a new generation of research initiated by the bartlett school of architecture’s design computation lab looks into robotically assembled furniture, a process which is essentially lego-like building blocks which can be configured into complex forms. the research, titled mickey matter’s has been conducted in collaboration with the ‘architectural design mArch’ program at the school, focusing on the development of highly cost-effective production methods.


a robot picks up the light weight elements using a vacuum gripper, while the spherical shape allows for an increased tolerance in the assembly process

 

 

just like LEGOs, these standardised building blocks are always the same. rather than using the robot to craft a complicated form with hundreds of different elements, the complexity here emerges from the combination of simple building blocks. these building blocks can be understood as ‘voxels’ or volumetric pixels — a digital method which is popular in computer visualisations for scientific analysis. discrete robotic assembly is inherently faster than 3D printing and other forms of robotic assembly. it reduces the cost, allows for different materials and at the same time maintains a high level of formal complexity. these properties open the possibility for robotic fabrication to scale up to an architectural scale.


a series of three prototypes was produced to test the method

 

 

a team of students from b-pro research cluster 4 (panagiota spyropoulou, hyein lee, pooja gosavi, pratiksha renake) initiated the project ‘mickey matter’, research focused on the development of a highly cost-effective production method, using a compression moulding process. custom aluminium moulds in three different scales were designed and fabricated using CNC milling. these can then be used to produce cheap, but highly precise pieces. the material used is ABS pellets, but other materials such as plaster-composites and flexible plastics were also tested. the elements are designed in two parts, with a joint connection. this allows to make the elements hollow and lightweight.


this robotically assembled table makes use of two sizes of elements: the larger elements are a plaster composite, the smaller ones are made of injection molded plastic

 

 

using a custom-made vacuum gripper attached to the industrial robotic arm, the building blocks can be picked up by the robot and assembled with a simple, rapid pick and place mechanism. the spherical geometry reduces the need for high-tolerance and precision in the assembly. the rounded surface help the elements slip into place, which increased the speed. the elements can be picked up by a vacuum-suction gripper, and then put into place.


the top view of the table shows a complex arrangement of elements with multiple scales

 

 

the team developed a computational method based on combinatorics that is able to efficiently assemble these building blocks into complex, functional structures. the algorithm tests different combinations of the elements but also defines connection points and helps to explore different design possibilities. the building blocks are combined with each other in different rotations, producing a variety of patterns. these can then be evaluated in terms of connection strength and robotic fabrication constraints.


detail of the robotically assembled table

 

 

afterwards, the data is sent to a robot for assembly. to prototype the assembly process, two chairs and a table were fabricated. these small-scale prototypes help to develop precise rules for larger-scale, architectural assemblies. the first chair and the table are generated with a symmetrical bias. a limited amount of combinatorial patterns is used, resulting in a highly controlled design. the second chair explores an assembly with less constraints, resulting in an asymmetric, less controlled form.


this prototype explores a more organised and symmetrical arrangement of building elements

 

 

on an architectural scale, the system can be used to robotically assemble large building elements in a factory environment, which would then be transported and assembled on site. the architectural elements could be fabricated with a range of materials such as concrete, timber, plastics etc.


a functional furniture piece can be quickly assembled


this computer-generated prototype explores a more informal arrangement of elements


modular, spherical elements can be quickly assembled into a variety of structures


the particle-like elements in their lose state


the plastic elements are infusion-molded halves which are then glued together into a complete spherical unit


using the bartlett b-made fabrication facilities, the students developed their own aluminium moulds, on different scales

 

 

project info:

 

UCL tutors: gilles retsin, manuel jiménez garcía with vicente soler
students: panagiota spyropoulou, hyein lee, pooja gosavi, pratiksha renake
technical assistance: peter scully, b-made fabricated at the bartlett, b-pro

 

designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.

 

edited by: maria erman | designboom

  • Cool. At present not remotely practical. It would be interesting to see the geometry and math behind this. I like how the different size scales can engage with each other.

    James says:

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