lot of steps in qualifying the tech.’ As such, it is always more about the process of delivering the project than it is about the technology itself.
 

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_ Opinion

From Digitisers to 3D Scanning

3D Scanning is an integral part of advanced manufacturing. Especially for complex three-dimensional forms, such as architecture and sculptural public art. As discussed in our article on the fabrication of Emily Floyd’s Poll, 3D scanning from a scaled physical maquette is often the starting point for digital fabrication. The method used for scanning maquettes effects the amount of detail captured in the scan. The quality of scans can impact the processes involved in manufacturing. Over time this technology has evolved and changed. Scanners can now obtain information in increasing detail. This detailed information assists in achieving higher accuracy, and efficiency, from advanced manufacturing technologies.

Looking back to Digitisers

In this video excerpt of a 60 minutes segment on Frank Gehry’s work from the 1990s shows an early form of 3D scanning for digital fabrication. This type of scanning involved using a digitiser to map out a series of points, in three-dimensional space. From these points, CAD software is used to create a three-dimensional shell of the form. This shell would be then scaled up and used for the basis of creating the model for a building. This type of scanning provided some simple spatial information for designers to work, but it was limited to points in three-dimensional space. People were then required to add in data, using CAD software, such as materials and textures to each surface of the scanned 3D model.

Testing new scanners

As 3D scanning technology has progressed, 3D scanners can collect more information about the object. The advances in these technologies are pushed forward by vision, sensor, infrared, and lighting technology. Contemporary scanners can gather detailed information about the surface of an object including its texture and materiality. As part of our research, we are experimenting with different scanners to test out their capacities and ascertain which scanners are best suited to different materials and projects. The video below features Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira and Dr Helen Hou, our two postdoctoral research fellows, testing out a spider scanner.

As part of this process, the researchers tested out three different types of scanners; a Kinect v2, an Intel Real Sense, and an Artec Eva. Each scanner produced different results depending on the technique used for scanning and the material of the object. The researchers tested scanning timber, foam, and metal with a matte finish, and metal with a reflective surface. As you can see from the chart below, each scanner produced different results.

The next phase of the project involves attaching the scanner to the robotic arm, which will provide it with vision. With the scanner, the robotic arm is able to move around an object and scan it from various angles. Additionally, our team are developing new software that will enable the robotic arm to use this scanned data so that it can perform tasks such as fettling of sheet metal and polishing. Effectively, we are aiming to equip the robot with vision so that it can undertake a wise range of automated tasks.
 

Categories
Opinion

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 info@designrobotics.net

Categories
Opinion

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.

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Opinion

Robotic Arms in Manufacturing

Introduction

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 designrobotics.net, 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: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4247431/
History of the Kuka Arm: https://www.kuka.com/en-au/about-kuka/history
History of Nachi: http://www.nachirobotics.com/company-information/natchi-history/
Robots and their Arms: http://infolab.stanford.edu/pub/voy/museum/pictures/display/1-Robot.htm
History of the Robotic Arm: source: http://iptmajorprojectjacobheffernan.weebly.com/history-of-the-robotic-arm.html
Seven Types of Industrial Robot Sensors: https://blog.robotiq.com/bid/72633/7-Types-of-Industrial-Robot-Sensors
Working alongside robotics (interview with Peter Corke) http://media.theaustralian.com.au/poweringaustralia/robotics/index.html

Categories
Opinion

Why the Australian manufacturing industry needs the next generation of robots


The Conversation

Why the Australian manufacturing industry needs the next generation of robots

Ft3c46k8 1360106033.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Assistive robots could help save Australia’s beleaguered manufacturing industry.
CSIRO

Alberto Elfes, CSIRO

Amid the gloom about the prospects for manufacturing in Australia — and the difficulties facing an economy dominated by small businesses (nearly 90% of Australian manufacturing capacity) — there is some cause for optimism. A new generation of lightweight, assistive robots looks to provide small to medium enterprises (SMEs) with new options to improve their competitiveness and meet the challenges of high costs and a shortage of skilled workers.

The news is good for workers, too. Robotic “smart tools” offer a means of removing danger and monotony from the work environment and, in striking contrast to conventional beliefs, provide a way to retain the existing workforce for longer.

Studies have shown that robots can boost productivity, but this productivity dividend is dependent on a human workforce able to set them up, maintain them, and make creative decisions about how best to complete work tasks. In a US case study of Marlin Steel, introduction of robots not only boosted quality of company product, but increased employee remuneration.

The manufacture of robots is a growing source of employment. A 2011 report commissioned by the International Federation of Robotics found that 150,000 people worldwide are already employed in the engineering and assembly of robots.

This report also identifies use of robotics in SMEs as essential to win back manufacturing from countries with low labour costs. In this case, the introduction of robots is capable of maintaining the viability of manufacturing in developed countries – and preserving manufacturing jobs.

Assistive robotics offer a high-productivity solution that could also help Australian manufacturing integrate into regional value chains, as recommended in the recent Asian Century white paper.

Lightweight robots can be integrated into the Australian workplace as assistants to workers in three ways.

The first is as “intelligent tools”, which work together with human workers. Mobile assistants, manipulators, “smart” picking, lifting and handling systems, and robotic welders, gluers and assemblers enable automation of short-run production processes, and provide a flexible solution to increase efficiency of production.

Secondly, robots can also be used as tools to augment the abilities of human workers in manufacturing processes. Powered exoskeletons enable workers, regardless of age or gender, to lift and manipulate heavy loads safely. Wearable machine vision systems can alert workers to workplace hazards in real-time, including hazards which can’t be detected visually, such as radiation and high temperatures. Mobile assistive robotic trainers and tele-immersive training systems enable experienced staff to remotely mentor workers who are new to a work environment.

The third way is as “smart” field tools, which enable human workers to manufacture items under hazardous or challenging conditions. Tele-operated mobile tools and vehicles are already in use in the mining industry, enabling work to be supervised remotely in an environment that is safe and comfortable for workers. Rigs which facilitate micro-manipulation and micro-assembly enable workers to conduct micro-assembly of complex items without strain to eyesight. Virtual and augmented reality systems allow workers to manipulate tools while remote from the factory floor, therefore reducing risks of work-related injury such as repetitive strain and injuries from use of tools.

So why is robotics changing? Conventional industrial robots — such as those used in automotive manufacturing — are heavy, programmed for one task, fixed in place on the factory floor, and expensive to buy, install, program and maintain. They are also potentially hazardous to humans, so workers are usually excluded from the robot workspace. But the next generation of lightweight robots is different.

A number of technological advances have made this new generation of lightweight robots possible.

First, the next generation of robots can “see” the workplace using advanced vision systems (including stereo and infrared cameras and multi-modal imaging), high precision sensors and perception algorithms.

Secondly, the new generation of robots is mobile. They know where they are and can navigate within the workplace thanks to navigation, localisation and mapping technologies – such as Wi-Fi localisation, beacon-based navigation, simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM), and accurate 2D or 3D modelling.

Importantly, human workers are now able to easily communicate with robots via voice and visual gesture recognition. Sophisticated human-robot interactive interfaces allow shared autonomy and human supervisory control. Additionally, augmented and virtual reality robotic systems allow workers to work remotely in hazardous or physically demanding working environments and to tele-operate and tele-supervise remote equipment. Emerging global high-speed wireless communication systems such as the NBN provide the required infrastructure for these technologies.

Manipulation technologies, including force-amplifying exoskeletons (frameworks worn by workers to provide mobility and lifting assistance), dexterous manipulation (grasping and moving complex objects using robotic “fingers” or claws), and multi-robot cooperation make for a working environment that is safer for the workforce and enable any worker – regardless of sex or age – to effectively perform physically onerous or dangerous tasks in complete safety. Robotic tools similar to existing micro-surgery rigs enable workers to perform miniature component manufacturing and assembly tasks with precision and dexterity – without risk to their health.

Finally, the new generation of robots would not be possible without smart fabrication. Miniaturisation and smart and lightweight materials make for small, light, smart robots. These robots can move rapidly around a workplace, respond to commands to fetch tools, rapidly shift stores of materials and finished product, and complement human activities.

Alberto Elfes, Science Leader for Robotics, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.