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Artist Interview: Ronnie van Hout from UAP Company on Vimeo.

Captured in mid-motion, lost in thought, is a giant figure dubbed, Boy Walking by artist Ronnie van Hout. This towering landmark situated in a civic parkland along the Dominion Road edge of Balmoral’s Potters Park in Auckland, New Zealand, was commissioned by Auckland Council and manufactured by Urban Art Projects (UAP) over the course of 18 months. Fabricated using a relatively new process including robotic milling and 3D technology, this work tells the story of van Hout’s commitment to experimentation.

The human scale at work
Why so Big?

The mammoth cast aluminum sculpture stands tall at 5.6 metres, with a horizontal dimension of 2.9 metres by 1.75 metres. Van Hout’s intention was to deliver a sense of scale and proportion with respect to human form and the surrounding landscape. As we grow, our relative scale in relation to objects shifts. In this sense, the sculpture is only large in relation to other human bodies. Van Hout jovially describes it as, “…kind of a child-made giant”.

Fabricating the head
Robots, AR, & VR

To bring Boy Walking to life, van Hout had his son digitally scanned in a striding pose, then scaled up to full size using a 3D modeling software. The fabrication of the sculpture involved a time-consuming and exacting process, including efficiency in grinding, filing, sanding, painting, and cleaning. Design Robotics worked closely with UAP’s craft makers to enhance existing knowledge in robotic fabrication.
From material selection, to design documentation, and advanced manufacturing efficiencies were built into the workflows. Virtual Reality (VR), via the use of Fologram mixed reality software, assisted patternmakers in evaluating and refining the 3-D digital model. This resulted in a segmented approach, whereby the form was cut into smaller, manageable sections in preparation for robotic milling.
A robotic arm was used for pattern milling, which at the time of fabrication was a relatively new process for UAP’s Brisbane foundry. Each pattern was cast individually in aluminium, and welded together to create the complete sculpture. In the painting process, Augmented Reality (AR) HoloLens headsets with Fologram were used to further extend human ingenuity by producing a vision of stripes and blocked colors over the actual work. This enabled the painters to clearly visualize and mask out specific sections, increasing the efficiency and accuracy of the painting process.

Matt at work, perfecting the stripes
Happy Painters Craft Perfect Stripes

According to UAP’s expert painter, Matt, the marking process took approximately one hour, where normally it would have taken him up to three hours. Van Hout remains captivated by the quality and accuracy of the painted stripe pattern Boy Walking’s shirt: “The overall finish is amazing! The paint finish turned out so much better than I would have expected.” To achieve such fine results, UAP experimented with a proprietary Grasshopper tool, which allowed them to reposition and refine the 3D model multiple times in virtual space. The outcome was then recalibrated in AR prior to the painting process.
AR also allowed van Hout and UAP’s team to visualize the size of the sculpture in relation to the site. This technology helped in assessing the overall aesthetic of the work, informing design changes and improvements throughout the production process. For those involved in the craft making process, incorporating advanced manufacturing technologies was like having an extension of the hand.  For van Hout, the process assisted him in maintaining the conceptual integrity of his vision. When asked about his thoughts on the process, without hesitation he jumped at the chance: “It would be great to experiment with this [again] in the future and see what is possible.”

Boy Walking insitu, Auckland, New Zealand
Design Robotics, UAP, & IMCRC

Through the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating with UAP to explore the use of robotic vision systems and smart software user-interfaces to streamline the process between design and custom manufacturing. Enhancing UAP’s ability to manufacture high-value products while reducing the time and cost of manufacturing, the project is an industry-leading initiative that provides not just a competitive advantage to UAP, but benefits manufacturers across Australia.

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Child at play amidst Flourish

Katrina Tyler’s artwork Flourish is a richly symbolic sculpture for Newport Waterside Park, a state-of-the-art recreational park in the Moreton Bay Region, Queensland. The interactive piece uses material, process, and form to explore the activity and diversity of those coral species that inhabit areas of the Bay. Design Robotics and Urban Art Projects (UAP) employed Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to streamline the workflow. Comprising five pier-like vertical elements, each created from a cluster of hand-beaten discs, this work is a shining example of the unity between physical and digital making.

UAP team members fabricating Flourish using HoloLens & Fologram
Experimenting with AR & VR

The five totems that makeup Flourish are between 2,500 millimeters and 3,000 millimeters high. Each vertical element was carefully crafted from a cluster of hand-beaten discs that were individually heated and power-hammered before being welded and finished by hand.
No two discs were alike, as such, scaling, sorting, and placing each component was potentially a costly and time-consuming process. Following a period of sketching and modelling in 3D, each of the 5 elements were color-coded, after which fabrication began. During the welding process, AR HoloLens headsets with VR Fologram mixed-reality software were adopted to aid in the construction process. This technology assisted in determining the orientation and placement of each of the 316 stainless-steel discs. The same process was then used to assess the aesthetic quality of the work, resulting in a well-organized system for iterative design improvements.
Tyler spoke enthusiastically about the use of AR and VR in the fabrication stage:
I was really excited and intrigued at how this new technology was going to be employed, and curious about the specifics of how it will be operatedthe finished work has surpassed my expectations!  It’s amazing how the use of highly intricate and advanced technology was key in executing a harmonious and organic finish for the work.  The way the texture of the hammered stainless-steel catches and reflects light enhances the sense of movement and activity I was aiming to capture.

UAP team members placing the discs using HoloLens & Fologram
The Future of Manufacturing

This project heralds a long-term commitment to the use of AR and VR in the design and fabrication workflows. Through the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics and UAP are collaborating to present a range of new possibilities. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Making headway in the design process and pushing the boundaries in industrial robotic capabilities is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding.
It is important to both Design Robotics and UAP that every artist is an integral partner in technological experimentation, in order to inform creative concepts, design thinking, and enhanced workflows. In turn, this enables UAP’s craft makers to fulfill their creative potential resulting in dedicated skills acquisition. Ultimately, AR and Vision Systems are not used to initiate a race between robots and humans, but instead, they foster a relay in which the baton is passed from one to the other until the finish line is in sight.

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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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One-on-one with Alan Burden on his PhD with QUT and UAP

[small-quote name=”UAP” title=””]Not long ago industrial robots were the focus of science fiction. Today, they are found on every manufacturing factory floor around the world. Believing that industrial robotics is the next frontier for many industries, Alan Burden joined UAP’s Design Robotics team.[/small-quote]

Photo Credit: IMCRC

Recently Alan Burden was interviewed by the IMCRC about the pathway taken to his current PhD in Design Robotics, and his experiences in industry-led research.
Read the interview here:


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.


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