Created by the team at MIT Media Lab’s Meditated Matter Group, Fiberbots is a digital fabrication framework fusing cooperative swarm robotic manufacturing with abilities to generate highly sophisticated material structures. The framework can enable design and digital fabrication of large-scale structures with high spatial resolution leveraging mobile fabrication nodes, or robotic ‘agents’.
Some of nature’s most successful organisms collaborate in a swarm fashion. Nature’s builders leverage hierarchical structures in order to control and optimize multiple material properties. Spiders, for instance, spin protein fibers to weave silk webs with tunable local and global material properties, adjusting their material composition and fiber placement to create strong yet flexible structures optimized to capture prey. Other organisms, such as bees, ants, and termites cooperate to rapidly build structures much larger than themselves.
The Fiberbots are a swarm of robots designed to wind fiberglass filament around themselves to create high-strength tubular structures. These structures can be built in parallel and interwoven to rapidly create architectural structures. The robots are mobile and use sensor feedback to control the length and curvature of each individual tube according to paths determined by a custom, environmentally informed, flocking-based design protocol. The 16 robots, including the design system to control them, were developed in-house and deployed to autonomously create a 4.5m tall structure.
To integrate generative design protocols with tangible construction, the team developed a flocking-based design strategy in conjunction with the design of swarm robotics fabrication system. In this system, the designer specifies a number of structural constrains such as adhesion, alignment, global goals, curling bias, and global avoidance regions, and robot constraints such as local collision regions and maximum curvatures. With this approach the designer can control the shape and structure swarm robots can build, including pre-designing and simulating the structure prior to construction.
Currently, a central wireless controller communicates with all robots, assigns tasks, monitors their progress and tracks their progression. Though the system is autonomous, a user can intervene during the construction process, at any given stage, to pause or change commands to an individual or set of robots without affecting the other robots.
As photos above show, the team built a 4.5m tall pavilion using 16 swarm robots in parallel over the course of two days. Robots were clustered into groups of four and each cluster was placed in a square configuration 1.75m apart. At the first, in the lower parts of the structure the robots were operating in groups and then came together at the top to create an enclosed space. Each robot fabricated about 0.8m of tube per hour and the speed varied depending on the thickness of each tube they were building.
This research seeks to depart from these uniaxial fabrication methods and develop fabrication units capable of being highly communicative while simultaneously depositing tailorable, multifunctional materials. Moreover, the team plans to demonstrate that their research framework is applicable across scales: from the micro-scale to the product scale and, uniquely, to the architectural scale.
Credits: Markus Kayser, Levi Cai, Sara Falcone, Christoph Bader, Nassia Inglessis, João Costa, Barrak Darweesh and Prof. Neri Oxman.