The existing design-to-fabrication workflow
In the traditional robotic fabrication workflow, there is often a discrepancy between the original design intent and the final output, primarily because there is an intermediate step where the designer has to hand off a digital model to a fabrication consultant who has more intimate knowledge of the specific robotic CAM software and the fabrication process in general. Typically, this consultant will use programs such as Robot Studio or Master CAM to create the necessary tool paths for the design, however this process can often take a great deal of time. And, if during this process, modeling irregularities are found or fabrication problems arise due to reachability or collision detection issues, then the entire process must start anew.
This project started very simply. I began by looking at the joint and axis configurations of the ABB-IRB 140 robot, one of the six axis robots available in the Harvard robotics lab. The design challenge then, was to design a tangible controller around these constraints. By using the same joint and axis configurations, the digitizing arm has a one to one relationship with the larger industrial robot.
Keeping it affordable
Outside of the development of a new robotic workflow, one of the primary goals of the project was to minimize costs. Given that all of the parts for this project were paid for out of pocket (a student's pocket), creating a low-cost solution was of utmost importance. But, beyond my own personal economic restrictions, I wanted this project to be seen as a do-it-yourself solution - something that could be built in any garage or workbench using easily purchased hardware parts and sensors and a few custom fabricated pieces. The entire controller was built for less than $200 dollars.
The custom robotic simulation component written inside of Grasshopper outputs all of the necessary RAPID code to control the actual robot. The method to hand the robot data is to stream the angle information from the digitizing arm directly to the robot through a network cable. In this method, a program is uploaded to the robot which tells it to sit and wait for any information being sent directly from the Grasshopper definition
Although there has been considerable progress made in the digital tools used to control robots, I'd like to close by reiterating the fact that there is an identifiable problem in the existing design-to-fabrication process. I would like to propose an improved workflow for robotic fabrication. It is the hope of this project that the physical articulation of embodied input and output through purpose-built tools for fabrication can allow for wider adoption by and new creative opportunities for architects and designers. In turn, I hope this will help re-establish the relationship between designers and the physical fabrication process.
I would like to thank Harvard professors Martin Bechthold and Pangiotis Michalotos as well as Neil Gershenfeld from MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms for their support during the development of this project.
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