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CLOUD AFFECTS | WITH PHILIP SAMARTZIS & ROLAND SNOOKS


Cloud Affects, insitu, Shenzhen Biennale. Photo: RMIT University

Cloud Affects is a large-scale architectural installation by Associate Professor Roland Snooks, Chief Investigator, Design Robotics, and Associate Professor Philip Samartzis, sound artist. Crafted using algorithmic generative design and robot-assisted additive manufacturing, this work explores the impact of cloud computing. Often thought of as immaterial and benign, the cloud is, in fact, a vast ecosystem of over 40 billion devices, powered by a network of energy-hungry data centres, which will consume as much as twenty percent of the earth’s energy generation by 2025. This novel research outcome operated as an agent for meaningful public engagement, as well as an exemplar of the structural potential of 3D printed assemblages.

Roland_Snooks_3D_Assemblage
Robotic-assisted 3D Assemblage, Urban Art Projects, Brisbane
agentBody Algorithms & Topological Complexity

Snooks and Laura Harper, Roland Snooks Studio, explain in their paper, “Printed Assemblages: A Co-Evolution of Composite Techtonics and Additive Manufacturing Techniques” (FABRICATE 2020), how Cloud Affect was designed using an agentBody algorithm. This behavioural formation process combined form, structure and ornament into topologically-complex lattices and surfaces. These architectural behaviours establish local relationships between material elements. Such interaction is driven by direct criteria, like structural or programmatic requirements, or more esoteric concerns relating to the generation of form or pattern.
Snooks and Harper explain the evolution of this process:
“This methodology, which has been in development since 2002, draws on the logic of swarm intelligence and operates through multi-agent algorithms (Snooks, 2020). Swarm intelligence describes the collective behaviour of decentralised systems, in which the non-linear interaction of its constituent parts self-organise to generate emergent behaviour (Bonabeau et al., 1999). Repositioning this logic as an architectural design process involves encoding architectural design intention within computational agents. It is the interaction of these agents that leads to a self-organisation of design intention and the generation of emergent architectural forms and organisational patterns.” (2020, p.204).

Installing Cloud Affect. Photo: RMIT University
Advanced Manufacturing Cloud Affects

Snooks and his team manifested their emergent form using carbon fibre and large-scale robot-assisted 3D-printing. Essentially, the internal lattice became a structural skeleton, containing a series of hollow formworks, enclosed in a second translucent skin. In addition, the inner and outer geometries were periodically laminated to ensure structural rigidity. Each joint was resolved by casting laser-cut steel plates into the carbon fibre. Certainly, the use of this technology increased quality, reduced risk, and resulted in more efficient workflows.
Cloud Affects demonstrates that structure is not subservient to the geometry of the skin (such as taping to inflatable or printed surfaces) or the convergence to physically efficient forms (such as minimal surfaces), but instead, structure and skin negotiate a nuanced interrelationship with the capacity to generate complex and intricate form. Given the limitations of the printing bed, the final work was designed a series of pre-fabricated components with the capacity to be disassembled. Snooks discusses this process in detail in Inside the Learning Factory: Architectural Robotics.
The final outcome draws complex data design and manufacturing processes into focus, questioning how viewers might feel about the most sophisticated technologies – software, AI, and algorithms – all powered by polluting carbon-based systems that contribute to Climate change. In contrast, the 3D printing process resulted in a form of digital craft akin to coiling in pottery or basketry, creating a tactile surface capable of refracting light and drawing viewers to the piece. This juxtaposition between tangible and intangible materials, technology and making, old and new processes, creates a powerful pause for thought.

Cloud Affects Assembly in process. Photo: RMIT University
Design Robotics & Futuremaking

This project attempted to reify a structure from the nebulous via a process of futuremaking: to materialise and express intangible algorithms and make real the energy required to prop up the virtual cloud. In manifesting the tangible, it sought to offer a new architectural geometric expression, one that can only emerge from the use of advanced computation within both the design and robotic fabrication processes.
Future cities will increasingly rely on advanced cloud computing, from simple algorithmic procedures to artificial intelligence, for their design, construction and infrastructural logistics. These cloud-based algorithms become the unseen structural framework behind the evolution of urbanism and architecture. Using technology to assess impact and evolve material outcomes inevitably evokes conversations beyond the realms of art, architecture and design.



This article is adapted from:
Samartzis, Philip “Cloud Affects” Bogong Sound, Bogong Centre for Sound, 30 March 2020, http://bogongsound.com.au/projects/cloud-affects. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.
Snooks, Roland, and Laura Harper. “Printed Assemblages: A Co-Evolution of Composite Techtonics and Additive Manufacturing Techniques.” FABRICATE 2020: Making Resilient Architecture, by Jane Burry et al., UCL Press, London, 2020, pp. 202–209. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv13xpsvw.31. Accessed 19 Oct. 2020.

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ROBOT FABRICATION | USING RHINO & GRASSHOPPER

There are considerable advantages in using products like Rhinoceros and Grasshopper, Robots for Grasshopper, and KUKA|PRC. Software and plugins enhance the control of industrial arm robots like the Universal Robotics UR10 or the KUKA range of robots, allowing users to create 3D simulations the robot moves or performs a complete task.
Rhinoceros (also called Rhino 3D, or Rhino) is a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software used for the design and modelling of 3D products. It is widely used in the industrial / product design professions, and also used in a variety of industries because of a large range of plug-in applications that enhance the options of the basic Rhino software. A major advantage of using Rhino over similar software packages is a plug-in application called Grasshopper. Grasshopper allows users to use a visual programming language that makes coding accessible to people with limited programming knowledge. By using Grasshopper, users can make rapid changes or explore many variations of 3D models using algorithms or simple commands. Grasshopper’s interface simplifies the creation of complex models, and with the right plug-ins – allows for other abilities such as robot control that can potentially fabricate.
Rhinoceros 3D software: Quick modelling, and straightforward control of robots. In this example a simulation of a UR10 robot is tracing a loop drawn in Rhino by the user.

Rhinoceros 3D software: Quick modelling, and straightforward control of robots. In this example a simulation of a UR10 robot is tracing a loop drawn in Rhino by the user.
Why Grasshopper?

Rhino and the Grasshopper plug-in have many advantages over other methods of robotic control systems. Rhino is primarily a 3D modelling application, so creating or editing the 3D simulation environment is controlled within one type of software. Once a model is created, it is easy to make adjustments to the location for setting up a robot in a real-world environment, as well as objects for the robot to interact with or avoid. The advantages of using Grasshopper include rapid workflows from virtual prototypes to production. Changes to the control of the program or the intended design can be made quickly and new fabrications can be created.
The example workflow (illustrated below) of this is the ROBOBLOX project by QUT Design Robotics and UQ Architectural Robotics. The project created over 100 unique polystyrene foam blocks cut by a hot-wire cutter attached to a KUKA industrial robot, for installation as an art piece.
 

RoboBlox Workflow
  • Creation of the 3D models for each unique design of the blocks in Rhino.
  • Grasshopper was used to create the path the robot would follow to cut each of the blocks, and this pathway is simulated to predict any errors.
  • Grasshopper was used again to send the commands to the robot for the real blocks to be cut from a large slab of polystyrene.
  • The unique polystyrene blocks were finished and installed on site.

The entire process from choosing a design, to installation, was fabricated quicker and with greater accuracy compared with a similar project completed without a robot.
Workflow from modelling to simulation to fabrication to installed product

Workflow from modelling to simulation to fabrication to installed product
Visual Coding

On a typical Windows PC, the Grasshopper interface, or canvas is clearly laid out (shown above). Menus at the top of the Grasshopper window allow users to switch between different panels of icons. Each icon provides an option or toolset – with additional downloadable plugins extending these panels of tools. A script in Grasshopper uses components that look like box-like containers, each one offering varying inputs, an altering function, and outputs. The example image shows a script made with components from the Robots plugin. This layout shows how the visual script is easily read by following the guidewires that connect the container’s transfer data. Changes made to the data at the beginning of the script alters later outcomes and using this method it is quick to visualise many alternative designs before sending the final design to the robot for fabricating. The advantage of this is that rapid prototyping and robotic fabrication can be achieved or experimented with a variety of adaptations through the use of one type of software.
 

The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics 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.
 

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Design Robotics & STEM Girl Power Camp at QUT

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

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

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Design Robotics in Melbourne for Hermès at Work

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

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Festival of Ideas: FutureNet, Brisbane

Jared Donovan spoke at the Festival of Ideas event about the Design Robotics project. The event ‘explored the potential of disruptive technologies, such as drones, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, crypto-currency, robotics and novel materials as well as innovation in energy, medicine and digital business.’ It was hosted by the Future Net group on November 22nd 2017 at the new King Street Laneway venues.