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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.

Knowledge Sharing News


Alex (Alexander) Nikolas Walzer
Research Fellow, Design Robotics

Favourite quote “The process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionises the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”  Austrian Economist Joseph Schumpeter.
Favourite Podcast ConTechCrew focuses on digital construction technologies
Why robots? Robots are versatile machines enabling the execution of a variety of tasks, which makes them ideal for prototyping and beyond. They are precise, strong, and can be fast or very patient and outfitted with almost any tool to suit most processes.
What is your background? How did you end up in Design Robotics?
I am trained as an architect in Europe and Australia and stumbled into Digital Fabrication several years ago. I was mostly inspired by the idea of being able to learn about and make (almost!) anything. For that reason, I spent some time in Milan and Barcelona and was an exchange student at RMIT, where I was part of the team designing the new mace which was 3D-printed from Titanium. 
[youtube-video id=”eRjgB73QqKg”]RMIT’s 3D printed mace[/youtube-video]
Subsequently, I took on a few roles bridging computational design and digital fabrication at ETH Zurich and the NCCR Digital Fabrication. At ETH, I supervised Nizar Taha and Jetana Ruangjun’ Master thesis Robotic Aerocrete which was a really interesting and fulfilling experience. It involved the use of mobile robotic set-up for creating geometrically complex thin-shell textile-reinforced concrete structures. 
[video-embed id=”292811603″]Robotic AeroCrete[/video-embed]
At NCCR Digital Fabrication, we developed a digitized construction system called Mesh Mould. 
[youtube-video id=”ZeLEeY8yK2Y”]In situ Fabricator & Mesh Mould: Complete construction[/youtube-video]
The daily work included design thinking, agile project management and delivering experimental results on time, I worked within larger industry collaborations and always in interdisciplinary teams. Besides that, I continued to engage in Makerspaces / FabLabs and have consulted Start-Ups and companies of various scales on identifying and exploiting potentials of Digitalization / Industry 4.0 within the AEC, Design and manufacturing sector in Europe and the US. As of 2020, I am very happy to be back at RMIT in Melbourne and work with partners old and new alike on the robotic application and design implication of novel 3D metal-printing tech! 
Tell us a bit about your role in the Design Robotics project
Design Robotics is a collaboration of Urban Art Projects (UAP), QUT, RMIT and the IMCRC. UAP is manufacturing bespoke public art and architectural pieces worldwide, QUT is teaching industrial robots to perceive their workpiece and environment and we at RMIT provide the bespoke computational design–to–robotic fabrication workflow including industrial welding. Together, this allows us to benchmark the technology against existing workflows or procedures. 
Digital fabrication involves aspects of computational design and coding and applying it into processes of production. And now, we are exploring what robots can do in this process. I’m in between these two worlds of physical materiality with virtual processes and technologies. My workflow involves flexibly fusing novel design technologies to create a product. In my role, this framework spans the entire project pipeline, from idea or first sketch to final, delivered prototype. A crucial part is the integration of fabrication data into the 3D design environment. 
Tell us a little more about the problem you are solving in Design Robotics
3D-printing at scale comes with certain limitations but the use of Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (or WAAM) yields big potential to save time and material in design and construction. The additive build-up of material generally has a better Buy-To-Fly ratio than standard processes such as casting or CNC milling. WAAM can be integrated onto a standard industrial robot which makes it a very competitive alternative to the before-mentioned strategies. Eventually, we will be enabled to investigate structural optimization, near-net shape fabrication and hybrid manufacturing.
What has been your biggest joy with the project so far?
I really enjoy daily work with talented people of so many trades and exchange knowledge pro-actively. I also see that industrial and academic interests can eventually be very supplementary and help to accelerate the application of new technologies.
What is your next big goal with the project?
The Design Robotics team at RMIT at the moment is focussed on 3D printing of large scale objects. As our process becomes more robust and ready for higher throughputs, I am happy to disseminate the work in the months to come: Through mutual prototyping with engineers and co-creation with artists, we can examine this technology from various perspectives and discuss it within the IMCRC and beyond. In line with the Open Innovation Network we can reach out to new partners in Industry and Academia and make a strong, realistic case for WAAM in the Australian AEC and manufacturing sector. 
And finally to end with, how have you and your team been coping with COVID-19?
The outbreak of COVID-19 just shortly after the Australian bushfires has had a big impact on both society and our work. Luckily enough, we have been prepared for remote work and can run most robotics-related experiments in simulation and study them in VR/AR/MR mode. Soon enough, we might be able to run the physical system fully automated from a remote location. Personally, I believe, the current crisis holds a lot of opportunities for those ready to digitize!
To connect with Alex and learn more about his work
Design Robotics | RMIT | LinkedIn | | Google Scholar